Free schools and lazy mums

I caught myself dreaming this week of what it would be like to create a perfect school for my kids, after  the Government announced its plans for Swedish-style ‘free schools’, set up and run by parents in partnership with charities and businesses. It’s a radical idea and it does appeal to me, especially since the system of ‘choice’ hasn’t really worked for us: DD didn’t get a place at any of the three primary schools we liked and we live in an area where there were big school closures a few years ago when the birth rate dropped and now pretty much every state school is full to bursting.

Imagine it: being able to determine not only things like class sizes and hours, but also having the freedom to find ways of helping children to learn in the way that best suits them, to truly prepare them for life as a fully-functioning, entrepreneurial, creative, emotionally and financially literate,  socially skilled and socially conscious adult. Happy kids! Happy teachers! Cath Kidston uniforms!

Then I realised that actually, it’s highly likely that I won’t be getting involved with setting up a free school anytime soon. Because I’m not actually that much of an educational radical. I don’t have the knowledge, the understanding, the vision, or the energy. I’m waaay too lazy to home school, and a free school would basically be home schooling to the max, wouldn’t it?

So instead I’ve decided to throw myself into the life of the school down the road, where DD will be starting at in September, and where DS will follow in two years. I went to the first parents evening last night. Bearing in mind that I was totally resistant to this school during the application process, and cried when I saw that’s where she’d been offered a place, I came away feeling, well, excited, cheerful, and optimistic. Because it’s not Ofsted that makes a great school, it’s the teachers and the culture. And the teachers seem lovely, and warm, and funny, and bright, and caring.

It must be possible for a school that doesn’t look too great on paper to be a great place for your child, where they will thrive and grow and become all that stuff I said. If not, well, that’s what me and DH are here for as parents. As Mark Twain said, ‘I’ve never let me school interfere with my education’.

I know there are probably better ways of educating and raising children than the state school system in the UK. I would love to say I’ll be among those who makes a difference to the future of education in this country. But for the moment, I’ll be encouraging DD to get excited about her Really Big School Adventure, joining the PTA, driving everyone mad by fundraising constantly, and looking into being a school governor. I’m very interested in being actively involved in my children’s school and education to make it as good as it possibly can be. I just won’t be carrying a hod of bricks to build a new one.


A virus with an ugly name

I think I tempted fate. After my recent posts about sending kiddies off to nursery with a bottle of Calpol and thankfully not having to spend too much time at the hospital because we are generally a healthy family, I’ve spent the past six days nursing a very poorly little girl.

I suspected she was fighting some sort of virus – high temp, listless, tearful, sleepy, no appetite – but was thinking whatever it was would just run its course. Then my mum came up at the weekend and suggested she might have a mild case of mumps, as her cheeks were really puffy and red. She’d had her MMR booster (speaking of which, good riddance to Dr Andrew Wakefield) bang on three weeks before she started feeling rough, so the incubation period would be right (though not sure if incidences of this happening are actual or anecdotal).  

But when I took her to the doc yesterday morning she said DD probably had a virus I’d never heard of called slapped cheek, or fifth disease. Lovely name, isn’t it? Imaginatively called because the distinctive sign is very red cheeks that look like they’ve been slapped.

The Catch 22 of this virus, like a lot of these things, is that it is highly infectious for up to 20 days before any symptoms, but the moment the red cheeks appear, you’re no longer infectious.

In the past three weeks, she’s seen pretty much every member of her family and all her best friends. And one of the nasty things about slapped cheek is that, like mumps and chicken pox, it’s really not good for pregnant women to be around, especially in the first 12 weeks or so. Apparently most adults are immune as it’s incredibly common and we’ve all had it at some time or another as kids, probably without diagnosis. But you can’t be too careful, so the doc advised me to call any pregnant women DD had seen recently and get them to go and have blood tests to check their immunity.

Gulp. My sister and my sister-in-law are both pregnant. I really didn’t want to call them. I didn’t want them to panic. I felt guilty that I might be responsible for potentially causing them or their unborn babies problems. What if something terrible happened and it was because of DD’s illness and they hated me and her forever?! I calmed myself down, did my research, got my facts right, called them both and fessed up.

Both were completely cool and pragmatic, on the phone to me at least, and are getting blood tests done. Fingers crossed all is fine. The risk is small. And I know there’s nothing we can do to avoid every virus – it’s May, these things go round, kids pick them up, they get over them. But I still feel bad, like I should apologise for DD being ill. Is that ridiculous?

Hospitals and memories

I’ve been to the hospital twice in the past two days. Very fortunately, nothing to do with our generally robust little family. My gorgeous godson’s in again with his dodgy wee ticker and I’ve been running a few errands for his knackered mummy.

The funny thing is, each one of the thankfully few times I’ve been there since DD was born nearly four years ago, I feel quite emotional. Every time I step into the main corridor that leads to all the wards and see all the paintings by the mouth and foot artists on the walls (or ‘foot and mouth’ as I heard a visitor say yesterday), I am transported straight back to the early evening of 1 August 2006, when me and DH walked very slowly walked to the maternity ward, stopping every couple of minutes for another contraction. I’d made it to 7cm on TENS at home, unbelievably, so I was in the throws of that bit where you are weeping ‘I can’t do this!’ before they give you The Good Drugs.

Just a couple of noisy hours later, there she was, our first baby, perfect in every way. And pretty much bang on two years later, DS was born, in the Home from Home unit like his sister, but the room next door. I remember their births so vividly in every respect. A little different, both good, as far as the experience of forcing a watermelon through a hosepipe can be considered good.

DD, one day old

So the place of their births is sort of a holy place to me, where these two little miracles occurred. I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve been blessed with two such healthy little people, and the hospital has not become somewhere where we are very often. Even though the few times I’ve been back since DD was born have been for more prosaic though no less urgent reasons for me or the kiddies, I always feel myself welling up a  little. And not just because of the outrageous car park charges.

Dose them up…

I sent DS off to nursery this morning accompanied by a bottle of baby Nurofen (preferred to Calpol simply because of brilliant dosing syringe rather than trying to get spoons of medicine down 21 month old wriggler). He’s got a gunky cold and is extraordinarily grizzly, although it could also be the final set of molars coming through. Who knows.

Either way, he’s not really himself and the last couple of days have been very heavy going. (You know when they want to get up as soon you put them down, then down as soon as you pick them up, and the juice is the wrong sort in the wrong cup at the wrong temperature, and they are hungry but don’t want anything to eat and the ball is the wrong ball….)

Part of me felt tremendously guilty and selfish about this as I dropped him off with his lovely key worker – shurely I should be keeping my snotty boy at home and giving him lots of cuddles and stories all day? Plus if he is germy, it’s not fair to let him loose among other small children, right?

Another part of me said ‘I’ve got to work today. I need to get on with things. They’ll call if he’s really unwell. RUN!!!!’

Here’s my justification on the above points, your honour:

1. He’s a very cuddly boy but only when I’m lugging him around on my hip. He won’t sit still or sleep at home – he’s not actually ill, and is MUCH more clingy and moany at the moment with me than anyone else. He is happy at nursery and his key worker adores him. He gets loads of cuddles, and plenty of distraction and attention.

2. If it’s a cold, he probably picked it up from nursery in the first place. Exposure to low-level germiness is good for little immune systems. He’s had his swine flu jab so it’s not that. I have filled out a million forms so if he gets a temperature or is particularly grotty, he can have 5ml of ‘medsin’.

3. It’s one of my two and a half days a week in my home office. I need every hour. I have deadlines. I have lots of work to do for clients and I like my full work days immensely because they are, frankly, the only thing that keeps me sane and feeling like myself. If he was at home I’d still have to try and get some work done, which wouldn’t be fair on anyone. I’m only 10 minutes away, I work for myself and if I need to pick him up, of course I will (Never DH. But that’s another post).

So have you ever ‘dumped’ your child at nursery knowing they are probably not quite well enough? And then waited for the phone to ring…

Pinchypants at the hustings…

I just voted in my fifth general election. I haven’t been this interested and engaged in an election since 1997, when I was totally in love with New Labour and drawn to the fresh face and bright hope of Tony Blair. Oh, how bitter when that love affair ended.

This time, I voted Lib Dem. I live in a very marginal consituency, where the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have been super-close (around 300 votes in it) for the past two general elections. Labour’s nowhere in this bit of Surrey, which is kind of a relief because there’s no real dilemma for me about who to vote for. The result I’d be happiest with is another thing.

In any case, I fairly SKIPPED out of the polling station, singing (in my head, I’m not a complete loon) in the manner of Mrs Banks from Mary Poppins:

Mrs Banks

‘We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats
And dauntless crusaders for woman’s votes
Though we adore men individually
We agree that as a group they’re rather stupid!’

I have realised in the past couple of weeks that I’m practically the only left wing person among all my friends and family. Many of the people I work with and lots of my professional contacts are raging Socialists, though, as you might expect from media types. What I think is most interesting is that for the first time I can remember, people seem quite happy to talk about who they are voting for, which has led to some interesting debates. I am loving the buzz on Twitter, especially. And even Grazia has been full of political interviews.

I’m not worried about a hung parliament/coalition government. It might be only chance for a very long time to force electoral reform and I think its impact on market confidence might be a bit of a red herring. I also think that despite lots of people getting all swoony over the lovely Nick Clegg (including me, on Radio 2 with Jeremy Vine after the first debate), when they get to the polling station they may well chicken out and stick to Conservative or Labour.

I have to say I do actually like Gordon (and although we’re not electing the wives, I LOVE Sarah Brown – she’s doing amazing things for the health of mothers around the world, as well as children’s charities in the UK). I think Labour have done fantastic things for parents and families since they came to power – the country is a completely different place now, and apart from the major cock-up of Iraq and the financial situation, I’d say that it’s a better place as far as parents are concerned. After all, how many of us take Childcare Vouchers, the minimum wage, paternity leave, Sure Start centres, child tax credits, and Child Trust Funds for granted?

I would also much rather have Gordon or Vince Cable (aka ‘Yoda’) steering things economically than George Osborne, who makes me shiver, but I’m not sure a fourth term for any party is a good idea. And he does look knackered.

Before the TV debates, I was thinking there wasn’t actually that much to choose between the three parties and Dave wouldn’t be such a bad idea, but after listening to all three I have realised that in my heart I’m just not a Conservative.
It’s a funny thing when at last it strikes, the realisation about where your heart and gut lie in politics. I’m not sure any of the parties fit my values and ideas exactly – I probably straddle Labour and the Lib Dems with a bit of Green swished in – but I know what doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Although I did vote Tory when I was 18, because even I couldn’t stand Kinnock, and at home we still got the Daily Mail, horror of horrors, so I really didn’t know any better.
So what’s influenced your vote this time? Big societal issues, how you will benefit or lose personally, the parties’ policies around families and children, or who you trust to sort out the economy?