The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School Part 2

This is the second instalment in the Mothering Fright’s Beginner’s Guide to Primary School. For those of you who read Part 1, my heartfelt and somewhat surprised thanks that you have returned to imbibe Part 2. For those of you who have come straight to Part 2, fear not, you can start here and work backwards, which is not a bad strategy for many things, apart from doing the Conga. For everyone, a quick reminder: there is nothing of actual use in this Guide. So sue me.

Uniform

However much uniform you purchase, it will be one item too few. There is much collateral damage involving uniform in that first year of primary school, much of which will leave you staring in disbelief and wondering what sort of supernatural trickery was involved to have inflicted that mark / rip / strange sticky substance in a place on that item of clothing that barely sees daylight. A school jumper, not removed for the entire school day, is taken off at home to reveal a strange orange stain on the shirt underneath that definitely was not there that morning. Velcro straps on shoes are hideously clagged with a mysterious red fibre even though the classroom carpet is blue. And the school jumper… well, this is the front line in the war against pretty much everything a 5 year old can throw at it and it seems any activity or event can prove it’s downfall:

  • A classroom painting activity. Either aprons are for wimps, or my son puts his on back to front. Actually, that is pretty damn likely.
  • Baked bean eating. While do kids insist on loving a foodstuff so bloody small and slippery and covered in juice? Jumpers come home looking like a knitted ice rink for snails, with crusty silvery-orange trails criss-crossing the front.
  • Other kids. Another child’s inability to carry a loaded paintbrush to the sink without tripping over their imaginary friend means a globby smudge of dried-on paint on some part of the jumper on a regular basis.
  • The common cold. Mucus, meet sleeve. Sleeve, meet mucus. Need I say more?
  • My son has the utterly infuriating habit of chewing on the sleeve of his jumpers. A perfectly serviceable jumper suddenly looks like the dog’s been snacking on it, forcing me to darn it. And darning was something I was pretty much hoping to avoid in my life time, given that I do not live in sodding Victorian times.
  • Paint aside, there are still many ways to trash a jumper whilst in the pursuit of artistic expression. Why not glue some glittery shapes onto it? Or stick a few mini poms poms on the elbow? Or simply wipe your PVA-sodden fingers across your chest. All of which have the common denominator of glue, or as I now refer to it, the evil albino mucus that drips from the wizened nostrils of Beelzebub. I know, catchy, right?

jumper_dirty

And as a tragic caveat to uniform, let us turn our attention to the much abused and neglected PE kit. Lovingly laundered and folded a week before term starts, it is then squeezed and pummelled into a drawstring bag that seems to have been designed to hold something the size and shape of a tennis ball. By the time the trainers and plimsolls are inserted on top by means of a greased shoe horn, you wonder why you ever bloody bothered. It instantly looks like it’s been festering in a small damp bag for seven weeks. Seven weeks later at the end of term, after it has actually been festering in a small damp bag, you have to don a full chemical suit just to extract it and throw it hurriedly into the washing machine using extra-long stainless steel prongs.

But don’t expect your child’s PE kit to come home at the end of term. Good god no. The first time I emptied E’s PE bag, I pulled out a tee shirt and shorts belonging to Daisy, a girl at least 3 sizes smaller than my son. I briefly wondered just how many weeks my son had been attempting to run around in a kit that would have practically cut off his circulation and bent him double, but I decided the best policy was not to ask. (This approach will stand you in very good stead to survive primary school generally, I find).

Your child will rarely grow out of shoes. Long before that, one shoe will have succumbed to a mysterious but fatal incident that sees you rushing into the nearest Clarks at 4pm, desperately scanning the sale racks. A Velcro strap will have ‘fallen off’, a hole will suddenly appear in the side of the shoe the circumference of which looks suspiciously similar to that of your child’s forefinger, or it will simply go missing in action, usually in the 40 minutes between getting changed for PE and returning to the classroom.

Learning to read

You will be given books to ‘read’ with your child that have no words. This will slightly fuck with your mind.

You will then be given books to read with your child that have three, three letter words per page, the utter banality of which will fuck with your mind some more.

You will think your child will never, ever learn to read. When he looks long and hard at the word ‘car’ and confidently reads it as ‘acrobat’ you will sob quietly inside.

Your child will be using the phonics system of learning to read. Mine used Jolly phonics, a name so wildly inaccurate it made me grind my teeth into calcified nubs. First come the ridiculous songs and actions. Then the torturous experience of watching a 5-year-old sound out a word so inaccurately you can’t even begin to find something to say that isn’t the word ‘twat’. And let’s not forget the dawning realisation of both you and your child that almost every other word in the English language seems not to conform to the rules of phonics. Couple that with the interminably slow progress of reading a sentence and the utter vacuum of expression a child reads with at this stage, and you start to think you are sitting next to Stephen Hawking when his batteries are running low.

In short, it’s a mind fuck.

acrobat_spelling_card

The Reading Journal

It looks innocuous enough. A slim book in which you write comments and observations about reading with your child at home. It is also where the teachers write their comments, so there is added pressure that there is an outside chance that the teacher may read what you have written. You will become expert in writing bollocks comments about the hideous last 20 minutes of your life where you had to threaten your child with no TV for the next three months if he didn’t sit down and read to you. You will also develop a complex code of comments whereby ‘he really tried hard to blend his words today’ really means ‘the little fucker threw the book at my head when I tried to tell him that the word mat wasn’t in fact pronounced poo bum’, and where ‘he seems a little disengaged with his reading today’ means ‘I suggested we read together and he lay down on the floor and made a funny monotonous groaning sound for three minutes’. Oh no, wait. That could have been me, actually.

You had PE today, didn’t you?

Whilst you will never really know what your child gets up to on any given day in school (see What they did that day from Part 1) you will pretty much always be able to deduce when they have had PE. Why?

  • They’re wearing their shoes on the wrong feet.
  • Their shirt buttons are buttoned up incorrectly, and one side of the shirt hangs a good ten inches lower than the other. It’s a look.
  • They’re wearing someone else’s school jumper.
  • They tell you they missed play time as they were still attempting to button up their shirt.

The clean plate sticker

Your child may well be most excited in those early days of school by being a recipient of a sticker from a lunch time helper, awarded for eating all of their dinner. Although as it turns out, you can also get this sticker by the surreptitious scraping of your left overs onto your neighbour’s plate whilst they are momentarily distracted by a carrot slice in their ear.

Parent as pack donkey

You will become a handy coat rack and crap carrier twice a day. As your child barrels out of the classroom, you will be buried under a tsunami of coat, jumper, book bag, three crumpled pieces of A4 paper (that you are told in no uncertain terms are not to be folded), a sticky sweet wrapper as it was someone’s birthday, an injury form, water bottle and a ridiculously over-sized book as your child couldn’t possibly go to the library and choose something that would fit in their bag. As the tips of your fingers start to turn white and your shoulders begin to throb, said child is then incredulous that you haven’t bought a snack with you as they skip alongside you, swinging their empty arms with gay abandon.

Tune in next week for the last thrilling instalment of The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School. It’s where you’ll find out how to deal with Dressing Up Day without stabbing someone and what happens when you wear Crocs to a playdate. Or is it that how to wear Crocs to Dressing up Day and what happened when I stabbed someone at a play date? Oh well, I am sure it will all become clear when I actually write the bloody thing.

MouseMoo

The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School Part 1

Some may still consider me a novice primary school parent, what with my son shortly to be only going into Year 3. However, in those three short years, I have learned much of the mysterious ways of the primary school. So as my youngest now embarks on the good ship Primary, I think it is time I spread my anti-wisdom around a bit for all those parents out there who will also be untying the mooring lines from their offspring and pushing them off into the uncharted territory of school, to watch them bob around aimlessly whilst they learn to work their rudders. At which point I shall gracefully swim away from this boating metaphor, as I really do not know what the fuck I am talking about.

Uniform purchase

At some point between July and September, the purchase of uniform will take place. All hail the cut-price supermarket clothes, is all I can say. The local uniform shop where we are obliged to buy the branded items is a sphincter-clenchingly irritating dichotomy of being last decorated in 1973 whilst its young customer assistants are bang up to date with their studied aloofness and inability to spot a customer in need from five paces.

Two years ago, I left the purchase of non-branded items to the middle of the summer holiday. Oh, how I didn’t laugh when I sailed up the Asda escalator to be confronted by a scene from the Apocalypse, only involving slightly more easy-iron shirts in inappropriate sizes. The only thing left hanging on the uniform rails was my will to live. An odd pair of grey shorts lay forlorn on the floor, four sizes too large, whilst half a pack of socks swung at an odd angle from a hanger that once gripped a navy skirt. I managed to find an assistant to enquire if they were expecting more in, and she gave me a smile of such pity that a little part of me died inside. So now, as soon as I see the summer holiday looming, it’s a family trip to the supermarket for us, then I don’t feed them for six weeks to stunt their growth and it’s job done.

I’ll name that jumper in one (Sharpie pen)

Labelling your child’s uniform. Simple, right? Wrong. There is a hierarchy of labelling methods that correlates precisely to how shit you are as a parent.

At the top of the parenting tree smugly sways the sewn-in labels. Oh, look at me, with my groovy coloured font and my neat little stitches. There are mums (and I wish not to be sexist, but I have never yet met a dad who would dream of entertaining such ludicrousy) who spend days before school starts hunched over a mountain of uniform, meticulously sewing a label into each shirt, skirt and sock, every stitch a pledge of love and devotion for their beautiful, well turned-out offspring.

Below this on the tree there are the iron-in name badges. You can still show off with a funky font and a range of colours, but this practical naming solution means you never have to try to thread the end of a piece of cotton into an opening smaller than an ant’s arsehole, or jab a needle under your thumb nail, a pain so hideous it makes you spontaneously invent a new swear word as the ones currently at your disposal are just not up to the job. But let’s not forget, this is not a solution for the lazy. After all, it means that you have to iron your child’s uniform at least once.

And then, at the bottom of the tree, slouched with legs open and a fag on the go, is the Sharpie pen. The naming implement of parents too lazy to get the ironing board out, or too those too unprepared to have ordered iron-in name labels two weeks previously.  Unless your child’s name is Ed Law or Sue Po, however, there may well be a space issue, so you end up writing tiny letters with a fat-nibbed writing implement that look fine and dandy for the first 12 micro-seconds, then as the ink bleeds across the label, you realise you have just basically redacted the washing instructions. On the upside, however, it is one of the few naming solutions that can be executed with child in situ. Child’s arms aloft, you can pull the shirt label toward a nearby table and Sharpie it to your heart’s content, or turn the waistband of trousers inside out and quickly scribble the name in the three seconds your child will stand still for. You can’t do that with a bloody iron. No really, don’t.

Just to clarify, I have never, ever, used a Sharpie pen to label my child’s uniform. *kicks two Sharpie pens under sofa and walks away nonchalantly, whistling*

fuck_sewing_sharpie

Years

The way the years are titled at primary school is a complete mystery. I know I was educated in an era when throwing a blackboard rubber at a pupil was an acceptable way of a teacher commanding attention, and in fact, in an era when there was actually such as thing as a blackboard rubber, but really, it didn’t used to be this complicated.

Now, the first year at primary is not called Year 1. Good God no. I mean, that would be ridiculous. In our school this first year is called Reception. Unless you write it down, when it becomes YrF. Which I think stands for Foundation. But could possibly stand for Fuckwit.

I could sort of understand this approach a few years ago, when reception was a gentle introduction to learning, the metaphorical atrium where children gathered to slowly acclimatise to this new phase of their life and where the curriculum consisted largely of colouring in and singing songs. However, with the introduction of the new curriculum in 2014 this is no longer the case. So concerned was the Department for Education that we were rearing a nation of dullards that the new curriculum dictates that by the spring term of reception the kids are expected to be calculating simultaneous equations and spotting subordinate clauses at around the same time as they master a knife and fork. Give or take.

So kids have to have been in school a whole year before they are in Year 1, at which point it finally becomes a lot simpler, and you count the years up to 6. Although don’t forget, when they get to year 3 they stop being Key Stage 1 and commence Key Stage 2. Which in old money, converts back to infants and primary. Although taking into account deflation, the increased value of sterling and the accelerated curriculum, probably actually equates to senior school and university.

So. We’re all clear on that then, yes?

The Teacher’s home visit

The home visit from your child’s teacher is one of the most high-pressure, high-stakes situations you will endure. You will spend the preceding three hours wiping every bogey from the kitchen chairs, picking up those tiny bits of Lego that you have pretended not to notice in the corner of the room for the previous five weeks and checking the cleaned toilet for fresh skid marks at least once every ten minutes. You will agonise over refreshment choice and ponder snack options. Biscuits: too sugary? Fruit: too messy? Homemade gingerbread men: too full of a 4-year old’s bogeys and bacteria?

You will sit in one room with the teacher, answering benign questions about your child, what they like and dislike, what nursery they have been to, and so on, whilst in the other room the teaching assistant gets down to the real interrogation with your child. You silently pray to the God of Keeping your Trap Shut that he doesn’t say anything too incriminating, doesn’t mention the time that you nearly shut his head in the car boot, and doesn’t repeat a heinous swear word that he may or may not have heard you say when you stubbed your toe on a bloody scooter that had been discarded in the middle of the kitchen floor.

As they leave they give you a smile that possibly means ‘your child is a retard and a horror’ and you smile back, a rictus grin that definitely means ‘I need a large glass of wine now’.

 wie_gingerbreadman

What they did that day

Get used to knowing nothing about what happens to your child every day. Along with sticking their laminated name by their peg and learning where to put their book bag on their first day at school, every reception child swears a ninja vow of silence. Henceforth, conversations about what they have been doing that day will run somewhere along these lines:

“So, what was your best part of today?”

“Lunch.”

“What did you have?”

“Can’t remember.”

“So apart from lunch, what else did you do that you enjoyed?”

“Playtime.”

“Lovely. Did you do anything in the classroom that was good?”

“Yes.”

“Ooh, what was that then?”

“We played.”

“That sounds good. What did you play?”
“Can’t remember.”

“Who did you play with?”

“My friends.”

“How nice. Which friends?”

“Can’t remember.”

 

The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School Part 2 will be published next week. I know. It’s edge-of-your-seat stuff.

 


Mumzilla

A Mexican Wave in an Old People’s Home

 

WARNING_untrained_percussionists

I must have done something either really terrible in my last life, or lived a life so full of adventure and adrenalin, someone is trying to recalibrate the cosmic scales: either way, it is class assembly time. Now don’t get me wrong, I love getting involved in my son’s school life. Every day when we arrive home from school pick up, I enjoy nothing more than holding his Hudl to ransom whilst I clinch him in a sturdy headlock in return for a morsel of information about what he did that day. But attending the class assemblies? It’s parental engagement gone mad, I tell you.

You know you’re in trouble when the class troop into the hall holding a variety of small percussion instruments. Ooh good, I think, tambourines. Because there is nothing quite like the smash of a chubby fist against a surface scarred with the fingernails of the previous hundred reluctant musicians to put joy in your heart and a sweet aural caress on your ear drums.

The first child stands up. An expectant hush falls over the audience as the child starts to speak. We all collectively lean forward. His lips are moving, but does he realise there is no sound being emitted? Oh wait, I think there is, but it would take ears better trained than mine to hear what is being said and if I lean forward any further I am in danger of taking out at least three Year 1 pupils sitting on the floor in front of me. I squint a bit in the vain hope that I have learned to lip read since I woke up, but no, it is not to be.

Many, many, many more minutes pass in a similar vein. I watch the children, some mumbling inaudibly, others loud enough but with a lack of intonation that would make Stephen Hawking blush. Faces are partially obscured by pieces of paper on which their line is typed in a large, over-optimistic font, and I wonder why they don’t just hold these up instead. It transpires that they are explaining what they have been working on this term. The narrative is told not-quite chronologically, as due to some administrative queueing fuck up as they left the classroom, it seems that they put on a display of flying machines that they had made, and then they made them.

They show us the masterpieces that they have been working on in the precious minutes squeezed between lunch, discussions of who will play Kilo Ren at play time, nose picking and SATs practice. I believe what is meant to happen is a simultaneous raising of the pieces of work. What actually happens is more like a Mexican wave in an old people’s home. Gradually, each child  slowly raises their poster, eventually prompting the child standing next to them who was up until that point busy staring at her shoes, to raise hers, and so it goes on down the line.  Slowly. Eventually, every child holds up their prized poster, kitchen roll tube aeroplane or a small paper construction that closely resembles the pile of screwed-up recycling on my kitchen surface. Several eyes are poked out with the sharp end of a Spitfire’s cardboard wing, an eardrum is compromised by an oversized lolly stick propeller and several cheeks sustain papercuts. That bit is quite entertaining, to be fair.


plane_looroll

My attention is drawn back to the room after an indeterminate period of time where I may or may not have been staring at the hall clock, just in time to see my son deliver his allotted line, facing strangely sideways for some reason, contorted downwards so he can see his script which he seems to have left on the floor and with both hands wedged firmly in his pockets. It is a distinctly underwhelming moment. Sorry, did I say underwhelming? I meant life-affirming. Yes, that was it.

We then segue neatly (by which I mean 30 children all stare at each other with growing panic as no one is saying anything) into the Maths demonstration. One child plods slowly down the line of class mates, thumps up the stage steps and across the stage to the waiting flip chart. He reads aloud the Maths problem written on the sheet, addressing mainly the flip chart, and with way too much care and attention, underlines the important information. This is a boy who has been drilled in the responsibility bestowed by a Marker Pen. He slowly retraces his steps and finally arrives back at his original place, solemnly handing over the flip chart marker to the girl next to him. She sets off down the line at a similarly regal pace, leisurely walks up the steps and heads to the flip chart. By now, I am inadvertently clenching my fists. She re-reads the problem. Slowly. Eventually, she raises the marker to the page and with much deliberation, writes the sum down that needs to be solved. Please don’t read it out, I silently beg. She reads it out. Finally, she turns and makes the long, slow trek back across the stage and returns to her place. She offers the baton to her neighbour and there is a brief fumble. The audience hold their breath, but after an ungainly recovery, the next boy funeral marches toward the stage.  Three days later when he reaches the flip chart, for reasons known only to him (and that’s being kind) he rewrites the sum below the original sum that has just been written. The same sum. Again. Slowly. At which point half the audience are silently screaming: THE ANSWER IS 42. JUST WRITE THE SODDING ANSWER, WILL YOU?

When he finally hands over the marker to the brightest boy in the class, we know we are reaching the nail-biting finale, as he is the only one who would be entrusted to deliver the denouement without fear of him writing the wrong answer, saying something untoward or suddenly eating the marker pen. He writes the number 42 on the flip. We all clap, out of total and utter relief.

marker_pen

Once they are all back into a semblance of a line, another child mumbles something, which appears to be the cue for them to all pick up their instruments. I brace myself. From the old speakers in the corners of the hall crackles Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds. Thirty kids, twenty-eight of whom look like they’ve just been told they’ll never see their iPads again, less burst, more slide reluctantly into song. At the chorus, (mis)guided by the wild gesticulations from the teacher who is standing at the back, arms flailing as if she is having some kind of seizure, the children start banging, scraping, tinging and rattling their instruments. The noise they produce bears more than a passing resemblance to a 30-piece dinner service, complete with cutlery, glasses and stainless steel tureens, being tipped off a dining table. Every three seconds. Christ, I never realised that that song went on for quite so bloody long. It was alright for Bob Marley, he was off his tits on top-quality weed. I have to endure this stone-cold sober.

Enthusiasm from the performers begins to wane dramatically after the first chorus, but not so much as that of the audience. Lyrics had obviously been forgotten on the long walk from classroom to hall, so along with mis-timed banging we were treated to mis-singing as well, whilst one boy with a drum had decided the best way to play the aforementioned instrument was to hold it stationary in his left hand and move his entire body to meet it at every beat. That boy is going to have a core of steel by the time this song is bloody finished. One girl standing half way down the line is now close to tears, her bottom lip trembling (also not in time with the music). Perhaps the dawning realisation of the utter chasm there exists between the words she is barely singing (don’t worry, be happy) and the current godforsaken predicament she finds herself in, is finally sinking in.

And eventually, when I thought I may have to leave the room for fear of developing a permanent nervous tic, it stops. Well, ‘stops’ may not be the right word, as it makes it sound like there was a definitive, certain cessation of noise which is not wholly accurate. A proportion of the children stop hammering the shit out of their instrument, whilst the remainder carry on for some time, either due to lack of attention or sheer bloody-mindedness, until only one girl remains defiantly tinging her triangle.

And so another class assembly draws to a close. There is a collective sigh of relief from parents, mainly due to the fact that it is finally over, but also in no small part as no one’s child has vomited, shat their pants or shouted something inappropriate. Which on reflection, is a pity, really.

triangle


Are you sure you are not measuring my poo hole?

So apparently, it’s C Section Awareness month, or Big Up the Sunroof Exit, as I like to call it. It reminded me of my experience with my first born and never one to not insert my two penneth into the slot of conversation, I thought I would bring forth an excerpt from Womb with a View, my book about pregnancy, birth and motherhood. Probably best not to read over lunch as there are mentions of cervixes, ectoplasm and washing up …

You couldn’t get a golf ball up there (8am)

The consultant arrives to check my dilation. I have been in labour for six hours and feel like the end should be near. I am bloody tired and it hurts (I think these are both what are called in the trade ‘sodding great understatements’).

He gets down to business to check out what is going on and to find out how dilated I am. I pray repeatedly to the god of wide openings for at least eight centimetres. I could probably just about cope with seven. Come on, my lovely helter-skelter cervix, don’t let me down.

“You are two centimetres dilated,” he announces. Fuck. Two centimetres? Two? Twenty bloody millimetres? Are you sure you are not measuring my poo hole by accident?

On and on

It could be day, it could be night. I have no idea and I am not sure that I care.

Still here (12pm)

We are on our third shift change and yet another midwife takes the reins. She is being shadowed by a trainee. I am annoyed by this, but have no idea why. I am certainly not going to say anything, because a) talking takes too much brain power and energy and b) if I have learnt one thing in the last ten hours, it is that the midwife in the labour room is my best friend and it is more than a little foolhardy to jeopardise this relationship with an irrational hatred of a woman with blonde plaits.

Still here. Still.

Oh fuck, this can’t still be happening, can it?

Ouch

Question: On a scale of one to ten, how knackered am I? Answer: One hundred and ninety three.

Where do I sign? (3.30pm)

Thirteen and a half hours. I have never done anything in my life for this consecutive number of hours, apart from breathe. It is time for another consultant check and he gets out his highly technical precision cervix-measuring instrument (otherwise known as fingers).

Okay, after this length of time, I must be nine and a half centimetres. In fact, I will be surprised if he doesn’t make eye contact with Prawn whilst he’s down there.

“Hmmm, about three centimetres.”

I am numb. No, I am not numb in fact, as another contraction hits. Bollocks. I bloody wish I was numb. I think it is just my brain that is numb. It is flashing up ‘Does not compute’ every time I try to feed in the information that I have dilated one more centimetre in the last seven and a half hours. Tectonic plates move bloody faster than my sodding cervix. I need an emergency swear word. I need a swear word so heinous that it is kept behind glass with a small hammer hanging beside it, not to be used unless in the direst of circumstances. It is at this precise point that I would break that glass and scream the word repeatedly at the top of my lungs until there is not one iota of breath left in my body.

The consultant presents Mike and I with our options. We can either carry on, as although the baby’s heartbeat is not as strong as it should be, he doesn’t seem particularly distressed (at least that makes one of us), or we can have a C-Section. Then he adds, somewhat too nonchalantly for my liking, that carrying on would mean at least another four to six hours to make any meaningful progress.

“What shall we do?” I whisper to Mike as the consultant leaves us for a few moments to decide.

“What do you want to do?” replies Mike.

Many things that I want to do flash through my head, comprising:

  • Be anywhere but here
  • Be anywhere but here
  • Be anywhere but here

“I don’t know.” I think I do know, deep down, but I want this to be a joint decision. After all, it may be hard being the one full of foetus, but Mike’s past four days have been no bloody picnic. Before this sounds a little too caring and altruistic, making a joint decision does also leave the “what did you make me do that for?” card in play.

“I think I want the C-Section,” I whisper as I start to cry.

“Then let’s do it,” Mike replies.

Form, razor, action (4.00pm)

We inform the consultant and midwife that we’ll take the C-Section please. Mike packs away the hypnobirthing scripts and the consultant, armed with his form, starts to talk us through the procedure. He lists all known side-effects of the epidural I am about to undergo, along with possible complications that the surgery can have. I have no idea what he is actually saying, he could be telling us that there is every likelihood that my head will fall off as a result of the operation and I would still sign that form.

As he talks, I begin to shake uncontrollably. I sit on my hands to try and look a bit less like someone is passing 240 volts through me, but it feels like every single muscle in my body is trembling violently. It is so ridiculous that I laugh, which is no mean feat when a contraction is hitting your abdomen with the force of a small tornado. Being a polite kind of chap, the consultant does not pass comment on my juddering limbs; there is no ‘hey Jerky, sign here please’.

Now it is the turn of the anaesthetist. He comes in and sits on the bed, and slowly and gently talks through the mini epidural I am about to have. I am not clear why it is a mini one – personally at this stage, I am all for a Super-Max-Deluxe-King-size one with extra fries, but he assures me that a mini one will be just fine. A contraction hits and I yelp with pain and cling to Mike.

“That will be the last contraction you will feel,” he tells me and I instantly fall in love with him.

“Okay, you just need to be still whilst I administer the injection.” Hmmm, easier said than done when I am shaking like a windsock in a hurricane and I start to fret about moving just at the moment of impact, but before I can formulate an appropriate level of anxiety, he tells me he has done it and I should start to feel the effects shortly. I fall in love with him all over again.

The midwife then steps forward and tells me I need a shave. Now, I realise that I have been in this bloody room for a long time, but surely I haven’t grown a beard? No. They are going to shave my pubic hair off. Mike is whisked away – as if they have decided that whilst he can sit through labour and childbirth, watching his wife’s pubes get shaved off in a way reminiscent of a boarding-school-style prank would be too much for him to take. And the midwife and Plaits divest me of my pubic hair, with little ceremony and no offer of being able to take my pubes home in a little drawstring bag, which I thought would be part of the ritual of the first haircut my pubic region had ever had.

Then I get wheeled to theatre and am rejoined by Mike. His green surgical trousers leave little to the imagination, which cheers me up no end. I may be about to be cut in two, but boy, does he look amusing. A green cloth goes up over my chest, which I like to assume is so that I can’t see the business end, but is probably more to do with containment of splashing. The anaesthetist’s head appears from behind this screen and he talks through what is about to happen, slowly and clearly and with a smile. For the third time, I fall in love with him. I am sure he must have spiked my anaesthetic.

Mike hunkers down next to my head and starts to talk to me, about what exactly I have no idea, but it is fantastic. It is the ‘la la la’ technique made manifest and it works a treat – for a long time I let the assembled masses do what they have to do down there without so much as a second thought.

On one of my previous perusals of baby and pregnancy websites, I had read an account of a C-Section by a new mum. She had described it as feeling like someone washing up in your stomach. So as I lay there, I am anticipating this gentle sensation, akin, I imagine, to a little light rummaging.

What a load of tosh. There is a four man tug-o-war going on down there all of a sudden, and I wonder if they are trying to pull a baby or my entire spinal column out of there. Washing up? Does that bloody woman wash up in a cement mixer? I swear one of them puts their foot on my hip to gain some traction at one point, although given the state of my head, I admit I may have been mistaken. There is absolutely no pain, which in itself is a little perturbing, as I know by the way my body is moving involuntarily the voracity with which they are attempting to extract the baby.

“Here he is,” says one of the masked womb raiders, and holds up Ellis over the screen. He is scrunched up like an angry little puce fist and immediately blows a big bubble from his mouth. I smile at his bubble-blowing party trick and at the sudden sense of it all being over. I am secretly hoping that they don’t pass him over the screen to me as he looks like an extra from a low-budget horror film, covered in gunk, blood and dripping with ectoplasm. Or placenta juice. Or some other bodily fluid that I would rather not have to kiss. I am no Earth mother. I’ll take my babies scrubbed, cleaned and lightly fragranced, thank you.  Luckily, they whisk him away to clean him up; I am hoping they have the services of an industrial pressure washer. Mike and I seem to be holding our breath, and then we hear a cry. We exhale and smile.

Mike is called over to collect him. Ever the attentive wife, I remind him of a sage piece of advice we received from the NCT class – in exactly this scenario, don’t let the husband get the baby, then turn round to head back to you – he will come face to face with the insides of your abdomen and he may not be able to look you in the eyes again, or at the very least, will cover your new baby in vomit. So with averted eyes, Mike goes to collect him and returns to my side, holding him next to me for a few minutes. We stare at him, cocooned in a white towel. Our baby. We say nothing, just stare a little more before Mike and the baby are told to leave whilst I get “tidied up”, a gentle euphemism for what I imagine is quite a repair job. Off go my husband and my son, and I am left alone.

My first thought in the silence that follows is to wonder if it is appropriate to ask the surgical team to maybe do a quick nip and tuck on my belly before they stitch me up, to go some way towards counteracting the Fruit Pastille fest I have been on, but fear it would fall on deaf ears. There seems to be quite an engrossing conversation happening about arrangements for their night out, so I turn instead to the momentous occasion that I have just experienced: the birth of our child. How do I feel, I ponder? Totally and utterly knackered, I answer. I don’t feel different. I don’t feel whole (who would though? I am pretty sure half my insides are lying outside of my body at this point in time). I don’t feel elated. I don’t feel infused with a love profound and deep. I just feel relief that it is all over. It is not the most poetic of emotions, relief. It doesn’t make the heart soar, nor the soul sing, but it will do me just fine right now.

 

And should you want more of this (it seems unlikely, but you never know) then you can get yourself a shiny new copy of Womb with a View from Amazon if you wish to read it on a Kindle, or www.jodienewman.co.uk if you want the old fashioned version that also doubles as a fly swat, a door stop and a handy device to stop that table wobbling.


The black hole of Christmas cheer

Christmas Cheer Mothering Frights

I watch my son as his bottom lip, hanging slack from an open jaw, is bothered repeatedly by his protruding tongue. He then jams his fingers into his mouth. And I don’t mean a dainty suck. It’s like watching a bottom-feeding sea creature attempt to eat an octopus, tentacles first.

It can only mean one thing. The pre-school Christmas songs. I am repeatedly told that Christmas is full of joy. Unfortunately, this thirty minutes is the black hole of Christmas cheer for pretty much everyone involved.

We are ushered in and propelled toward three rows of chairs that have seemingly been loaned from the dolls’ house in the toddler’s room. I am wondering if I should take one for each bum cheek, but parents are still streaming in behind me so decide against it. And there we settle, chins resting against knees, the chairs in front resting against shins behind and all with a perfect view of the back of some dad’s huge head. I lean right and manage to catch a glimpse of B amongst the twenty or so other three and four year olds who are staring at the mass of parents with a mixture of fear and…well, a bit more fear.

There is a palpable air of expectation radiating from the audience. I have attended too many of these events to be in anticipation of a production that rivals the Sound of Music, with seven-part harmonies and pitch perfect singing, but I have a grain of hope that it won’t be totally horrendous. Which is my first mistake.

I notice that B is not in the clothes that he was wearing that morning and wonder briefly if there has been some cataclysmic pants-shitting event that will mean I will largely be spending my evening scraping semi-dried poo from an undersized pant gusset, but then I realise that they are all in slightly strange outfits. It is as if twenty small children have been thrown into a cement mixer with three bags of charity clothes and a few of Santa’s elves’ cast-offs.

A staff member, a girl (not to be patronising, but most of the staff at the nursery could quite easily qualify as my daughter they are that young… or I am that old) so cheery it makes my eyes water, welcomes us all to thirty minutes of our lives that we can never get back.

And so we are mistreated to half an hour of Cheery singing to the parents whilst twenty kids stand in a straggly line engaging in a range of nose picking, bum scratching and thumb sucking whilst completely ignoring her pleas to join in. Song lyrics are mumbled through barely open lips, shoes are studied so intently that several pairs are in danger of spontaneously combusting and a handful of children slowly and inexorably slide into hysterical tears.

B stands, eyes cast downwards, sucking his fist. He occasionally musters enough effort to lift his gaze to mine, at which point his eyes implore me to stop this horrific madness. I smile and wave and silently implore the same. He does momentarily take his upper limb from his mouth and I wonder for a brief, overly-optimistic moment that he is about to burst into song – or at least let a few Christmassy words drip from his mouth – but no. Instead, he lolls his tongue around his lips, looking for a window to lick.

A couple of the kids have, by now, pulled their Santa hats down to their chin to make is clear that they are taking no further part in this ritual Yuletide humiliation, and that they are definitely not going to lie on the floor and pretend to be asleep, let alone flap their arms and pretend to be angels. And all the while, Cheery is emoting her way through a variety of songs and story-telling, valiantly imploring various children to repeat the lines.

She pulls an incalcitrant-looking boy toward her.
“Joe, say ‘I can see the angels!’”

Joe says nothing.

“Say it for me, Joe.”

Joe appears to be trying on selective mutism for size. It suits him.

“I can see the angels, Joe?”

But it appears that Joe cannot. She releases him from her grip and grabs another child.

“Say ‘I can see the angels’ Flora.”

Flora’s bottom lip starts to tremble. A large proportion of the audience are willing her to JUST SAY THE BLOODY LINE SO WE CAN ALL MOVE ON. Flora starts to cry and snot dribbles from her nose as my will to live seeps slowly from several of my orifices.

And so the Christmas concert chaos continues. More children do not say the lines that they no doubt delivered with such panache in rehearsals the day before. Songs are not sung. Actions are not actioned. If I had wanted to spend half an hour staring at a pack of kids doing nothing, I could have propped up my eldest’s class photo against a bottle of wine at home and at least had the pleasure of sitting in a chair not made to suit the physique of a sodding Oopma Loompa.

I think I must have slipped into a temporary coma, as when I next look at Cheery she is firmly ushering gaggles of reluctant kids into a vague semblance of a line behind B. “And all the children got on the train. Choo choo! Let’s go!”

Unsurprisingly, the train does not move.

“Let’s go, B!” Cheery shouts as B stands rooted to the floor, licking his fist disconsolately whilst the children-shaped carriages behind him start to surge forward. If he doesn’t get a bloody move on, there’ll be a derailment of epic proportions and it will take us another hour to untangle the children. Finally, a teacher enters stage left and drags B around by his wrist at which point I am unsure whether to laugh, cry or leave. I think B is having exactly the same thought.

And then, mercifully, it seems we have reached the denouement. For some reason that has completely escaped me, now Cheery has a Tupperware box of metallic glitter shapes that she is handing out to all the kids.

“Throw the glitter over your mummys and daddys, children!” Cheery shrills. Oh good. I knew there was something missing from this whole experience, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until now.

Instantly the kids are all transfixed by how it is that every single piece of that glitter is somehow utterly stuck to their sweaty palms, no matter how hard they shake their hands. I smile. Cheery is now throwing the glitter shapes over the children, who look up in glee. Several then start to cry as they realise that their teacher has, to all intents and purposes, just thrown tiny metallic shapes in their eyes.

And there we have it. Another Christmas, another excruciating children’s performance. Those Von Trapp children have got a lot to bloody answer for. I collect B and we get in the car to go home.

“Did you like your Christmas play?” I ask.

“No,” he sullenly replies.

No. Me neither. I turn out of the car park and we never speak of it again.


Assume the position: The Interloper Fidget, the Duel Laser Death Stare or the Mummy Mount?

You know those articles you see occasionally in the weekend supplements all about the psychology of sleep positions? The ones with the photos of an unfeasibly good looking couple with pressed pyjamas and remarkably dribble-free pillows? The ones that get hastily trotted out in a time when it’s not so much a slow news week, but the globe has pretty much stopped turning and the world’s population is hibernating? Yes, those. I was thinking about those the other day, as I hauled myself out of bed one morning, unrested and terminally fatigued. I was thinking what a load of bollocks they are. They say nothing of the truth of sleeping positions for parents. So, to put the record straight, here is the undefinitive guide to sleep positions of parents.

Firstly, some quick introductions.

Fig 1. Daddy

Fig 1. Daddy

 

This is daddy. Actual daddy does not hang out in skater-wear, but it was slightly Hobson’s choice. I was looking for a fireman, so that I could make an extremely puerile joke about the length of his hose, but I am far too mature for that. (I couldn’t find the hose). I could have gone for a pirate, but the thought of a man lying in bed with a hook instead of a left hand made me wince too much.

 

Fig. 2. Mummy

Fig. 2. Mummy

This is me, mummy. Can I just clarify that this looks absolutely nothing like me, but it is surprisingly hard to find a female Playmobil person, let alone one that resembles a knackered forty four year old with permanent bed-hair. There was a female pirate (a piratess?) but she’s gone missing. I have a suspicion my son has buried her in the garden. So I am stuck with this: a colonial woman with an alarming sense of colour coordination, as well as an even more alarming amount of what looks like ginger stubble on her face. Either that or she’s in early onset leprosy. And just for the record, I do not tend to wear a sun visor in bed.

Fig. 3. The Son

Fig. 3. The Son

 

And this is our three year old son. This is by far the most accurate depiction of a family member. In fact, one might almost call it his doppelganger. Granted, my son has a nose, fingers and a couple of opposable thumbs, but let’s not get picky.

 

 

The primary sleep positions of parents are as follows:

Fig 4. The Parallel Planks

Fig 4. The Parallel Planks

 

The Parallel Planks. Gone are the days of The Spoon, or the Entwined. The Parallel Plank is all about two people who get into bed and are so bloody knackered they haven’t got the energy to turn onto their sides. Lying on the back to sleep is not the most comfortable of positions, but don’t worry. They won’t be asleep for long.

 

 

 

 

Fig 5. The Interloper Fidget

Fig 5. The Interloper Fidget

 

The Interloper Fidget. And so it begins. Entering from the foot of the bed, son has divided the planks and mimics the sleeping parents, with one main difference: he doesn’t shitting-well keep still. As you see in Fig. 5, all three sets of eyes are wide open.

 

 

 

 

Fig 6. The Duel Laser Death Stare

Fig 6. The Duel Laser Death Stare

The Dual Laser Death Stare. Desperate to stop the son from poking his finger up their noses, kicking her in the stomach or kneeing him in the fireman’s hose,  the parents have now adopted the Dual Laser Death Stare. Glaring at the son from both sides, they futilely attempt to keep him still with only the strength of their combined gazes. Often accompanied by the sound of grinding teeth.

 

 

 

 

Fig 7. The Inversion

Fig 7. The Inversion

The Inversion. Usually only recognised by mummy when she realises she has five small toes in her mouth, the Inversion is popular with kids who like to break the rules. Once awake and conscious of the inverted son, neither parent can then sleep for fear of having to explain to the paediatric A&E consultant just how they kneed their son full in the face and partially suffocated him “by accident”.

 

 

 

 

Fig 8. The Classic N

Fig 8. The Classic N

 

The Classic N. The N stands for No. As in No Sleep. Or as in No, you cannot have both legs on the mattress, actually. One parent enjoys the son grinding his head into their neck, a little like death by sandpaper and compressed windpipe all in one, whilst the other sustains multiple toe-nail induced deep tissue wounds to their upper thigh.

 

 

 

 

Fig. 9. The Pillow Bridge

Fig. 9. The Pillow Bridge

 

The Pillow Bridge. This is by far the most structurally sound of all the positions. Once the son lodges himself between the parents, he assumes the tensile strength of titanium and the load-bearing capacity of a ten foot wide concrete column, and cannot be moved. The Pillow Bridge forces both parents to deploy the Single Buttock Clench to ensure they stay on the bed, thus ensuring the only thing part from their son to go to sleep is the other, semi-dangling bum cheek.

 

 

Fig 10. The Mummy Mount

Fig 10. The Mummy Mount

The Mummy Mount. Whilst a traditional Mummy Mount is what got the parents into this god-forsaken predicament to begin with, this is a completely different kettle of 3 year olds. The side effects of the Mummy Mount are that mummy’s core body temperature rises by 47.5 degrees whilst her lung capacity decreases by 1.25 litres. The son, however, can sleep like a fifty foot log, as that is approximately what he seems to weigh.

 

 

 

Fig 11. The Partial Surrender

Fig 11. The Partial Surrender

The Partial Surrender. This sleep position usually occurs between the hours of 3am and 5am. The Partial Surrender comprises incremental movements from the son that gradually forces one or other parent to give up and leave the bed. In Fig. 11, daddy has surrendered and traipsed to the spare room, whilst mummy secretly wishes she’d bloody escaped there three hours ago.

 

 

 

 

Fig 12. The Total Surrender (or The Victory Starfish)

Fig 12. The Total Surrender (or The Victory Starfish)

 

The Total Surrender (or the Victory Starfish). Both parents have waved the white duvet and vacated in the Total Surrender; one to the spare bed, the other downstairs as it is pointless to try and sleep. The son slumbers in a Victory Starfish, a sleep that is solitary and ultimately refreshing, with only the faint sound from downstairs of a string of vociferous expletives to accompany his gentle snoring.

 

 

 

 


A handful of warm and lumpy vomit

mr_benn_transformer

My son was coveting a Transformers toy recently, no doubt having seen them advertised on the television. You know the sort of advert – where the screen is filled with an image of a toy transforming into a six foot tank shooting real lasers at the touch of the button, whilst a line of text that should technically be read by microfiche reads ‘Toy does not turn into a tank or shoot real lasers. Some steps have been removed. Your child will receive this toy and may harbour a nagging sense of disappointment for the rest of his life’.

Mind you, Transformers do seem a handy bunch. After all, they are robots in disguise. They are disguised as a car, to be precise. Or sometimes a freight lorry. My son did have a Transformer once, called Optimus Prime. Together, we managed to transform it into the aforementioned lorry over the period of an hour. Call me old fashioned, but a disguise that takes the best part of 60 minutes to change is not an unqualified success. Let’s face it. Mr Benn can facilitate an entire outfit change by taking off his hat, so those bloody Transformers need to buck their ideas up. If a mode of transport if proving tricky, then perhaps they should be a little less ambitious, and transform into something a tad simpler. Like a stick.

So, as I was pondering those Transformers, something struck me. For once it was not a flying Play Mobil person, as my 3 year old was not in the same room as I. A thought struck me. Forget Bumblebee (and let us just pause to consider if a rotund, stripy insect that regularly flies into closed windows and will only sting if REALLY, REALLY bloody annoyed is the best name they could have come up with). It is parents who are the ultimate transformers, because we can transform into pretty much anything that the situation demands of us. There is no situation too sticky, too precarious, too vomit-inducing, or too snotty to resolve. Just casting my mind back to the last few months, my transformer skills have included:

– A sick bowl. Who hasn’t held their cupped hands out in front of a poorly child, who thirty seconds ago was adamant they were not going to be sick and then with the next breath starts to wretch uncontrollably? And not only do I transform into a sick bowl, I then carry this handful of vomit, warm and lumpy, with its unmistakable fragrance, across the hall to the bathroom without spilling a drop.

– A human tissue.  With absolutely no moment’s notice, pretty much any item of clothing that I am wearing can transform into a tissue. Shoulders are a particular favourite with my three year old, who takes the opportunity of being picked up to lay down a silvery trail of snot across my shoulder. I don’t know what’s worse: having snot on my shoulder or other people thinking that I let slugs walk over me.

– A domestic sat nav.  I can transform into sat nav mode at will, usually in response to the question: ‘Where’s my hoodie?’ Or ‘Have you seen my front tooth? I left it on the toilet.’ Yes, I reply. In the bedroom, past the pile of books, left of the toy chest, under the teddy. Now you have reached your destination.

– A bank. Can I have my pocket money please? Can you buy me that magazine please? Can I have that pound that was on the table? Not only do I transform into a bank, I seem to be slowly transforming into a walking overdraft whilst my son increases his wealth. On the upside, I know where he keeps it so can always borrow a couple of quid back. Not that I would ever do that. No. Hardly ever.

– A teacher. Let’s do your reading. Let’s do your spellings. Let’s do some maths. Shall we do a wordsearch? I can transform into a teacher at the drop of a reading journal. Look, it’s a split diagraph. If I buy a tin of beans at 55 pence how much change will I get from a pound? Which of these three items is heaviest? I am one interactive white board and thirteen weeks holiday away from being fully qualified, surely?

– Google. Many times a day, I transform into Google (other search engines are available, but let’s face it, they’re not as good). ‘How many cars can one factory make in a day?’ ‘How do you make glass?’ ‘Why are there holes in bagels?’ ‘What do nits look like?’ How many street lights are there in this country?’ If there is no access to actual Google, then I have carte blanche to make up the answers. So if my son ever tells you that there are holes in bagels so that knights could practise their archery, or that nits have three orange eyes and fourteen legs, you know why.

– a pack horse. Walking to school, my son merrily skips along whilst I am encumbered by a school bag, a PE kit and a tennis racket. He then makes me carry his cap, shortly followed by his jacket, and possibly his jumper. And at the weekends, it gets no better. Instead of a school bag, I get to carry a bloody great scooter instead. And if it’s not their clobber, its crap that I need to carry to cover any child-based eventuality: wipes, nappies, spare pants, cattle prod, pop-up nuclear bunker…

Optimus Prime, you are an amateur in a world of parent transformers. We laugh in the face of your pathetic attempts to transform into a lorry in an hour, whilst we change from Chef to Lego builder to nail cutter in the space of five minutes. Mr Prime, you have a lot to learn on the transforming front.

 

So, I would love to know what your particular parental transforming skill is?


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