Letters To My Four-Year-Olds

Dear Claudia,

Today you turn four.  FOUR!  How is that possible?  Where did my little baby go?  Those toddler rolls have stretched out into lean preschooler limbs and infancy has fallen away from you like a coat you have outgrown.

You have grown in confidence amazingly, showing bravery and perseverance.  I remember the time, around three and a half, when you climbed past a dad at soft play without a second thought.  Not so long ago you would have lingered awkwardly, unsure whether to advance, casting looks back towards me for reassurance.  When we first visited theme parks last summer you were cautious about some of the faster rides, but gradually your confidence has increased there too.  You also put in the effort and really learned to ride your balance bike.  You can’t wait to upgrade to a pedal bike and I expect it won’t be long.

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You started gymnastics just after you turned three.  You loved it from the first moment and I watched you grow in confidence there too.  You started off listening carefully and following instructions, but often you would wait at a particular point, wanting the reassurance of adult hands to guide you through the movement.  Now you attempt every activity with zeal and the knowledge that you can make your body do what you want it to.  You started ballet in January and you loved that instantly too.  You are so graceful and you concentrate so hard.  Watching you is pure delight.

You love to dance and sing and entertain people.  You like to sit at the table and eat with us, sharing in the communion of a meal together.  You like to help me cook and you have started helping me to measure out ingredients.

You have encountered lots of new characters this year, both on screen and on the page.  You recently discovered Roald Dahl and have enjoyed several of his shorter stories.  There are so many great books I can’t wait to explore with you.  You have mastered a range of apps and use the iPad like a pro.  You love dot-to-dot books and sticker books and always want to understand the precise instructions when undertaking an activity.  You are interested in numbers – and letters to a lesser degree – and amazed me recently when we made a chart to countdown the days until Mummy finishes work and you wrote every number yourself without any help.IMG_6085

You learned to tell jokes this year, which at first were nonsensical versions of a basic structure (“What do X eat for their breakfast?”).  Eventually though, we taught you a little repertoire which you loved, including a couple of knock-knock jokes and one you particularly loved about a bath-averse fairy called Stinkerbell.

You have an amazing way of explaining things, with a tone of voice and expression that are just delightful.  Mostly you like to start your explanations with: “Because that’s why…” which is an adorable turn of phrase.

You love presents and birthdays and Christmas.  The excitement is almost too much.  You pore over catalogues listing the items you would like.  You want lots of things and the waiting is so, so hard.  But you love to give too and you learned about surprises this year and how to keep gifts secret until the receiver opens them.

You love to dress up and since Halloween when I (perhaps foolishly) introduced you to the concept of face paint, you have loved having your face painted.  You have been a range of different characters and I have loved your enthusiasm for every one.  Occasionally, you even take it upon yourself to do it!

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You love so much.  Too much, is what you like to say.  And none of us really have the heart to tell you that it’s impossible to love too much – that our love for you is as infinite as yours.  You love your family, you love your friends – you have several best friends – but, of course, you have an extra special bond with your sister.  You love playing together as much as you love tormenting one another, but the affection you hold for each other never really falters.

You are so full of life and wonder and enthusiasm I am amazed you don’t burst.  I can’t wait to see what exciting things we will explore together over the next year.

Love,

Mama xxx

Claudia Turns 4 from Becoming Mums on Vimeo.

Dear Imogen,

What a year it has been, my amazing four-year-old!  You continue to show us your fire and your compassion in equal measure.  You are stubborn and insistent.  You think logically and can usually suggest a compromise that is less of a compromise for you.  You know what you want and what you like.  You spent most of the winter in short sleeves and now the sun has come out you keep insisting on two long-sleeved tops, but your fashion sense is incredible and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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You are very attuned to distress.  If you hear someone crying you want to know if they are okay, you can sense when one of us is stressed or upset.  At the park you will often be seen helping a smaller child.  You like to teach and to share your knowledge.  You give clear and careful instructions and you know how to encourage.

You are so strong and so active.  If there is something that can be climbed, you climb it; something that can be dangled from, you dangle from it.  You know your own limits and what your body can do, although there was one hair-raising moment recently when you tried to do some gymnastics at the top of a climbing frame and had to be rescued.

You started gymnastics about six months after your sister.  We think the distress of some of the children at being left there for the trial session upset you too much.  But after a few months of watching from the corridor, playing either on the iPad or with some of the younger siblings, you decided to give it another go.  The same week, you decided to take ballet on too.  You haven’t looked back.

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You have started naming your toys and dolls this year.  Topsy-Baby has a spotty babygro, like Topsy’s t-shirt in Topsy and Tim.  Daisy-Baby has a daisy on the front of hers.  Lots of babies get called Isabelle because you like the name, I suppose.  I’m not quite sure what the explanation is for Sparkler and Dave:

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You love to go on public transport – something we have done much more of since we ditched the buggy.  You really like to sit by the window so lots of prep is needed before we board a busy train or bus to make sure you understand this might not be possible.  Your favourite thing to do is to ride on the top deck of a “double decko” bus.  We have explored all sorts of exciting places this year and the thrill-seeker in you has delighted in trying out new theme park rides, from the Bubbleworks to Tomb Blaster to Pirate Falls to the “Buccany Boat”, no ride is too extreme for you.  You even like to lift your hands from the safety bar and put your arms in the air now.

I can only imagine where your tenacity will take you and I hope I can join you on the ride!

Love,

Mama xxx

Imogen Turns 4 from Becoming Mums on Vimeo.

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.

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