Moving On: Nursery Grad-u-lation

On our way out one afternoon earlier this month, we bumped in to a neighbour who asked Thomas how he was.

“I’m not all that good actually” he replied. “I’ve hurt both my knees.”

It was true. He had. Each leg sported an almost identical scrape right across the knee cap, still fairly fresh and most likely the result of launching at top speed into tarmac.

“Oh dear” our neighbour replied. “Did that happen in the garden?”

“No” Thomas shook his head firmly. “It was at school. At my new school” with all of the emphasis on new. I expected him to continue by saying, as he had so many times to us that week, that he missed his old school. But instead he thought for a moment, then looked up and said “Oooh, I’ve got to be on my way now [where he learned to speak like this is beyond me!] I’m on my way to a party.”

“Oh, that sounds exciting” our neighbour enthused, taking note of how much Thomas’s face had lit up.

“Yes. It’s my grad-u-lation party. With my old school. And my old friends. I’m going to gradu-late. Bye then.” And off he trotted, with hardly a thought more to his poorly knees.

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And so it was that we found ourselves attending not a “Graduation” ceremony, but a “Grad-u-lation Party”. A mix between graduation and congratulation, I guess, but this is a Thomasism that will most likely stick (and that we’ll no doubt trot out – along with the photographs – much to his embarrassment if he ever goes to University and graduates for real!).

Of course Thomas isn’t actually “graduating” to anything. He’s left his old preschool to attend another, but unlike almost all the other grad-u-lation attendees, it’s still preschool rather than “big school”. But he’s been at the same nursery since he was six months old, growing from a baby who could barely sit up to a running, talking, reading, opinionated child absolutely bursting with character. I was really pleased that he was invited to graduate despite not leaving for school, in order to celebrate his time at that nursery with friends and staff alike. The idea of a ceremony for such young children may be seen by some as an unnecessary imported Americanism, but I disagree. Many of these kids have spent a huge chunk of time at this place, and I think it is fantastic to recognise and mark that.

I was also pleased because it helped us to draw a line under his time there. Generally he’s getting on well at his new school, but he’s having a hard time admitting that. He does, without a doubt, miss the security and familiarity of his old environment. (And I can’t blame him, because so do I, to a degree, and I just need to do drop off and pick up. I don’t have to stay there all day as well.) We’ve been seeing a lot of his bottom lip poking out. We’ve heard over and over again how he doesn’t want to leave his old school. How he misses his old school. It’s been a big change for all of us.

It was helpful to attend his grad-u-lation to point out to him just how many of his friends were also leaving. I think up until that point, having been one of the first to a actually leave, he really did believe everyone else was still there carrying on as before. It definitely helped to draw a line. To show him that everyone has to move on eventually.

It was an incredibly sweet ceremony. Some of the parents who have done this multiple times may roll their eyes, and maybe it is simply because I only have one child and will only get to do this once, but I did have a hard time not crying as the children filed in wearing their home made caps. The staff took turns to read out anecdotes about each child and they were presented with a certificate and teddy bear.

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Thomas being Thomas, of course, did not take long to start using his scroll first as a telescope (sadly no pictures due to privacy of other children) and then as a trumpet. By the time they filed back out of the hall he had several other boys trumpeting along with him. He may have been the youngest there, but he is by no stretch of the imagination the most quiet and retiring!

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As for me, I’m becoming more and more certain that we’ve made the move at the right time and that we’ve done the right thing. And watching him up there with is friends, in his cardboard cap, I felt incredibly proud of him and all that he is becoming. Making decisions on behalf of my child and dealing with all the associated worry and guilt is a big part of the parenting journey for me, but rolling with them and growing up is an infinitely more massive journey for Thomas.

And he’s doing it so well.

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Topsy and Tim: The Way they Used to Be

If you talk about “Topsy and Tim” to any preschooler parents these days, it’s likely that the first thing to spring to kind will be the CBeebies television show and thus what will follow is a debate about sexism, gender stereotyping, just why it took quite so long for them to move house, mum’s double life and, well, the overall lack of realism in these super-mature preschool children (largely down to the fact that they are played by an actor and actress several years older than their characters!)

I’m not really a fan. But then, I loved Topsy and Tim long before their current television incarnations had been conceived. I loved them so much that I cannot even bear the current illustrated iteration, no matter how closely those colourful pictures resemble the illustrations I remember from my own childhood. I loved the Topsy and Tom that I knew so much that rather than let Thomas read these modern versions, I’ve dug out my own prized childhood collection, comprising dog-eared paperbacks from the 1970s and 80s, many of which were already loved by the time they became mine, picked up at charity shops and the ubiquitous 1980s staple: The Bring and Buy Sale (remember those?)

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To my great pleasure, Thomas loves them. But the truth is, I probably still love them even more than he – the books intended audience – does. They capture something of the essence of my childhood, in all it’s glorious retrospective simplicity.

There is something special about those books even for the adult me. From the humour I find in all the tissue wielding and wiping up that mummy and Miss Maypole do to the joy of reading them aloud. They have a simple sentence structure that really lends itself to easy reading and I find myself adopting the same intonation as my own mother, reading them to me three decades ago, something confirmed as I listened to her re-reading them to Thomas recently. The flow of the words is as comforting as a well worn pair of shoes.

And there’s more too. There is social history tied up in those pages. The pictures of pre-privatisation British Rail diesel trains. A visit to the cockpit of a commercial airliner during flight – we all know that it’s been well over a decade since that was a possibility.

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In Topsy and Tim goes to hospital, Tim spends a night in hospital after “bumping his head”. My own 1982 edition was a gift during my first ever hospital stay when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Nothing so serious for Tim. A bump on the head and no debate on new evidence of the dangers of cold compresses on head wounds, no simple signature of an accident form and a badly photo-copied “head injury” sheet for Tim. No, back then a full stay in hospital, despite the lack of emergency surrounding the situation as Mummy calmly packs his bag!

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And of course, he ends up “romping” around the ward with other similarly un-sick children. “Romping” was one of the words I learned and loved from Topsy and Tim, along with similar wonders such as “crosspatch”, “squodgy”, “old doesn’t-matter clothes” and, probably my personal favourite “oomfy diddlum”.

Of course, along with the aspects of life that have changed, some of the language has changed too. I’m willing to bet that Topsy and Tim wonder which “colourful”, or other such similar adjective, boat they will get to ride in more recent editions of “Topsy and Tim and the Paddling Pool” in contrast to the “gay” boats they wondered about in my 1970s version.

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So yes, the new Topsy and Tim just aren’t quite Topsy and Tim for me. The simple tales somehow belong to my childhood, and modernising them feels slightly like trampling on my memories. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, and just holding those books again, nevermind reading their contents, transports me right back.

To me, Topsy and Tim will always be children of the 1970s, even though they were actually “born” long before that.

(And if anyone has a 1970s or 80s Blackie Handy Books edition of Topsy and Tim Meet the Dentist that they no longer want, please let me know! Somehow we never had that one in our extensive collection!)

Oh Deer

I’ve written before about how much we love the National Trust’s Knole Park, so when a friend and her boys invited us to join her for a picnic a couple of weeks ago we obviously accepted.

One of the things Knole is known for is the large number of deer that roam the grounds and whenever we visit it can almost be guaranteed that we’ll come across plenty of them wandering and grazing. For the most part they are used to the presence of humans and are largely aloof as they pass by.

But last week, as we sat in the shade of a tree enjoying our picnic, a mixed group appeared over the hill towards us, looking every bit as though Father Christmas might follow on his sleigh at any moment. Rather than skirting around us and continuing on their way, they were quite interested in who we were and what we were doing. I just couldn’t resist sharing some of the shots that I captured.

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They really are magnificent creatures, especially the more mature bucks with their stunning antlers. The majority of the Knole deer are Fallow deer, but they exist in a number of different colourways, some almost white and others with a really beautiful coat of spots.

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Thomas has always been fascinated by the deer, especially at a distance, and for the last couple of years has liked to mimic them, trotting around with his hands by his head in lieu of antlers. Interestingly it’s the exact same thing that my brother and I used to do on our own childhood visits to Knole. Because these deer came a lot closer and seemed to be paying us specific attention, he was a little more unsure. It may have been the idea that they might try to steal his food (they didn’t) or simply that up so close they seemed much bigger and more intimidating, but it was a good opportunity to teach him that as long as you are quiet and calm and respect these wild animals, they will respect you back.

And of course, once the deer had moved on, there were plenty of fallen tree trunks to explore, sticks to find and swish and, unfortunately, Thomas’s first encounter with a stinging nettle sting. A day of learning all round then!

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The Idea vs the Reality

Every parent makes plans. And has dreams and aspirations. It’s all so much worse in the era of social media and Pinterest where it’s all too easy to get swept up in the romance and beauty of other people’s picture perfect moments, even when we know deep down that these represent edited highlights and nobody’s life can look that good all the time. But it’s so seductive. And appears so effortless. It takes enormous self-control not to be swept along in to believing that we, too, can create those moments and memories with our own offspring.

And so it was, this week, that we set out on a little fruit picking expedition.

We had guests yesterday, and I had plans for some summer-berry based puddings to serve up. And since we live in the heart of the so-called “Garden of England”, virtually surrounded by fruit fields, it almost feels a little bit wrong to buy pre-packaged fruit, that may well have travelled miles, from the artificially controlled environment of the supermarket when we can go out and get it ourselves, straight from the bush, at a fraction of the cost.

And, you know, maybe have a few Instragram-worthy frolics whilst we’re at it.

You see, it absolutely wasn’t the aim of our trip. I’m not that shallow. I really did need a fruit haul. And I asked Thomas more than once if it was something that he wanted to do. He was actually disappointed when I delayed the trip due to the prediction of an imminent rain shower passing in half an hour (what did we do before forecast.io?!). But it seems that fruit picking is an “activity of the moment” (and why not, given that it is summer), based on the number of blog posts and Instagram photos of people’s idyllic days in the fields, with contented children, willing and able to assist in the harvest.

The sensible part of me worried that Thomas would not be all that keen. Unfortunately he’s a bit of fruit-hater, despite having loved the stuff up until he was a little over eighteen months old. Now, he’ll scream if you so much as suggest that he might want to try a strawberry. But we did take him blackberry picking last year, which he enjoyed despite his refusal to sample any of our harvest. And the strawberries, tomatoes and chills in our garden have provided plenty of amusement, if not any sustenance for the smallest member of our family. And so the not-so-sensible side of me said it would be fine. I let myself get carried away imagining us with thorn scratched arms, fingers lips stained purple from the juices of the ripe treasures we were sure to find.

Um, yeah. Not so much.

Thomas was entirely unimpressed with the rows upon rows of bushes and tress at our large local Pick Your Own. From the moment we set off down the fields he began to whinge about wanting to find the car. He didn’t want to see the fruit on trees, or the berries hiding amongst green foliage. He wasn’t, unusually, even happy just to skip up and down whilst I picked what we had come for.

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“I just want to go and find the car Mummy” he pleaded, with such desolation on his face that to continue would have been cruel.

I did manage to get some blackcurrants. And we picked up more fruit from the farm shop on site. But it was most definitely one of those days where the idea in my head fell far, far short of the reality that ensued.

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Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.

And we did head to the park once we got home. Which resulted in a much, much happier little boy (and pictures much more worthy of sharing, as it turned out. So much for the plans!)

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Even if he doesn’t like fruit, or its picking, he does love being outdoors and being active.

So you do win some!

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Aliens Love Underpants, Live on Stage

It’s no secret that I love the theatre and that Thomas appears to be growing to love it too, so it should come as no surprise that I didn’t want to miss out on Ticketmaster’s Kid’s Week promotion, which now actually runs for the entire month of August. Offering a free children’s ticket with every full price adult ticket (plus up to two further half price kids’ tickets) to a wide variety of theatrical events it’s a fantastic way to cut the cost of introducing children to the theatre.

I struggled to choose from the shows that were available this year on dates we could do, but finally settled on a couple of productions, the first of which was one we missed out on last year: Aliens Love Underpants.

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Thomas has a couple of the books from the Underpants series by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort. With bright illusions, quirky and amusing rhymes and lots and lots of underpants, they are a sure fire winner for almost any toddler or preschooler. I was intrigued to see how the fairly short rhyming verse with minimal plot line would be adapted in to an hour long live stage performance. In fact, this is one of the things I love about children’s theatre that is based on books – seeing just how the, invariably short, stories are interpreted. We’ve seen everything from a literal, word-for-word faithful adaptation (Not Now Bernard, is a good example) to shows which deviate only slightly, usually with the addition of songs (such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea) through to some shows which simply share the story, but tell it in their own way (including Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo).

Aliens Love Underpants did not disappoint. In this case the text from the books was padded out with an additional story line revolving around a boy called Tim discovering just what is is that happens to all the underpants his mum is pegging out on the line. In contrast to other reviews I had read, I actually think this show had a fair amount to please the adults in the audience, from jokes about who the various pants in the aliens’ Underpants Hall of Fame belonged to, to the interpretation of washing symbols. There was also an interactive element to the show with cast members coming in to the audience to ask little ones what their favourite types of pants were. Thomas was thrilled to be asked. (His response, for the record, was “starry pants”. Which is true. He does rather like to wear pants with stars on them!) Additionally there were a few catchy songs to tap along to. It was cleverly staged with a minimal cast each taking more than one role, and the skilful use of lovable alien puppets.

Thomas certainly had a ball, and has already asked if we can see it again – if that is nit a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is!

UnderpantsHe may not look that happy here, but I promise that he was! And that flag has been following him around the house!

Aliens Love Underpants is on at The Dominion Theatre on Charing Cross Road until the 5th September. Kid’s Week Tickets are still available for certain dates through Ticketmaster. We paid for our own tickets and this is not a sponsored or compensated post – we just really love theatre for children!

The Preschool Express

This post is destined to be a few poorly composed and poorly focused phone-camera snaps that might, on first glance, leave people wondering why on earth I’ve bothered to share them. But to me, they represent something big. They represent a moment of our week that has been an absolute staple, week-in, week-out, but which now, sadly, will be no more. And while it may seem unfathomable now that I could forget, I know that human memories are deeply fallible. So whilst the pictures may not be Pintrest-worthy, or or any way aesthetically pleasing, they and their accompanying story are important to us because they detail something that I don’t want to risk not remembering.

For the last three-and-a-bit years I’ve been walking to work with a little detour, to drop Thomas at his nursery. To begin with, Thomas sat in his pushchair, kicking his legs with glee at all that he could see. Later he’d hop in and out of the pushchair depending on how tired he was (or how much of a hurry I was in). There would be ritual demands to stop as we passed the station, in order to watch the trains. We’d have to wait at the Pelican crossing until Thomas could be the one to push the button, and then he’d jump up and down with excitement at the appearance of the green man. Then, for the last nine months or so, since we’ve ditched our pushchair, Thomas has walked raced at top speed there and back. And predictably we’ve been organised in to a train formation for the journey.

There have been stops off at convenient lamp-posts in order to “fill up” with (imaginary) coal or water. We’ve had to stop at the steam works numerous times to “fix” Thomas. And woe betide us if we aren’t in the right order (Daddy is the tender, Mummy is the coach. Until we lose Daddy at the station, then we become a Southeastern electric train!) And if we aren’t following the “tracks” on the path (the lines where the path has been previously dug up for cabling to everyone else, but definitely “tracks” to Thomas) we’ll be told in no uncertain terms that “trains can’t go on the road”.

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The evening walk home was the opposite in reverse. Once I regained my driving licence last year, Thomas took to asking with trepidation when I picked him up if I had the car, and insisting that he wanted to talk, come rain or shine. He gathered a collection of admirers at the pub around the corner from nursery. The same group of people who would often be outside smoking and would cheer as they saw him race around the corner, pumping his “pistons” and tooting his “whistle” with me in hot pursuit, struggling with multiple bags and his latest artwork offerings flapping in my hand.

As of next week, it’s all change.

There will be no more preschool express train.

Thomas’s new preschool is located just under a mile away at the wrong end of town for my work. In order to get him there in time and myself in to work by 8.15, I’ll have no choice but to drive him there (and yes, I know this is neither environmentally friendly, nor particularly healthy for my son, but needs must.)

I will miss these moments in our day, now matter how foolish I may look as the back end of a train, all whilst trying to instill road safety advice and consideration for other pedestrians. I’ll miss the times where I can barely keep up equally as much as the times that I have to keep encouraging a dawdling child to continue moving in the right direction. I’ll miss him popping out of the bus shelter shouting “boo” when I’m lagging behind.

But next year, once Thomas starts full time school, I’ll have the time to walk him there twice a week. Maybe, just maybe, he won’t yet have lost his passion for “being a train”and we’ll once again be able to reinstate this very ordinary moment in our lives.

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