First Day of School (aye, this post is as long as last year’s)

Tues 21 Aug

Sadly (for me), the day finally arrived when I had to pack off my tempestuous, funny little sausage (Midi Minx) to school, to join her big sister. She’d been looking forward to it as much as I’d been dreading it. Now her teachers get to hear her jokes and 4 year old witticisms. Now she’ll spend all her energy doing things away from me. Now she’ll give all her best smiles to other people. Yep – I’m just deeply jealous at having to share her a lot more.

When Maxi started school, we bought her a pretty pink Timex watch, even though she couldn’t tell the time. Midi knew we were getting her a watch, and had requested a black one (her favourite colour) with owls on it. A quick internet search showed only one that was also reasonably suitable for telling the time and coping with 4 year old hand-washing (ie a measure short of hosing down). So on Sunday, screeching through Inverness, I stopped by Argos and nabbed the only watch that Midi would love (and it was the last one in the shop – must have been fated). I was desperate to show her, because she’s bonkers about owls; has been for a few years, now. Instead we waited till this morning to show her. Her little face lit up and she cried, “My owl!”

I never iron my own clothes – ever – but do iron the girls’ uniform. I was about to ask the minxes if they minded wearing the same clothes as each other for a few days to make things easier for me to organise*, but they beat me to it and asked if they could be ‘matchy-matchy’. So blue gingham dresses, school cardigans, matching black patent shoes, matching blue gingham-edged socks it was. And they giggled over choosing identical hairbands and pants, too.

*organise: well, suddenly the amount of uniform to be stored has doubled. Or put it another way: of 21 minx-days in a week, 10 are in uniform. So that takes up a fair bit of wardrobe space.

I started the obligatory photo shoot with some pics of a double-decker bus and a tissue box that Maxi had made for her new teacher, Mrs L. Gosh, I hope she’s gentle of Maxi’s feelings and realises how much love and hope my little girl’s poured into those home-crafted gifts! (She put them on the special display bit of the room, to Maxi’s delight. And mine. She sounds like a really lovely teacher, and Maxi adores her already)

We took the uniform photos out the back garden, and I know I’ll be looking at them fondly again in years to come; the girls’ personalities really shines through. Maxi’s looking fretful, Midi is over-excited and so expressive, while Mini doesn’t know what’s about to hit her (her Fun 2nd Mummy is about to leave her for a big chunk of each day in the care of Boring 1st Mummy). Of course, I’m only showing you the funny one!

We walked down to school and in some ways it was like we’d never had a school summer holiday: the usual uncontrolled kids came bounding over, and my eldest 2 started veering towards the kerb, towards the path of some very sleepy, speeding, swerving drivers. And artics. My mouth switched into Nag Mode faster than I thought possible. Mini was ok, strapped to my back in her Fire Rainbow (which she’s started asking for!), but man, I wish some of the mums / grandmas / carers would have a think about NOT distracting other kids when they’re in the middle of crossing roads… Or if they’re going to do that, at least have the courtesy to keep their faces expressionless when I yell at my precious babies to watch out! or STOP! Because here’s a newsflash: my role is to get them to school safely, not to shepherd them to you every morning for a cuddle – cuddle your own!

There was a little boy, S, who Midi loved in nursery last year. He went through a biting phase, and bit a chunk out of her. I thought she was wary of him, but when he left to go to another nursery, she was broken-hearted. I discovered he was starting P1 with Midi and told her. She was so excited, and talked about it endlessly. So I mentioned it to his mum when I saw her. I don’t think she really believed me. But he walked through the school gate this morning right after Midi. She spotted him, shrieked his name, and launched at him with a huge bear-hug. Memories of Maxi and J last year!

I felt a bit torn as the bell went: Maxi stood at the front of her queue while I stood with Mini, half a playground away. I pushed through the thronging fellow-P1 parents to give a bewildered Maxi a kiss, then stood with Midi, ready to go in. Up till now all my attention had been on Maxi. I felt a bit like I was abandoning her, but I had to take Midi in. Well, I nearly didn’t – I had to push past some parents taking photos of their Little Darling in the queue, with one friend, with another, walking through the door, etc.

Now I know that despite being only 4, Midi is ready for school. She herself said only yesterday, to my consternation: “I’m ready for school! I can do tricks!” However, she walked into the class as nonchalantly as a very cool cucumber. She found her peg herself and hung everything on it. In the class, I fumbled a bit: “Oh, where’s your tray? Where should I put your water bottle?”

“Over here, and over there, Mummy”, she replied brightly.

I stood with her as she decided what to play with. We giggled at the Home Corner having a boiled egg breakfast laid out on it (what we had this morning), then stood around some more, gawping at Photo-Documentary parents recording every moment. Actually, I shouldn’t scoff – maybe there’s something wrong with *me* that I’m happy with a wee pic in the garden. After a minute of this, she turned to me and said, a note of exasperation in her voice: “OK Mummy, you can go now. Bye-bye, Mummy! Bye R!” and she kissed me and Mini and virtually ushered us out the door. So we left!

Me and The Boss had a bet that Midi would be on a warning within half an hour of arriving and on red by first break-time. I find it hard to believe that our little tempest actually appears to be a bit of a goody-two-shoes. I wonder how long that will last? Until she’s lulled everyone in a false sense of security, probably!

Two hours later, Mini and I walked down to pick up Midi. She was deeply disappointed at not being allowed to stay to have school dinners, and was very sad that she’d not been taught to read or write. I interviewed her over lunch with the camera, and on the video you can hear me choking back laughter at one bit:

Midi: “I saw my old teacher this morning, Mrs F!”
Me: “Oh? That’s nice”
Midi: “But I didn’t see Mrs M. She’s at a new school now. She had to go because she was too bossy”
Me: <splutter> “Oh? Who said that?”
Midi: <mumble> “My friends”

Blimey! Mrs M was lovely. I wonder where that came from?!

That evening, the minxes were over at their friends’ house, for L’s 4th birthday party. Old Foster Cat followed us all the way there, in the pouring rain, and waited outside for the 2 hours we were there. All the kids had a fantastic time. I enjoyed catching up with 2 of the mums, but felt very, very frazzled: when J (Maxi’s future husband, apparently) gets over-excited, he scream/shrieks. It’s the most piercing sound, ever. And he does it a fair bit. My ears were bleeding. I guess I’m not very volume-tolerant – teaching little kids would be the world’s most hellish job for me, if it didn’t come with a volume-control button.

I suspect that night there were a lot of very sleepy, tired children. Ours conked out within minutes.

First Day of School (Very, very, very long)

(Tues 16 Aug)

We all survived and some of the minxes even enjoyed themselves!

We couldn’t have a normal First Day of Primary School in our household, oh no! It was first day of primary for Maxi Minx, first day of new nursery for Midi, first day of swimming lessons for both Midi and Mini and first swimming lesson in The Big Deep Pool for Maxi. It’s fair to say I felt a bit nervous beforehand. I mean, here was our timetable:

0900: Maxi start at primary
0940: be at swimming pool
1000: Midi and Mini start swimming lesson
1030 – 1100 if lucky: scream place down (all 3 of us) getting changed and out the swimming pool
1130: Midi lunch
1200: be out the door
1220: pick up Maxi
1230: drop off Midi
1300: Midi and Mini lnch
1440: be out the door
1500: pick up Midi
1600: Maxi swimming lesson
1700: get through door and get dinner on
1900: get the zoo in the bath
2000: big, big, big G&T or glass of vino

Preparation

I ironed and hung and name-tagged Maxi’s entire uniform on Sunday so there was no mad rush. (And admittedly also like a madwoman, paranoid that anyone would nick my little girl’s £2 polo shirt from George at ASDA!) I knifed out a sliver off every pencil and biro’d her name on the flat wood bits. Not because they were valuable, but because my Dad did it for me when I was little, and because simple pencils ARE precious to 5 year old girls. I labelled every part of her water bottle and shoe bag. I even put a full water bottle in the fridge cooling overnight. Thinking ahead to the likely most chaotic bits, I got The Boss to make Midi a packed lunch that she could eat in the car if I was running late, and pulled out clothes for us all so I could minimise Morning Dither.

The Reality

The girls took it all in their stride – it was me who forgot the water bottle (doh! Cue one unscheduled run back to the school) and I even managed to squeeze in an online shop, fill the car with diesel and check of the tyres. And make a quick rhubarb crumble from scratch. I’m really smug about doing the extras. My, how my standards have fallen that I’m preening like a peacock over living through a fairly busy day and not losing any children!

Maxi’s Day

Child as Backpack

P1 with 'small' schoolbag that Maxi lusted after

Maxi admitted to feeling nervous beforehand, and she definitely has a propensity to hysterical anxiety. So I made sure we weren’t late, chatted about what it would be like and how she’d feel, and reminded her constantly that it was only a morning today. She stood by me quietly with her sisters, watching the other kids and half a thousand milling parents, as we waited in the playground. The bell went, we lined up. The poor wee thing panicked a little as she let go my hand in the line and marched into the school, so I followed her in. I wasn’t being an overanxious mother. Much. Some newbie mums went straight home, some newbie mums went in with their kids, other newbie mums got their partners to help carry in all their heavy photographic equipment…

Maxi stood with a crinkle in that smooth little forehead, happy that she’d found her peg, but unhappy at not having a school bag (why? For what?) or her water bottle (oops…). I guided her into the path of her new teacher, who swept her up and over to her new tray. She perked up the instant she saw that it was purple. I kissed her again, waved, and dragged a very quiet and overawed Midi out the room (Mini was on my back, sucking my hair, oblivious to everything except the flavour of my new shampoo).

Maxi didn’t tell me much of her day when I picked her up at 1220hrs, just that it was ‘really good’. She ate her lunch while I tried to settle Mini in a nap (fail. Obviously Madam prefers to sleep on her mummy’s back) and just wanted to watch CBeebies rather than do anything active (!) during the hour we had nothing to do before picking up Midi.

Eavesdropping on her phonecall to her Grandma later, I discovered that she had sat in a circle and when she was passed Little Ted to hold, she said what her name was and how she was feeling (“Very happy because I’m wearing my new watch today” – that’s my girl! We bought her a pink Timex from Argos to make a big deal of starting school, The Boss scratched her name on the back, and she’s as proud as punch of it). She only drew 3 pictures (that’s her normal hourly output – at nursery she did over 10 most days), and her teacher reported her as saying that the only (!) thing she wasn’t good at was the computer. Her P7 buddy is called Begonia (her name is Naomi and she’s an incredibly confident and kind 10 year old who’ll buddy Maxi all year, and who gave me a very professional handover at lunchtime: “Maxi has had a lovely day and enjoyed playing on the chute most of all at playtime”. Cripes!)

Maxi had also been very apprehensive about swimming lessons in the Big Pool – she burst into tears when she passed her last assessment and was told her new block of lessons were to be in the Big Pool. I took her swimming during the 6 week summer break just to keep her skills reasonably fresh, but as she didn’t swim properly (though we had a lot of fun!) I wouldn’t let her in the Big Pool. A week down south and me being ill stopped us doing much more, so I sent her and The Boss to the pool over the weekend and they had fun in the Big Pool. I’m glad – she was very hesitant during today’s lesson.

We were a few minutes early (!), so poor Maxi sat and shivered on an empty bench, all by herself, hoping she was in the right place. I guess Mummy and 2 sisters waving madly from 20 feet away doesn’t help when you’re feeling awkward. After an eternity of 5 minutes, the bench filled up with 5 other kids; they met the new swimming coach, and off they marched to the pool. Poor Maxi wasn’t too happy, but unlike her normal Give Up At The First Big Hurdle, she showed some proper tenacity (my heart burst with pride) and kept on ploughing up the pool after every safety/reassurance stop. She didn’t feel confident enough to jump in at the deep end solo, but wanted to hold onto the coach’s stick. I regaled the poor thing with tales of our week’s holiday in Cyprus when Midi Minx was just a 4 month old embryo in my tummy, and a baby Maxi would continually leap into the hotel swimming pool whether there was a waiting parent there or not! How times change! Still, I waved and gave huge Embarrassing Mum signs (thumbs held aloft for far too long, and both of them) to encourage her, and it really lifted my baby’s spirits.

As a treat to us both, I gave her her bath tonight and blow-dried her hair. Normally this is The Boss’s job, but he’s very rough with her hair. We had such a lovely giggle. It was easy to make her laugh tonight as she has my puerile sense of humour – we discussed ways of keeping her hair out of her bum when going to the toilet. Maxi’s hair really is a sight – honey, ash, yellow, brown, white, gold tresses as thick as any head of hair I’ve ever seen. When wet, her hair reaches down her back, over her bum, and one inch onto her leg: no wonder she’s started singing Rapunzel’s song from ‘Tangled’! Hair finally dried and in a loose plait, she cuddled into me and declared that she loved me most of all, but would tell Daddy she loved us just the same, so his feelings wouldn’t be hurt. !! That big hug, for me, just capped my day too.

Midi’s Day

 Although she’s only starting a new nursery (class within Maxi’s primary school) for 5 half-days, Midi wanted to be in uniform too. With ASDA George uniform being so cheap and (to my eyes) so pretty, I figure she might as well trash a uniform as normal clothes. So Midi skipped to school with her big sister in an identical pinafore, but with a bright blouse underneath. She likes to know The Plan and be updated with the Next Step just before it happens, so she was fine about dropping Maxi off and then nipping in to the swimming pool because we’d verbally rehearsed it again and again.

At the pool, I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go and felt very first-day-at-school myself, but at least I’ve learned how to ask for help in the 25 years since I left school instead of just watching and waiting and inwardly panicking. As the other 2 kids in the class didn’t show up, Midi and Mini had just me and Nic the teacher (who taught Maxi to swim) and the entire learner pool to themselves! And oh my word, how they loved it! Midi is a confident little girl and revelled and glowed in the individual attention of an adult. She had no problem doing any of the moves (designed to build water confidence, which she already has), spent the entire half-hour giggling, and happily launched herself off the little water slide again and again.

Predictably, Mini went apoplectic in the showers afterwards. She screamed when I took her out; she screamed when I cuddled her; she screamed when I took her swimming costume off; she screamed when I showered her; she screamed most of all when I put her on the ground to deal with Midi in the shower (and don’t look at me like that, Mrs Fellow Showerer – if I didn’t put her down to deal with Midi’s hair properly, Midi would have legged it and been out to the car park before you could blink. It’s happened before. My baby’s crying hurts my heart a hell of a lot more than it hurts yours, trust me. So don’t look at me like that or I might turn all cornered lioness on your sculpted butt). Oh yeah, and Mini screamed as I wrapped her in the soft fluffy dressing gown I brought to keep her extra warm.

And that’s where Midi won You-Amazing-Girl, Best Big Sister award – she wriggled so she could climb up on the bench and poke up behind the baby change unit, and sang and chatted to Mini. Little Miss Busta Lung suddenly started cooing and giggling at her favourite person in the whole world (hint: that person is not me). As a result, she was dried and dressed in a few minutes, botch-taped strapped to her buggy and smiling, while me and Midi hurried into our clothes. This had been the bit I was most dreading about the day (I expected both to howl and both to leg it on opposite directions the minute I let go of them), so I was almost on my knees in gratitude to my 3 year old.

Midi polished off lunch in the car home (1100hrs) and happily posed for more First Day at School photos in the garden. She skipped merrily all the way down the hill to the school. She smiled at her big sister and held my hand cheerfully in the playground. Her eyes got bigger and bigger as we waited in line to go in, and she called out hello to her new friends, made in last term’s single hour visit. Her little face lit up when she got her name sticker on her chest. I kissed her, wished her a fun afternoon, turned to go… and had a limpet attached to my ankle. She wasn’t happy to see me go at all. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I felt hellish just going, but the staff had asked that we do this, and I remembered from last year that it really was best just to go. I peeped through the window a few minutes later and she was still cuddling her teacher…

Still, when I picked her up at 1500hrs, she said how much she’d loved her day. She couldn’t remember what or whether she’d had a snack, who she’d played with or what she’d done, but she assured me it was ‘great!’

Whatever she did, I guess it was active – she was a little monster at Maxi’s swimming lesson, tormenting both sisters, rolling around the wet floor kicking the baby’s buggy, biting hell out her dolly. No surprise that she fell asleep on the way home and roused only briefly after dinner. She came down around 2200hrs insisting she was hungry, and enjoyed a late-night dinner and chat with The Boss. I wonder if she did it on purpose? Minxy!

Mini’s Day

Lovely snuggles on Mummy’s back in the sling, most of the day – heaven!

I was pretty apprehensive about her swimming, but was very aware that she’d had less time at the pool than her sisters at the same age, so decided to Man Up and get the little blighter into the water together.

Predictably, Mini was fearful at first and clung on to me tighter than I’ve ever felt my strong baby cling, like I was dangling her over a clifftop. As she watched Midi screech and giggle and splash around the empty pool, and as she realised I wasn’t going to drop her, she loosened up a little. As she discovered all the praise and smiles and cuddles she got from 2 adults and her sister for doing different things, she soon got into the swing of it. She even took to being submerged briefly. I was amazed at how well she clung to the side when I put her there. And I did leak a little tear (2nd one of the day – do I really need to tell you that I welled-up at baby Maxi going in to school?!) at her jumping into the pool, into my arms, with a face-splitting grin.

And Another Thing

…And another thing, why are Marks & Spencers school skirts so bloody short? I had to buy my 110cm tall 5 year old skirts in age 7 and pull them right in at the waist to get any to even reach her knee-caps. I’m not impressed.