Kids, creativity, and Minecraft

 

We were listening to the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show on the school run the other morning when I heard something that really irritated me. Sheila Hancock, who as one of the grand dames of theatre is almost beyond reproach, was chatting to Chris Evans as part of the build-up to the 500 Words kids’ short story competition, when she said, in passing: “Technology kills creativity”.

I inhaled, sharply.

The context was a conversation about getting kids off screens and using their imagination and creativity to write instead.

Reading and writing are obviously very, very dear to my heart. They are my vocation, my income, my beloved companions, my education, my therapy and my escape.

But I truly don’t believe it’s an either/or. And to say “technology kills creativity” in children, from my experience as a mum, is just plain wrong. It’s lazy, ignorant thinking.

Take Minecraft. For those of you without children aged over five, this is the incredibly popular virtual block-building game. Minecraft was created in 2009 by a Swede called Markus Persson, better known by his fans as Notch. He was inspired, unsurprisingly, by Lego. He loved Lego so much, he built a digital homage to it.

Minecraft has two modes, one of which is called Creative, where you can assemble blocks of materials – from brick to ice to obsidian– to create fantastical landscapes, underground diamond mines, or villages topped by intricate castles. There are little square pigs and ocelots and other animals tootling around. And then you can blow it all up with blocks of TNT, which is oddly satisfying.

minecraft

The other mode is Survival. This is the gamified version. Resources and lives are limited and hard won. You need to build weapons. Zombies might kill in you the night. The terrain may hold unpleasant surprises, or hidden treasure.

DD, who is nine-and-a-half, prefers Creative mode, building beautiful palaces and waterfalls. DS, who is seven-and-a-half, equally likes the peril of Survival. They design and build and modify incredible creations on Minecraft, with their fingers flying across the screen. It’s totally intuitive for them.

But it doesn’t end there.

Minecraft is creative in and of itself, but it also leads to offline creativity: designs, drawings, and written stories (all DS’s ideas for his 500 Words entry involved Minecraft in some way).

It inspires real-world block building with Lego (which pleases me greatly in its neat circularity, although Lego developing sets inspired by Minecraft is possibly a Borgian step too far…)

Minecraft is a prompt for imaginative games in the house and garden with each other and their friends. It is also the subject of quite sophisticated conversations and debates about planned Minecraft creations, including stuff about cause and effect.

And it’s part of their fledgling adventures in coding: we bought the children the fab Kano kit to build a computer and learn to code, and making your own modifications to Minecraft is among the coolest things you can do with it.

It’s also a brilliant teaching tool: there’s an official education version of Minecraft for teachers to use in the classroom. One dad even wrote a piece in the Guardian about how Minecraft gave his autistic child a voice.

YouTubers didn’t exist ten years ago. You couldn’t earn money from vlogging until very recently. But if you’ve seen some of the leading YouTube videos about Minecraft – the kids’ favourites include Stampylongnose/Stampy with his memorable laugh, Dan the Diamond Minecart and iBallistic Squid – you’ll know that this is now a bono fide job.

These videos get millions upon millions of views. Stampy (otherwise known as Joseph Garrett) was even invited to deliver the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Christmas Lecture last year, attracting its biggest ever audience.

And Notch, the 35-year-old creator of Minecraft, hasn’t done too badly for “just a gamer”: he sold his company Mojang, including Minecraft, to Microsoft in 2014 for $2.5 billion.

Not everyone can be Notch or Stampy, but Minecraft is going to be a huge influence on more familiar careers for years to come. There is unlikely to be a designer, architect or engineer of any discipline graduating (or starting their own business) in a decade who has not cut their teeth on Minecraft.

We can’t even begin to imagine the lives, jobs and opportunities our children will have as adults. But this kind of “tech plus creativity” skill set is likely to be critical to whatever path they embark on.

So I’m as happy for my two to explore, create and build on screen in Minecraft as in Real Life. Because far from killing creativity, technology can enable, boost and unlock it.

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The perfect age

I have a confession to make: I’m not really a baby person. By which I mean, I’m not one of those mummies who absolutely adores the newborn and tiny baby phase. I never revelled in that intimate milky haze. I love my children fiercely, and I would have killed for them the moment they arrived in my arms. But their babyhood was also an extended period of low-level panic: total responsibility for a tiny, vulnerable, helpless human being, who I struggled to understand and who couldn’t tell me what they really needed. It was two years of guesswork and feeling like I was getting it wrong, both times.

My tiny vampire and teddy bear.

My tiny vampire and teddy bear.

I regret, looking back, that I didn’t relax a bit, go with the flow and enjoy them more. It’s a cliche because it’s so true: they really aren’t babies for long, and it’s a very precious time. But we are are who we are, and some of us are brilliant with babies, and some of us are not. I was bloody good at giving birth, I have to say, but doing a good job of an actual miniature human being? Not so much. For me, it was a total headfuck. I wish it had not been so, but there we are. The moment DS was born, I knew we were done, our family was complete, and I have never had even a twinge of broody desire (luckily, since my ovaries were almost certainly nuked by the chemo two years ago) to have another baby.

Now, though, is a different pot of crustaceans altogether. I had an inkling, when DD started school nearly three years ago (OMG, where has that gone?!) that I was entering a phase of motherhood that I would be a darn sight better at. That would come more naturally to me. That I could really enjoy. Before having children, I always imagined myself with primary school-age kiddies. And lo: I have discovered that I really love being a school mom. Happily, I had two summer babies so this bit came round relatively quickly. DD is coming to the end of Year 2 and DS is about to finish reception, they are about to be seven and five, and I would bottle them, right now.

They are delightful, and I want this summer to go on for ever. I always want to watch them bouncing on their trampoline and inventing silly new jumps that reduce them to a heap of hiccupy hysterics. I want them to always be as funny and sweet and cuddly and delicious and adorable as they are right now. They don’t seem to have been particularly scarred by having a rubbish mummy early in their lives: they are disarmingly affectionate – it’s like they are teaching me new ways of loving and being loved and accepting love, every day. Every day, they break down my barriers and melt my cautious heart. Their kisses and cuddles are offered and demanded and given so freely. They are fearless with their love, still, and it is a total joy and privilege to be with them, most of the time. They are well-mannered, rarely horrifyingly naughty, and our minor spats are usually because they are so in the moment with what they are doing, they’ve tuned me out. Which is fair enough, really: pirates don’t need to put sensible shoes on.

I am pretty much the opposite of a ‘helicopter parent’ – I’m more of a stealth bomber, hovering out of sight in case of extreme crisis, and I encourage them to be independent and to make their own fun. And occasionally I hear a bored whine, and it is then that I know the magic is about to happen: in the space where they are a bit bored, their most exciting and imaginative new games and activities flourish, quite without my interference. They play beautifully together, and are completely in love with each other: DD is still unselfconscious enough to enjoy playing with her little brother almost more than anyone else, although he is starting to wind her up on occasion, being his father’s son. I avoid getting involved in their disagreements as far as possible (unless there is blood, obviously) not just because I can’t be arsed/am doing laundry/have a rather tricky level of Candy Crush to conquer, but because they are quite capable of resolving their differences, compromising and negotiating. In fact, I reckon they sign the peace treaty (ie agree on a movie or a game or who’s gonna wear the Cat in the Hat outfit) a lot quicker when I’m not doing a Ban Ki-moon act.

Every day, I take joy in the little acts of care for them. I take satisfaction from washing, ironing and putting out their uniform every night. I make their packed lunches with love (all those cute little Tupperware boxes!). I love making their beds in the morning, opening their curtains and letting the day into their room. I love doing the school run. They are so happy at our wonderful school, and doing so well. I love the little facts they come home with every night, and their excited bulletins about the next day. We are lucky that our homework burden is light, so after school they are free to ride their bikes and just be children. Apart from non-negotiable swimming lessons on a Monday after school, we don’t have any other scheduled activities at the moment. They are happy enough, stimulated enough, and tired enough as it is. Yesterday, we had no playdates planned, so we just hung out in the garden, the three of us, eating lollies, reading Grazia (me) and playing some sort of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Despicable Me mash-up (the smalls), whose rules I didn’t quite understand.

And the next stage is letting them teach me not only about love, but also about play. They are old enough, now, to play a rudimentary game of cricket, football or catch in the garden. They are old enough to write the clues for a treasure hunt. They are old enough to go for long adventures in the woods. They are old enough to make quite complex structures out of Lego or clay. They are old enough to try magic tricks and card games. I’ve never really enjoyed stuff like role play (no sniggering at the back), and puzzles, but the stuff they are into now is, well, more interesting. Take Harry Potter, who features large in our lives at the moment. IMG_2418They are mesmerised by the first three movies. I’m reading the first book to them at bedtime and they are properly enthralled. I think, to be honest, that that was the moment being a parent first made complete, joyful sense to me: when I started reading them books I love and saw the wonder in their faces. (Doing Hagrid’s West Country accent is no problem, as a Salisbury girl, but my Professor McGonagall is appalling). DH took great joy in whittling them a real wooden wand so they could properly be Harry and Hermione. They both saved up for a toy owl, so they have their own Hedwigs. I spent hours following a YouTube tutorial to make them Golden Snitches. DS is mooting a trip to Harry Potter Studios for his fifth birthday.

They want me to join in their play more than I do, and are surprised and delighted when I stop the chores and muck in. DD’s face when I actually got on the trampoline the other day and showed her how to do a pike was a picture – she lit up, which was worth the alarm caused to my pelvic floor. I plan to say yes to their games a lot more, this summer. Yes to water fights! Yes to races! Yes to hide and seek! IMG_2454

Because much as baby days were over quickly, this golden bit of my darlings’ childhood is rushing past. And this time I really do mind. I am already having conversations with friends about what age our girls will be when we allow them into town alone and let them have a mobile phone (the consensus seems to be between 11 and 12. That’s potentially only four years until the Letting Go starts…) It’s not going to be long before we have teenage strops and sulks and they don’t want anything to do with each other or us (but still desperately NEED us to get them, and love them unconditionally – I anticipate another challenging period of communication equal to having a newborn!).

In the meantime, for the first time in my almost-seven years as a mother, I kind of feel like I am doing a good enough job. I don’t always get it right. For every day that I’m calm, cheerful and easy to be around, there’s another day when I’m preoccupied, knackered and impatient. I really appreciate the silence in my home office while they are at school, and I rejoice, some days, when it’s time for the bath taps to go on and mummy’s little helper is chilling in the fridge. But I also rejoice on Saturday nights in, when they are allowed to stay up to watch trashy talent show telly with us, and we get through bags of tortilla chips and houmous together and discuss which mentor or judge we’d like. When we were in Rome for DH’s 40th at Easter, after the first two days we were missing the kiddies terribly and planning our next trip to the Eternal City with them in tow, and a bigger icecream budget. They are wonderful little humans, and great company. And, pelvic floor notwithstanding, I will be doing the Bottom Jump on the trampoline with them in a matter of hours. Lucky old me.

Birthdays, birthdays, birthdays…

DH and I committed something of a rookie error in our family planning. My birthday is in August, and so is our wedding anniversary. And then DD was born on the first of the month. I told DH not to touch me ever again in October or November, but lo and behold, DS arrived two years and three weeks after DD. Add a couple of summer-born nieces and a nephew born 12 days after DS into the mix (we know what our siblings were doing in the late autumn…) and we now have a crazy six week period where we have six family birthdays (three of which are in the same week) and an anniversary. Most of which come out of the same pay cheque. Gulp.

So the day after my radiotherapy finished at the end of July we were plunged into the balloons, candles, and cake of Party Central. That Saturday, we had a soft play party for one of DS’s nursery buddies in the morning, followed by my squidgy niece’s first birthday bash about half an hour away, and then over to our other beautiful niece’s fourth birthday (the usual rather splendid mini-festival by the Thames) at tea time. The kiddies were amazing, in great spirits all day (much of which they spent naked and splashing in paddling pools, in between eating vast quantities of sugar and bouncing), napping where they could and still singing along to James ‘Sounds Like’ Blunt in the car on the way home at 10pm. My sister made a very lovely and emotional toast to her baby girl and me, saying it was like a dream come true that the big bits of my treatment ending coincided with celebrating C’s big day. There may have been some happy tears, I couldn’t possibly comment.

The celebrating continued with our friends S&J on the Sunday, during which I took advantage of not being the designated driver and imbibed rather too much champagne and Barolo in the sunshine, resulting in the infamous Lobegate row between me and a rather more sober DH. The following day was my delicious DD’s fifth birthday – where on earth did that go? A half decade already! – and we dressed the garden with butterflies for a little tea party for her best friends. In another bit of classic Pinchy planning, after everyone had left at 6pm, we had to pack to leave for Disneyland Paris – the kiddies’ joint birthday treat – early the following morning.

Disney was everything it should be. We went to Florida on our honeymoon and I’ve always wanted to take my children. Paris is so close, and our three days at the Hotel New York, 10 minutes’ walk from the parks, were really magical. At just five and not-quite-three, they were the perfect age, in total awe of everything from Sleeping Beauty’s castle, to the Buzz Lightyear ride (DS is obsessed with Toy Story) and the It’s A Small World boat ride, which we had to go on twice (and still can’t get that slightly sinister theme music out of our head…).

We were all in one room, which worked better than I thought. We got up around 8, dug into our bag of snacks, hit the park for two hours, came back for the last breakfast setting for brunch at 11am, then went on more rides, had another snack, and then all ate out around 7pm. By the time we’d got back to the hotel and bathed after supper, we were all ready to crash. And, after queuing for an astonishing 90 minutes, we even got to meet the real ‘Rapunzel’, thus making DD’s birthday wish come true.

There were some downsides, of course. The trip was excruciatingly expensive before we even got there, and everything at Disney is crazily overpriced. The food is largely disgusting and£11 for a children’s portion of fried crap seemed to be the going rate. You would have thought a pint of cider was actually molten gold. The queues are quite long for smalls – a minimum of 20 minutes and often double that. And the service is hilariously French, to the point of the ‘cast’ of the parks appearing to be caricatures of French customer service personnel, they were so rude and generally unaccomodating and unhelpful. Perhaps it was all a giant post-modern self-referential joke. But I don’t think so. No-one said ‘have a nice day’, which was fine, obviously, but it was very much the opposite of what you might expect from one of Walt’s establishments.

 

A couple of days after our return, it was my turn for birthday pressies. I was spoiled rotten, it has to be said, including a gorgeous nude patent handbag from DH, stunning leather jacket (which Grazia would probably describe as ‘butter-soft’) from my sis, Pennyhill Park spa voucher from my mummy and Pops, a Mulberry heart key ring from S&J, and many other very thoughtful gifts. I am a very, very lucky girl. And of course, the best thing was not the undeniably lovely pressies, but the most fun night out with a really fab group of my amazing friends and family.

We met in All Bar One, all marvelling that we could not remember the last time we were in a bar as couples, then hit Jamie’s for an absolutely debauched dinner. I dimly remember eating my linguine, but after that, nada. I think there was some chat about tattoos, and I had limoncello for pudding (never a good sign). No memory of this, nor the other bar we apparently went to, where DH was asked to put his shirt back on after launching into one of his regular Freddie Mercury impressions. He did look after me, though, even giving the reluctant cabbie ‘the cancer chat’ to persuade him to take the wobbly 38 year old home. Oh the shame! Great fun, though. I was looking pretty good at the start of the evening (after a good haircut at Aveda booked as a surprise by DH as he said my hair was looking ‘a bit cancery’!!), but when I woke in the morning naked but for my silicone chicken fillet still stuck to the mini-boob, I felt rather less glam. Sadly, I do not seem to be ageing as elegantly as some of the excellent wine I’ve drunk this summer.

After a memorable barbecue a week later (which culminated in me chanelling Barbara Dickson for a scary version of I Know Him So Well. Pinchy may not be Polish for ‘nightingale’: our guests were actually trying to leave as I sang, ushering their children away from the crazy lady), we all had a bit of a break from Good Times last week. DD had a week in kids’ club, and I was back to the badlands of Cancer Central with a bump. I am back on the Tamoxifen after seeing Dr Houston, my oncology consultant. I had a very interesting kinesiology session with my amazing friend E before this, as I was clearly hugely intolerant of the drug. She did an energetic detox on me which appeared to suggest that it would now be absolutely fine for me to be back on the drug, and I would have no side effects, with the caveat that my body could not process the whole daily 20mg horse pill in one go, and I should split it, having 10mg in the morning and 10mg in the evening. I had read about many women doing this on the advice of their doctors anyway, and I have to say, so far, so good. No hot flushes, and I haven’t tried to kill anyone. Houston said if I felt murderous again, DH should call him (they are golf buddies now, don’t forget…). I said that would assume he wasn’t the subject of my hormonal rage.

Then last Thursday, it was the 12th of 17 Herceptin drips. It was raining and I was very down that day. I would quite happily never see that chemo suite again, you know. In my head I am so over this caaancer business, and everytime I have to spend a morning up at the hospital it feels very depressing. You never, ever get used to the needles, and sitting among people who are mostly much older, much more ill, and much less optimistic. I just don’t feel part of the cancer community at all, it’s not something that I feels defines me in any way, and I just want to get out of there as soon as possible every time. I cried for most of the day. My hand is still bruised from the damn canula, but luckily an evening out with E&G was in the diary, and some very good steak and Malbec sorted me out.

And finally, to the latest birthday this summer: my darling cheeky little DS was three on Monday. We had all the grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins, not to mention his fairy godfather (sorry JB, you know what I mean!) over for a lovely tea in the garden on Sunday, which again resulted in much naked shrieking (not from me, I hasten to add. Not this time, anyway). The house is now full of Fireman Sam and Toy Story stuff, including the brilliant ‘real’ Buzz Lightyear, who is strangely attractive for a bit of plastic. He’s got all the chat; I think I might be falling in love with him. Then DS started pre-school yesterday – just upstairs in his nursery, but a real change for him. He was a little star and I think he’ll settle in fine.

So all in all, a busy, busy summer thus far. And I haven’t told you about the house we bought while all this was going on…

The end of the first school year

Today is the end of term. The last day of DD’s first year at school. I know time speeds up as you get older, but this is ridiculous: it seems like a matter of weeks since I left her at the door of her reception classroom for her first full day and then cried all the way back to the car. Mind you, there was the slight inconvenience of the Big C: when I was diagnosed in October we’d barely got into the rhythm of being a schoolgirl and a school mum, and the months since have been a whirlwind of scans and new shoes, chemo and uniform, surgery and learning to read, packed lunches and radiotherapy.

All of which could have had a disastrous effect on such a sensitive soul (DD and me both, ha!) but we got her first report yesterday and I could have died of pride reading it. In the face of all that upheaval and worry (and being the youngest in the school), my extraordinary daughter has done astonishingly well by anyone’s standards. I knew she was a bright cookie and a very lovely small human, but it’s very good to know that her teachers can see everything I see in her.

All I wanted was for her to make friends, enjoy herself, love reading, and have fun, and she’s done that in spades while being ‘A PLEASURE TO TEACH’. Fab. Her teachers have been fantastically supportive all year, dishing out cuddles and, literally and metaphorically, holding DD’s hand as she took her first steps on the school journey. I’ve sent DD in this morning with some very well deserved thank you pressies.

The long-serving, warm, lovely head teacher is retiring today, too, and she will be missed. She knows the name of every child in the primary school, is always ready with a cuddle and praise, and is one of those teachers who you know genuinely loves children. So next school year will be interesting in lots of ways: my treatment will be over by Christmas, there will be a new head teacher in January, and we will be filling in school application forms for my licious DS, unbelievably. He’s not even three until the last week of August, so he’ll be starting when he is four and a week, bless his skinny little knees.

He’s settling into pre-school at his nursery beautifully, though, and will be fine. I’ve always thought that having babies in August or September is particularly tricky: the young ones just seem too little to start school, and September babies often seem bored and more than ready by the time they are finally allowed to start (not to mention that extra year of pre-school fees).

We’ve got plenty of fun lined up this summer: DD’s social diary is already looking pretty packed, including a couple of mummy days out while DS is on his full nursery days. I’ve always taken a day off to see the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, and last year took DD with me for the first time. She adored it, so we’re going again this year together (and then to ‘a little Italian place for carbonara’ as she always requests in London, bless her mini-cosmopolitan soul). And we’ve got tickets to see Kate’s wedding dress at Buck Palace, hurrah!

What DD doesn’t quite know yet is that the summer hols festivities won’t actually start for me until next Friday, when I finally finish The Month of Radio Ga Ga. Next week she’s having quite a few playdates when I’ll be at the hospital for a stupid week of five rads, two consultant appointment, one heart scan and one herceptin drip. Pfft. DD knows none of this. She doesn’t need to. As far as she’s concerned my bad booby is better, because it is. Still, we will be celebrating next Friday night: DD’s asked if we can all go out for a curry, en famille.

In other news, hot off the press (and this will possibly be TMI if you are a bloke), MY PERIODS HAVE RETURNED!! This may not seem like something to celebrate, but there was a general suspicion in medical quarters that the ‘chemopause’ – your lady bits basically going into hibernation for the duration of the treatment – may have turned into full-on menopause. And I’m not even 38 yet, so that did feel too young. I didn’t want any more children anyway, but there is something about that choice being taken away from you that is deeply upsetting. But no! Two weeks ago I felt a familiar twinge in my ovaries, and exactly 14 days later, the mother of all menstruations arrived. I actually think it’s been eight months’ worth all at once: it’s like a particularly grisly scene from the Sopranos every morning, and for the first three days it felt like wolves were ripping out my womb. But I am so bloody pleased that my body is working again, I don’t care. DH was quite emotional when I told him: the idea of having a menopausal wife evidently wasn’t high on his ‘must have’ list this year, on top of everything else.

I was feeling a bit down yesterday, probably because after the novelty of being fertile again wore off, I remembered how tedious periods are, but I have perked up considerably today, not least because I am finally officially a size 12 again and am rocking my new  black skinny jeans. Yay! (Thank you W for introducing me to Tim Ferriss and his Four Hour Body regime – I’ll do a post on this soon).

Today, the sun is shining for the first time in weeks, and after this morning’s session I will be three quarters of the way through the radiotherapy. Whoop! This last big chunk of caaancer-f*cking is almost over!

Who wants to play?

It’s not often that a feature in a women’s magazine makes me go YES!, let alone weekly fashion glossy Grazia. I love the very good journalism in it, and have a subscription, but as a nearly-38-year old mum of two smalls who has greeted her Kew and Boden Years with relief, I am winging it a bit as far as being the mag’s target audience goes. This afternoon, however, I not only said YES!, aloud, but also snorted tea up my nostril in a manner about as far from cool, stylish and insouciant as it’s possible to be.

The cause of this double outburst was a feature by the rather brilliant Caitlin Moran (she of the newspaper columns and the billion Twitter followers) debunking some of the myths of motherhood, for those women who haven’t got children yet and may or may not be longing for them. In particular, the sheer mindnumbing boredom of many aspects of the very early years. I quote: ‘Asked now, I can’t really remember what stupid stuff they were into – I can only remember them repeatedly trying to post tiny bits of Lego into the VHS player which, to be honest, now strikes me as fun, but I do remember it being long and tedious. Not once did those babies run into the room shouting, “F**k work, dude! Let’s go and see the Pet Shop Boys! In PARIS!’

This resonated with me, all the way down my nasal passages. (Not only because I heart the Pet Shop Boys and they are roughly 50% of the reason I just spent a stupid amount on Viagogo on tickets to see Take That at Wembley supported by PSB. I cunningly positioned them as a Father’s Day pressie, since I am taking DH and my sis along). It rang a big bell because not five hours previously, I had been lamenting to my Health Creation Mentor, Kit, that I think I’ve forgotten how to play. Because otherwise why would I find playing with my beautiful, funny, clever, edible children so damn boring?

‘I need to get in touch with my inner child again!’ I thought, and then, as usual when I have one of my Big Ideas, I ordered the relevant book off Amazon to be sent forthwith to my Kindle (in this case Playful Parenting by someone with a middle initial, which probably means it will be a bit American and ghastly). Yup, I thought I needed a book to learn how to play again. Which was a big fat clue staring me in the face because truly, when I was an actual child, I would also much rather have had my head in a book than the sort of things I feel I should be doing with DD and DS. You know, sitting down playing educational board games, going to the park, craft sessions, ball games, playing farms with toy animals, jigsaws, all that ‘quality time’ stuff. I didn’t like playing much as a kid, so why would I want to do it now?

Which got me thinking about the things I did like doing when I was Mini Pinchy, and which might translate into me spending more authentic fun time with the nippers than if I was playing Snakes and Ladders like some Stepford Mummy with a glazed smile while secretly thinking about food preparation/laundry/hospital appointments/blogging/taking a hot Latin lover (I’m joking, darling, obvs. I have HALF a TIT.)

Ergo. Reading. I read to the kids a lot. They like looking at books and talking about books. The house is full of books. DD is doing terribly well with learning to read. So this one has a big tick next to it. Ooh, that’s a good start. Next up, drawing. DD is addicted to drawing. She is rarely more than five minutes from whipping up a masterpiece. I used to love drawing, and painting, but haven’t done much of either lately. Perhaps I could indulge in some Caran D’Ache pencils and join DD with the doodling, or even dust off the paints. She would be enchanted, and I would have another little creative outlet. Sounds like a plan.

DS has absolutely no interest in drawing, or art generally, but he is just as creative than DD in other ways, role playing with various character toys, for example (last night his shoe was a space ship for Fireman Sam. Fair enough.) And he is very, very happy to watch an entire Toy Story movie, fully immersed, and likes it best if he is doing it with my arm around him. Next time, rather than fretting about the to-do list, perhaps I could just sit and watch with him, and talk about it together.

The kids like the park, but are not fussed about swings. I liked parks a bit when I was little, but actually the thing I was interested in was climbing, whether on a climbing frame or scrambling up a tree. And me and my sis spent most of our childhood weekends in the woods building camps, which I loved, and which the kiddies are probably old enough to start enjoying too, now. Perhaps we could find some cool woods to hang out in at the weekends, with logs and trees to climb on and hide under. We’ve recently discovered the arboretum at Wisley and I actually felt the same sense of adventure as my four- and two year old, exploring under the trees and collecting pine cones to make a ‘display’ at home.

Wisley fun

 

Plus, I do like Lego, and I’m not averse to Barbie and her acres of pink plastic tat. I like playing tea parties, especially with real tea and biscuits out of tiny cups and plates. I like cutting up magazines and doing collages and scrap books. I like making paper aeroplanes. I like paddling. I like lying on my back on the grass and spotting shapes in the clouds. I like baking.

So perhaps it’s not a case of being ‘not good enough’ (again) at doing what I think I should be doing with the kiddies. Perhaps it’s a case of spending time doing more of what I genuinely love doing, and taking them along for the ride. Showing them the magic of the stuff that floated my boat when I was young, and getting a slice of the wonder myself. Of seeing what we have in common as fellow human beings. If I let them, they might even introduce me to stuff I never knew I liked doing. I doubt that I’m ever going to love playing vets as much as reading Grazia with a cuppa, to be honest, but let’s give it a go. Bring on the games!

 

Countdown to the first day at school

Last week I took DD to Clarks to buy her first pair of school shoes. There was a big queue already at 10am, and only three styles left in her size (9! and she’s been wearing 8s all summer! Her little feet squished like a geisha!). Anyway, she was delighted to be able to choose a pair of actually quite nice black shoes – much prettier than anything I ever wore to school in ‘God Days’ (DH’s expression for things that happened a loooong time ago). She’s been showing them off to all and sundry.

And it is breaking my heart. How can my BABY GIRL be going to school? She was only four on the first of August, for goodness’ sake. And while we’re at it, how can she even be four years old? It’s such a cliche about them not being babies for long, but oh, how true it is.

She’s ready, despite being one of the younger ones, and is clearly getting a bit bored of pre-school already. She can write her name now, after lots of determined practice (by herself – I have had very, very little to do with her ‘education’ thus far), and plays ‘schools’ a lot. It’s me that’s not ready.

Her three blue gingham school dresses, two grey pleated skirts, five pale blue polo shirts with the school badge on, two blue cardies, ten pairs of white socks, and t-shirt, shorts and plimsolls for PE, are all ready, laundered and pressed in her wardrobe.

I have a packet of proper sew-on name tapes with her name in pink. I have not yet cut these with pinking shears and sewed them on, because I am in denial that she is actually going to be at school on 6 September and is growing up.

I can’t even watch her favourite DVD, Mamma Mia, with her any more because every time Meryl starts crooning ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ I start blubbing.

What am I concerned about? That she will find good friends from nice families. That she will be understood and cherished by her teachers. That she will love school, and love learning. That she will be happy. That it’s the beginning of the end of my time as the number one influence on her view of the world. That although she’s ready intellectually, she probably isn’t emotionally, and does tend to burst into tears if she feels wrongfooted or misunderstood.

Everyone whose precious, perfect first baby is about to start school no doubt feels the same way. Probably groundlessly. And I’m sure I won’t be the only one driving home in tears after dropping her off on her first day (well, not so much an actual day, as she has a week of 9am-11am).

Anyway, here are those Abba lyrics so all of you about to embark on the next stage of the incredible journey of parenthood can get all emotional too:

‘Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile
I watch her go with a surge of that well-known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while
The feeling that I’m losing her forever
And without really entering her world
I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what’s in her mind
Each time I think I’m close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time’

Oh dear, I appear to have something in my eye…

Do three year olds have a sense of humour?

I was FURIOUS with DH yesterday. DD’s been having another bit of a wobble at nursery, probably just not back into the swing of things after her virus and the bank hols. Yesterday was a mummy day, and I tried really hard to be calm and cheerful and to keep her calm and cheerful. The aim was to help her relax and feel secure, for us (and DS) to all have fun together. We had a lovely day in the sunshine with a couple of low-level treats. I didn’t shout and she didn’t burst into tears all day. Hurrah. (This is a major achievement for me and DD when we are together all day, especially with no visits or visitors.)

Then DH gets home, a bit early. The kiddies are delighted to see him, as am I. Bathtime and storytime progress smoothly. We talk about DD going to stay with my parents (her beloved grandma and dziadziu) this weekend for a couple of nights so she can be spoiled rotten and I can give DS my full attention for once before we all go on holiday next week. Then, just before bed, DH says to DD ‘And when you get back we’ll be gone to Spain on holiday and you’ll have to stay here by yourself with Charlie Cat!’. OMG. This is his idea of a joke.

I didn’t say anything, just laughed it off as ‘silly daddy’, and off we all trooped upstairs for bedtime. DD took a while to let me go, a little unusually, and there were a few tears, very unusually, before she would settle down. Then a couple of hours later, we hear this wailing from upstairs and she’s half asleep having a nightmare. This isn’t uncommon, but we haven’t had one for weeks.

I came downstairs after settling her feeling really upset. My baby girl is clearly feeling a bit insecure at the moment, for whatever reasons, and the one thing she really didn’t need to hear just before bed was a ‘joke’ about being abandoned, left behind, being alone, and missing out on her holiday. I told DH off and he got really defensive. This morning, though, the first thing he did was talk to DD, apologise and reassure her that we would never leave her and we are all going to Spain together.

My very limited understanding of neuroscience is that the human sub-conscious does not have ‘a sense of humour’ and processes everything that’s said and heard quite literally. That’s why sarcasm and self-deprecation are so damaging to our self-esteem, because deep down, this becomes how we actually feel about ourselves. And why, after 20 years, DH’s amusing little digs at my idiosyncracies have become slightly wearing.

I don’t think it matters whether daddy is joking or not. I think we really need to watch what we say to our children, so far from being a laugh, it doesn’t become something for them to worry about.

What do you think? Am I taking this all a bit too seriously and lacking in a sense of humour myself? Have you or someone close to your kids ever made a ‘joke’ that they took literally?