Thursday, 4 October 2012

going underground

As Snooks and I walked across the Common recently, my pockets weighed down with conker booty, he came out with one of his lovely poetic descriptions which I always try to record before they get lost for ever in time. Indeed this really has been the purpose of this blog.

This time, as he looked over to where a big black shaggy looking creature was chasing around happily after something smaller and faster – he said “Scattery dog.”
I loved it and said so and to my astonishment he replied, “Put it in your blog.”

I didn’t even know he knew I wrote a blog. I didn’t know he knew what a blog was. He is four. How can he say that? Anyway once I had recovered my wits we made the conversation into some kind of funny mantra and marched across the rest of the Common shouting “SCATTERY DOG. IN YOUR BLOG!” as loud as we could for no good reason at all.

It actually turned into a rather good “teaching moment” as the websites call it as I then got him to practise saying it as quietly as he could too and we played around with funny loud and quiet voices, ending with inevitable rundown of where is an appropriate place for a loud voice and where for a quiet voice.

Snooks, who usually treats any attempts to make fun didactic with contempt, humoured me for a while and then insisted that libraries and restaurants were definitely the best place for top level yelling.
Anyway the point is if he has reached a point of self-awareness where he knows what I might write in my blog, it is time to stop.

I had already been considering this for some time over the summer as his entry into full time education beckoned. Starting school meant many things to both of us - a new autonomy for him, a new balance in life for me and for both of us a joining in with a community which will be with us for the next seven years.
For Snooks to make his own path it means if I am to write about him I should do it privately or at least anonymously. For me also, some discretion sounds like a plan.

So one last time before we go underground I shall record what’s bin did and what’s bin hid in our world:

* He spelt his first word out for me which was s-k-y. I would like to say he meant the Heavens but I am afraid it is more likely he meant the Murdoch empire. Both gramps and Dennis Potter would turn in their graves
* He tells jokes, some of which make sense. Why do cows have bells? Because their horns don’t     work …etc

* He often offers to punch you in the face. The offer is not followed up and stems from my offer to him of a slap in the belly with a wet fish one mealtime when he had turned down all that was available. He took the expression and adapted it with the resulting apparent threat of extreme violence. Of course other children and their mothers don’t know any of this which has the kind of social consequences for us you can well imagine.

*  After reading about the importance of impulse control, I conducted the marshmallow experiment on him with Haribos offering him ‘one big one now’ or ‘the packet’ later. He waited for the packet and didn’t eat it.

 * He has mastered urinals, hand-dryers and the fireman’s pole since starting school two weeks ago. Saying goodbye to mummy is a work in progress

 * His favourite book of the moment is Scaredy Squirrel which Daddy has turned into Brave Squirrel, who leaps into the unknown everyday with a thrill of excitement and anticipation.

*  His song of the summer was Foreigner’s ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ which he called ‘Florida’

* His father and I have not corrected the following speech errors because we just can’t bear to: percuter (computer), vermilla (vanilla), shotting (shooting) and Magladen (Magdalen).

* He is very worried about a spider which ‘got dead’ in the shed and is now in the bin. It needs a proper burial in a plant pot. He talks about it most nights.

* He professes to love his father and me more than we love him and also declares his love for our house, our garden, our car and his teacher.
That’s All Folks

Thursday, 9 August 2012

story teller

As I sat having lunch with Snooks today he told me a story.

It went like this: “Once there was a bean who lived under the sea. And he lived happily ever after.”

At this point I applauded and started to sing praise for such a magical and satisfying tale when he interrupted.

“Then,” he said ominously …

What a great way to open a novel, I thought to myself, with the classic fairy tale ending. What a marvellous malevolent twist to turn the familiar righteousness restored ending into a trick start which comforts the reader with a false sense of security just before the real drama starts.

Anyway, he went on ..

“…then, he and his friend (names were given but have been omitted here as they may relates to persons known and unknown) a park called Wavy Park. They played there, and then went home and went to bed. On the sea bed. There were waves coming out of the chimney. The end.”

I loved it and have recorded it here word for word.  The bean story was prompted by our lunch menu and my recounting of one of my Dad’s favourite rhymes (all together now) “How many beans make five? A bean a bean a half a bean a half a bean a bean an d a bean.” I shall have to check the origin of that one.

I was glad to hear Snooks tell a story. Just last night I was discussing with the Engineer (whom I am pretty sure was asleep at the time) whether we have stifled Snooks’ imaginative powers with too many facts.  When told or read fantastical stories he often demands an immediate audit of what is real or “true” and what is not. Funnily enough he then refuses to believe my answers insisting furiously that fairies do exist and that God doesn’t.

Yesterday he asked the Engineer if Voldemort existed. I was quick to ensure that the Engineer was very clear in the negative on this (though of course some may argue that in a way, he does) as I did not want our very premature venture into reading JK Rowling to backfire with fearful nightmares. I am not sure what the argument against introducing a four year old to the concept of evil and the prospect of one’s parents being killed by it is, but I am sure there is a good one. So in the reading I have been careful to discuss with Snooks his understanding of what the story is, what it means, who is good and who is bad and that the whole thing is made up.

His question also revealed another new development – that he does not trust my answers and needs to double check with the Engineer. I can’t blame him for this. It could be brought on by my too often deferring questions (usually about the gauge on railway tracks or at what angle the earth is spinning) to the Engineer for confirmation.  Or it could be a shift predicted for young boys around this age when their focus turns to Dad as the new guide and model.

However when it comes to good and evil and what exists and what doesn’t I must make sure he knows my credentials are as good as anybody’s and probably better than most.

And anyway I want to hear more of the Bean Stories.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

whole wide world

Ok the Olympics. I have to mention it. In ten years’ time when Snooks reads this he will understand the huge deal this has been. The Games are being held in our city. We saw the torch being carried past the end of our road. We were close enough to touch the runner. We have travelled across the city amid the panoply of Olympics visitors, identifiable not by their foreign tongues (as hundreds of these are already part of our city’s soundtrack) but by their expensive clothes and sensible footwear. We have visited the park (though not bothered to try to get tickets for any events, despite the Loads of Empty Seats row) and we happened to watch live on TV the men’s gymnastics which afforded the country a silver then a bronze medal for the first time in about 100 years. I cheered and Snooks mimicked as the young men leapt and topple-tailed around the place showing that spotty stocky shy teenagers can perform wonders

Speaking of wonders, the entertainment I conjured up for our weekly supermarket shop yesterday was that Snooks was to stand, wait for the starting beep and then sprint while I shopped and counted until he reached the end. His P.B. is 6 seconds. And yes, the joke is Aisles of Wonder.

Ok so that brings me neatly to the opening ceremony which we watched live and recorded so Snooks could see bits of it the next day. The world seems to have liked Danny Boyle’s creative fun filled spectacle although some of the references were a bit lost in translation. We got most of them and as a native of Danny’s home town and a pillar of the neighbouring parish I felt a particular warmth for the dark satanic mills, Abide With Me, the Brookside kiss, the Beatles and of course Oh Danny Boy(le). Why did no clever hack pick that one up? My sister who was at school with Danny’s sister reliably informs me that they used to sing it about him as a joke…

Snooks was mesmerised by the scenes from children’s literature which I had originally censored as Too Scary and he insisted on watching the towering Voldemort and the roller skating Child-Catcher over and over again. Such was the impact that we are ending each afternoon now with a short reading from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – his first venture into real big boy books.

And speaking of books (you see I did it!), thanks to a tip from a friend we have found further indoor, free, character building entertainment at the local library with Story Lab - a scheme whereby children borrow six books over the course of the summer break and earn stickers on their return after answering a couple of questions about the plot. Snooks is not a stickers kind of boy but does like a chat so being asked by the librarian what he thought of the books is reward enough.

Unfortunately the day we returned Edwardo, the Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World (all about a boy whose bad behaviour gets worse and worse the more he is scolded and improves only when the grown-ups start to praise the best in him) the librarian was so overwhelmed she did not have the time to hear Snooks’ views on it. I, for what it’s worth, thought it merited an extra copy on the Parenting shelves.

So what with all that – with the international hoards  travelling on our tubes, with the fabulous walk through the nation’s historical and cultural highs, with the dreams which watching these young athletes will inspire and with the battle between Good and Evil now lodged in his imagination, Snooks' whole world has widened considerably over the last two weeks. And that is pure gold.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

clever clogs

I can’t believe this.  I actually found myself this morning explaining loudly and clearly to Snooks that I Know More Than He Does Because I Am A Grown Up.

He looked astonished and a little hurt. He also managed to just about hide his disbelief at my making such a nonsensical statement.

I wince even now as I recall it though I stop short of regretting having said it. Idiotic as it is to claim to know more simply by dint of having been around longer (there is no obvious causal link – I could be a grown up who had never read anything, asked any questions, conversed with anyone) I simply had to stop him from contradicting every thing I say.

Where has this come from? Is it part of the four- year-old boy (don’t know about girls) journey or is it just Mr Snooks. Having had careful truthful answers to most of his questions from The Engineer and I over the last four years, he now thinks he Knows It All. I thought we got this at 14. (In the same wincing breath I recall my 14 year old self correcting my well educated father on any aspect of anything I thought I could pull off. I tended to aim for science as his knowledge of history, literature, philosophy and languages was boundless. My aptitude for physics came in handy though he seemed to somehow have absorbed most of my O level text book by osmosis).

Anyway I felt a bit sorry about it as I have praised and praised his cognitive abilities and then unexpectedly turned on him for trusting them. And then in the confusion, he cried.  Ouch.

Snooks and I were both intrigued and delighted by the news story earlier this week about the 11-year-old boy from Manchester who flew to Rome without his family. Something in the script of BBC Radio 4’s news item led both of us to think he had actually flown the plane out of Manchester airport, which really got our attention. However it turned out the boy had simply sidled up to another family and got on board without anyone noticing.

I called Snooks in to hear the news item on the kitchen radio and as I stood pondering how the boy’s family had felt when they realised he had eloped, Snooks asked “Did no one check his passport?”
This, it turned out, was the main gist of the news story as the pre Olympics security tension mounts across the country.   Step forward the new John Humphrys.

How Snooks arrived at this question, how he knew it was the vital part of the story I do not know but I congratulated him on his incisive thought.

I can’t have it both ways. I’d better retract my earlier statement.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

high days

Today is the first day of the “summer” holidays when, according to all songs, novels, advertising and recovered memories it is supposed to be about barefoot gossoons playing in the brook, bees buzzing about picnics where mothers laugh warmly as their offspring dangle from trees in nicely laundered linens.

Actually, it has rained and rained and rained (“And the people all said sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat” the songs strikes up in my head) through the Wimbledon tennis championships, through the end of school sports day and now, apparently, through the coming summer holidays.

The look on mothers’ faces at pick up at the school gates yesterday was raw naked fear. We have six weeks ahead – that is roughly 30 days (if you discount weekends) of single-handed entertainment to provide with no let up. That means not one minute of peace until bedtime Every Day. And here’s the best part. As the rain dictates that most outdoor play is pretty much off, the indoor alternatives which are mostly in central London are also out of bounds due to the *@%@*^% Olympic Games due to start here next week. Crap security arrangements (the company actually admitted this, so I have no fear of a libel suit) and sheer volume of people in the capital have made the prospect of venturing to our favourite haunts – the Science Museum, the Transport Museum, the South Bank, Greenwich … er anywhere around here really, pretty daunting.

People looked at each other in desperation yesterday casting about for good ideas to engage their four year olds for at least some of the approximately 200 hours of free time ahead.

“There’s a bee-keeping course on at the local library this week if you fancy that. Maybe the hats will keep them going for a while…”

“I’ve booked a cab to drive us around and around the M25 for the next three Fridays. I’m taking my iPad and a pair of headphones…”

I have arranged and then unarranged three organised activities for Snooks, thinking each time for one blind stupid second that he might Join In With Stuff if I paid a lot of money and threw him at it.

The Engineer each time has brought me back to my senses. ‘Remember Playball,” he says ruefully. The vision of carrying Snooks kicking and screaming into a French class, a swimming class and a gymnastics class - and paying for the privilege swam up before my eyes and I cancelled each one with a sigh.

Instead we set off today at 8.45am in pursuit of our latest obsession – watching real steam engines fly through local stations on their way from London to the coast. We have managed to see two so far and each time it has been a huge success. The uncertainty combined with the inconvenient hour leads to a level of excitement which makes the fleeting appearance of the treasured locomotives all the more worth waiting for. The early start also served two further purposes – to wear Snooks out and to practise for when we have to get to school for 9am each day come September, a discipline Snooks has yet to encounter.

Unfortunately, this time I got the details slightly wrong and the train did not appear leaving us deflated on a railway bridge at rush hour. Luckily I had a back-up plan (I thought this through) and had our swimming togs in the boot ready for an emergency trip to the local baths, somewhere I hope to provide a regular safe haven during the rain-and-Olympics-soaked weeks ahead.

However en route Snooks spotted a playground we used to frequent in his pre-preschool days and asked to go there. My first thought was to say no. We were on our way somewhere. I had it all mapped out. Swim, beans on toast, asleep in the car on the way home. But like many of the unorthodox decisions I have taken in motherhood, an excessive amount of being told ‘no’ for no good reason in my own childhood, inclines me to say yes to Snooks, despite the disruption it may cause, unless there is a very good reason not to. (Indeed this is how we came to be flying a “UFO” frisbee on the Common yesterday dressed in shorts and wellies as the monsoon rain poured down and everyone else ran for cover).

So we headed for the playground where who should run up to Snooks calling his name with delight than the apple of his eye - a girl from his nursery class whom he once likened famously to a pretty daisy. The two played solidly for almost two hours until my bladder and their repertoire of shared games reached their limit.

Snooks and I lunched at a very chi chi Italian place we found in the nice part of town (he ate half the excellent penne and a tiny cake while I half a panini and the rest of his penne) and he fell asleep in the car on the way home.

In the words of the marvellous Scarlett O’Hara, tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

top marks

As my aim here is to document Snooks’ world for his later perusal, regardless of how ...erm… smug I may sound, I feel it necessary to note the arrival of his first school report.

The Engineer and I stumbled across it by accident. Tasked with picking the boy up from school for the first time (I was otherwise engaged – more of this later), remembering the necessary snacks, the medicines which had to be taken within minutes of pick up time, the deal about the park (he can go sometimes, weather permitting and on our terms) and to actually be there on time, Daddy had come home with the enveloped clutched in his hand without opening it.

When we realised what it was we were transfixed. As I have said before, Snooks’ world when he is out of my hands is a mysterious black hole. I am occasionally allowed fragments of incomprehensible information, much of which could be imaginary. For all I know he could be sweeping chimneys all day. So this, this two sheets of typed A4 covering observations about his communication skills, his number work, physical and social skills made for a gripping read. Snooks overheard me reading aloud some of the comments, prompting him to come and shout at me to stop - his worst nightmare seems to be that his father and I might find out who he is.

But he had nothing to fear as the praise was high and the could do betters very few. None of it came as any surprise other than perhaps the keen interest he has shown in cookery. His disinterest (which seemed to be the issue) in writing could be a little embarrassing considering my profession, though I gather boys are often slow to get on with putting pencil to paper. The truth is, Snooks is disinterested in anything which involves sitting still and this includes Eating, Putting On Shoes and Watching Television. No, we have no worries.

Which brings me to my whereabouts on the auspicious day. Well I was on my way to a job interview, suited, prepped and nervous as a cat. The approach of full time education for Snooks and the hollow coffers left after four years of unpaid work and the worst recession in years meant this day had finally come. On the way into the Smoke, rather enjoying the familiar overground and underground route I asked myself this question; Does it matter that I have a law degree (LL.B), a teaching qualification (P.G.C.E), the industry professional qualification in journalism (N.C.E) and a City and Guilds accreditation in teaching adults to read and yet I am happy to be a ‘housewife’? Not to me, I thought. I am not sure whether this shows a startling lack of ambition or a healthy grip on reality. However, that is how it is.

Snooks seems to be on the right track at school and has some good foundations for learning in place. He is happy and has friends. That is good enough for me.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

a kiss is still a kiss

Oh my. Poor Snooks. I just watched him try to give his best girl a kiss outside school and she shooed him away. I don’t think she knew what he was trying to do and from what I could see she was in the middle of a ballet dance, which didn’t require a male partner.

Am I alone in finding these things so painful to watch? Why can’t I detach from it better, just chat to the mums at the gate and put it down to experience.

Yet again Snooks takes a step towards somebody, is rejected and apparently, hopefully learns from it. Perhaps next time he will choose his moment better, or tell her first what his intentions are, or just leave kissing girls until later and do it out of sight.

My own kissing career started aged eight and was conducted mostly amongst the coats in the cloakroom with one particular boy. Love notes were passed during class and plans made to meet up under the duffels during break time.

Kissing was on the lips and lengthy but without tongues or any other frills. Mortifyingly the letters fell into the wrong hands one day and ended up with the teacher. After that we just gave each other the nod.

Astonishingly my little beau texted me anonymously just last year, having obtained my number from a mutual friend, signing off ‘…from the first boy you ever kissed.’  He then panicked in case he was mistaken about being my first and I thought the message was from some other boy in our class and replied as such, retrospectively breaking his heart almost 40 years after the event. I did reply rather curtly as I assumed it was a spam text, but then all was cleared up and I was able to confirm that he was indeed the first (his rival came two years later) and it was lovely to hear from him and how were his two wives and three children. But you see, this stuff matters.

 I came away from school feeling wretched. I knew Snooks was seeking comfort from a gentle soul as a situation with another friend had left him a bit sad and confused the previous day. I just have to believe that he takes all this in his stride and it is good for him.

And it was not just any old gentle soul either. This little girl won his heart when she dressed up as Rapunzel for the World Book Day and her own lovely long dark hair looked ‘quite beautiful” he told me. I later heard that the two undertook some kind of marriage ceremony but have never been able to confirm further details of that. Anyway, no self-respecting fairy tale handsome prince gets to walk up and kiss the girl without some kind of character building struggle first. Right?