Smart Kid

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I know I underestimate my child. Probably as much as I underestimate myself. I know she’s smart, but I didn’t know how smart. It’s really difficult to somehow talk about it without feeling like you’re bragging (that’s a hangover from H’s first school where some parents said that about me behind my back) or doing that ‘my daughter is the best child in the world’ type of thing, which obviously she is, much as your child is also the best child in the world (probably).

So when we were sat at Parents Evening at school and her teacher said she’d be a contender for the local Grammar school it threw us both. “Um, what do we do?!” we asked, having no idea really. It wasn’t something we had put a lot of thought into, and having gone through the Grammar School system when I was her age I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing and had pondered over it many times being unsure.

Things change though, and a visit to the school soon made us realise.

These days Grammar schools have woodwork departments, they have more than one computer. They have decent school dinners. This isn’t the 1980’s any more.

There was still one hurdle to get there though – sitting through the dreaded entrance exams. I mean, my daughter had only just turned ten and here I am putting these extra pressures on her. She needed to want to go to this school – and if she wasn’t bothered, that was it. We could stop. But if she wanted it she had to be prepared to put the time into it.

She was, and we did. Locally schools put on mock exams too so we paid for her to do one of those so she’d be less nervous on the actual day. That was £25 well spent, let me tell you.

We bought a lot of eleven plus maths and english books too. The school website said that they don’t recommend tutoring, and indeed on chatting to another parent they said that abilities can plummet when a child is tutored and it stops. So we didn’t bother – if she made it then brilliant, if not then we tried and there are still brilliant schools she can attend.

So over the summer we became teachers. We taught algebra. We tried to work out why algebra is still taught and when we would use it in our later lives (the Accounts Director at my work also said Trigonomotry, so let’s add that too). All the things she’ll be taught this year, making sure she understood. Going through mode, median and mean which I used to love doing and probably do use in later life. Making sure she knew the difference between horizontal, vertical, perimeter, area and all the things Year 6 will cover and might not have done.

There were fights, there was stroppiness. We gave up. We tried again.

I found EdPlace and took out a two week trial and then paid for a month to cover the two exams. We started work on Year 7, 8 and 9 maths to see how it all progresses and how to make the formulas work to solve the maths. I set funny targets like ‘Well done, you’ve won some money – 5p’ or ‘Well done, daddy will sing a song for you now of your choosing’ (she hates Shaun singing) and other such hilarity. Occasionally I would throw in ‘You’ve worked really hard. Switch the tv on’ (she wasn’t allowed to watch anything though) – that was followed by ‘okay, you can watch Taskmaster now’ after another score of 10.

The day came. Over 2000 girls sat the first exam and around 900 got through. H was one of them. She didn’t want to know the result, though fortunately I had printed it out so she sat on the stairs and read it. She was good enough – now we all had to believe. Believing you’re not good enough is NOT good enough. As one of her schools said, ‘Dream, Believe, Achieve’. Now we all had to do that.

The second exam came and went, and the results email arrived two and a half weeks later. The 900 girls down to 700, with just 400 places on offer. Now we wait. She did enough and if enough isn’t enough there are still good things out there. My gut feeling is that it is enough.

We have to wait until March which feels like a long way away. Whichever school we’re offered we’ll be happy. We gave it a shot and whatever happens it will be a good thing. We dream, we believe and hopefully we’ll achieve.

So yeah, I’ve got a smart kid. I think I surprised myself at how much maths I remembered and how I managed to talk my daughter through it. I think we’re all a bit shellshocked by it all because we haven’t given ourselves time to prepare for it like some families have. We stumbled into it.

I thanked H’s teacher. Had she not said anything at Parents Evening this wouldn’t have happened.

Things.

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There are two things – two significant things – which I think define me and who I am and where I am today.

The first was my problems with my back. When I was unable to walk properly for a long period of time until I found out that I had twisted my pelvis. Things are fine now, though it’s something I’m always aware of – the slightest twinge and I stop and take a step back so I don’t end up back there.

The second is the carbon monoxide leak we had in our old house. It’s something which I often think about. When did it all start? How bad was it? Has it affected my memory for life or actually is this just full on perimenopausal brain fog? Or was it both for an even deadlier concoction of forgetfulness?

So now I do a lot of walking. I live in a new build with regular gas safety checks. I try to keep myself fit and healthy. But it still niggles.

Forgetting everything is weird. I mean, play me a song from the eighties and I remember every single word like it was in the Top 10 yesterday. Send me an invite to an event and unless it is via email or Facebook invite, there’s a very good chance I won’t remember when it is, or which calendar I’ve put it in. I’ve remembered birthdays by the skin of my teeth, of late.

It’s not like me at all. It makes me wonder if this is a knock on from what happened. I can re-tell the story again and again (and I will be this September), all the signs we missed and how we put up with it for so long. Maybe it’s the way I insist on sending H to school, the same way I insist on dragging myself into work when I don’t feel 100%.

I have to write everything down because otherwise I’ll forget. It’s like an extension of a diary. It has even got to the stage I’m looking at photos and wondering who took it as I don’t remember taking it. Must be menopause, right? I started reading this. Interesting.

I should offer myself as a human guinea pig for memory loss. Or maybe not. I’ll forget I’ve written that.

There are plenty of other things which define me, but I feel like those two are what set paths in my life which took it off the regular route it was going on, throwing in some of the most difficult obstacles I’ve come across.

The New Start, Settling In

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So we moved over the summer, into a house which is considered our own. I still find it a bit weird. We rented for so long that having something which is ours is strange. The idea that we’re not going to be booted out because whoever owns the house is going to sell it, or that if we want to decorate we actually can.

We’re three months in now, and it feels like we’ve been here years. H has a little gang of girl friends at school and I’m getting to know some parents.

I’m scared I’ll put them off – I get nervous talking. Then I talk talk talk talk talk and before I know it inside my head I’m telling myself to shut up because I talk too much. It’s like a reverse social awkwardness, I talk too much rubbish.

We’re lucky, we have a lovely residents association here who organise events to fundraise. They had a diwali fireworks celebration which loads of people went to.

diwali fireworks

Then there was Halloween; the Coulsdon shops all took part in a special event, they even had mulled wine. H had an enormous bag of sweets she carried around with her while we went Trick or Treating. Loads of houses really made an effort (read : mine was a last minute effort with whatever we had under the stairs). Shaun stayed at home to catch anyone calling at our house while I went out with our neighbours and the kids.

Harry and Hedwig pumpkins

There was a great sense of community, and I realised that’s what I’ve been missing for such a long time. I like being a part of something, having a purpose. Doing something that’s helpful for other people so stuff gets done. Stuff doesn’t have to be big either, it just needs people to chip in and work together. There’s a Christmas event planned soon as well.

In my mind I’ve always wanted to live somewhere that doesn’t make me nervous. Surround myself with people who don’t judge you and just get on with things. Be around polite people who treat you in the same way you treat them. Work with people to get things done. So far I have all of that here.

I know I’m going to like it here.

We Moved House

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Somehow we seem to be home owners. The old place is gone, left behind. No more. Someone else lives there now.

We’ve started in a new area with no friends, starting everything again from scratch. Which is difficult, but where we live is a nice area and space. We have fresh air – and my clothes smell amazing, almost like they smell of countryside when I get them in from the line.

We’ve downsized, and still have too much stuff. I would probably get rid of more if the first lot hadn’t been so exhausting.

The journey to work takes the same length of time, but is a bit more expensive now we’re Zone 6.

H has a new school which she’s settling into nicely – she’s on her third week and you wouldn’t think so. Already she’s way more confident saying clear hello’s and goodbye’s to her classmates and teacher. It’s great seeing her change in this positive way. She seems to have joined a group of girls who were once a three and are now a four who play together every day.

Oh, and on her second week of school she went on a residential. There isn’t much else with this moving lark you could throw at us now that we couldn’t deal with, I don’t think.

It’s lovely and quiet here – more people are moving in to the area and so far they aren’t too noisy. Everyone has their own space and seems to respect it. Kids play outside together and it’s great to see. We have play areas and trails we can visit to get outside, with more places to wander around and discover here.

I feel far more relaxed about living here. Quite often at the old place there would be drug dealers dealing outside the house, cars revving outside in the early hours, and I even saw someone trying to kick in a neighbours’ door. It wasn’t good for my nerves, I didn’t like H playing outside as cars would often tear down our cul-de-sac to park – way faster than they should do. It was scary enough seeing her scoot home with cars mounting the pavement that could knock her off her scooter at any time.

H has changed a bit too. She only wants to wear skirts for school and (I think) is trying to fit in with the other girls until she finds her feet properly. All her pairs of school trousers are gathering dust in her wardrobe….

It feels strange to be somewhere we know nobody, starting all over again. But I feel like starting again was our only option. I’ve always wanted to live where we are and pinch myself to get my head around the fact we live here.

I don’t feel lonely here despite not knowing anyone. Everyone is so friendly and it feels different. There was so much odd stuff going on in our last year in the old place that it feels good to get away from all the nonsense and gossip.

It’s a really positive move for us, things will be better and we have roots somewhere now. Who knows where the next few years will take us?

At a Weird Crossroads

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H’s swimming is coming along marvellously, she almost has her silver swimming award a term after getting her bronze. This is great and she’s full of confidence.

So much so that she has put her name forward to represent her school at a swimming gala.

Which is great, by the way.

But now I have horrible flashbacks to the one time I did it. You see, she has never dived in a pool – and she won’t have the opportunity beforehand. It’s fine, she’ll start in the pool… just like I did. I finished miles behind everyone else. I don’t know what I felt, I don’t know if I felt sad or if I saw my mum and dad cheering me along. I can’t remember, all I remember is I came last.

You don’t re-live your child’s life through yourself, I know. However, I can’t help but be taken back there. On the plus side she’s doing backstroke so they’ll all stay in the pool for that one. But for breast stroke and front crawl she’ll be pushing off the edge. Oh how I hope there are others and she isn’t the only one like I was.

We’re at that funny stage where the slightest thing will create an oversensitive reaction. I was told off earlier as I hurt her feelings (she took her plimsolls off without undoing the laces and I pointed out she wouldn’t be getting any more new shoes and would have to make do – important stuff, see?).

So I have this feeling of dread. But also of pride that she wants to do it.

Eight year olds are complex little things. Not quite big girls but definitely not little girls. Wanting their independence but not doing everything independently. Getting to the stage where they don’t want to hold their mum’s hand but still call them mummy. But still need mummy when things don’t go right.

So my played out in my head scenario is that she does her first race, comes last and is heartbroken because she hasn’t won, bursts into tears at the edge of the pool and that’s it, we have to take her home.

I know it won’t be like that but it doesn’t help my bloody head. Watching her doing her testing for her silver tonight, my heart was pounding so much, I wanted her to pass so badly. She almost did were it not for unfortunate circumstances. She has another chance next week as they weren’t her fault. She can do it and I think she will do it. I’ll be cheering her on from the side.

So why can’t I be as positive as that about the bloody gala? Why do I have to make it about my failings rather than celebrating her achievements? Or maybe I just did.

Back, Slightly.

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2017 can go away now. It hasn’t been the best year, it hasn’t been the worst year either.. but it hasn’t been brilliant.

We seem to have stumbled from one incident to the next, resulting in a child who cries her eyes out some mornings because she’s so tired, too much going through her head and her being unable to sleep like she used to.

This isn’t like H at all. But then we’ve had a lot to deal with, which she’s had to deal with to some extent too because we can’t just leave her somewhere or with someone and not tell her anything.

Shaun’s nanna died and we flew to Australia to attend the funeral.

My godfather died and Shaun and I attended the funeral in Swansea while H had a playdate. We made it back in time, thank goodness. Thank goodness for friends too.

A blogging friend died which makes me sad to think she’s gone, though we couldn’t get to the funeral. But I think about her and wish I had made more of an effort to chat to her – I wish I could make more of an effort to chat to everyone. There aren’t enough hours.

What really should have happened next was us taking a holiday which involved lounging around a pool relaxing. We didn’t, we went to Cornwall which was great but I never did relax or wind down like I should have.

Then all of a sudden it was October and we were back up north, having a few days in a cabin in Northumberland with a limited phone signal and lots of cosiness. It felt like I was starting to relax, even if I did still wake up at 7.30 every morning.

We got home, and then the following day it happened. Back at work, school, life. I got the call – my mum had slipped over and had almost certainly broken her hip. That was later confirmed when I spoke to the hospital. I got bits of messages and was in bits with worry. I was the parent in tears to H’s class teacher, not knowing if she’d be taken out of school there and then to visit, or whether we should wait a few days and repeat to the headmaster, explaining why H might not be at school tomorrow but I knew nothing. As it was we waited until the Thursday and made it back to York in time for the last hour of visiting. She was in hospital for two weeks and is doing really well at home.

We stayed with my cousin which was excellent. H got on well with her kids and they are all SOOOO OLD now which still takes time to get used to. We were able to leave H there and visit the hospital, picking up things for mum. My cousin and her husband were amazing, they really were. But then one of the kids was sick, and H felt sick. Then the kid was sick again and we knew we couldn’t go back to the hospital, we had to get H home.

Which we did. She was sobbing hysterically most of the way home. That seems to be default mode at the moment, but amazingly she wasn’t sick. I put it down to tiredness and a lack of routine with everything else going crazy around us. Things were fine and she went back to school, Shaun dropping her off at the childminder.

Thank goodness he was working from home that day as the hysterical crying started again. It was all hitting her, the raw emotions of having someone you love in pain and being unable to do anything. Visiting them in hospital just the once and then having any other visits taken away from you because you can’t risk spreading any illness there – and it meant we were also at risk of spreading it too. That her nanna wasn’t the same person because she’d had a big operation.

School were amazing. We got the right people there as support, but H had already got there herself – her and her best friend decided to make my mum a card and get everyone to sign it in her class (and the headmaster…). So she dealt with her emotions by turning it into a positive thing and I was proud (and a bit embarrassed) that she had.

Because actually, 8 year olds are at that funny crossroads where things can get to you really quickly and easily but you can also deal with them quickly and easily too. Like when a boy at school tells her he doesn’t like her hair, and she wails and cries about it at home because he said that. Or when one of her friends is mean to her and makes her cry once she gets home. But she forgets all the good things her friends do. But then that doesn’t change when you’re an adult so there’s no point me lying to her.

And how I have to tell her that yes, it’s all rubbish but it’s all part of life. That bad things have to happen to help shape the person you are, and help you learn how to deal with it. And that actually, it’s all going to be okay (I hope).

But you still see the chaos that’s going on, you just protect her from that. But you wish it would stop. Just for a bit. A teeny bit. Just to sleep properly, to think straight and for it all to go away. To press a restart on this year. Because it’s all draining.

Three weeks on Friday I finish work for the year. I’m going to hibernate. I’d love to hibernate with Shaun and H too, just snuggle under a duvet and relax until we have to move from there. It’s not too unreasonable to ask is it?

A Nearly Eight Year Old

She gets in from school and runs upstairs. Plays in her bedroom.

My little buddy who would sit with me and tell me stuff wants to “be alone”.

I feel a bit lost.

Like the other half of my double act has done a runner.

I go up to see her.

“What are you up to?”

“oh, just stuff. Y’know. STUFF.” (she then hides a piece of paper under the bed that she doesn’t want me to see)

Oh god, the little girl that wanted to show me everything has turned. She now has her own ‘private’ stuff and I have to respect that.

I check everything is okay, that everyone was kind to her today and that nothing has made her upset. She confirms all of these things are good.

So I leave her to her play. I sit downstairs and I’m on the computer again. A bit like how I was when she was a baby having a nap.

Except this time I’m not blogging about those first movements and things she does, those little milestones. I’m blogging about the start of her not needing me as much. About the point leading up to the point I don’t blog about her any more.

About her growing up.

Which, by the way I’m absolutely fine with. As long as she still gives me cuddles and comes to me when she needs to talk about something.

Which takes things full circle. It all becomes about me again. A bit like how this all started, where it was about me and how I wanted to become a mum.

Then I did. But I didn’t. But I did again and this time she grew until she became H. She wasn’t to have that much-longed for sibling.

Which feels like a good place for this blog to have a rest for a bit. To come back when there are things to write about. Because there is always something to write about. They just live in different places at the moment.

That’s okay too. I’m okay with that as well. I’ll be back.

Death

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When you write a post several times and it never sounds right, part 3.

There have been deaths. I knew it would come at some point because we don’t all live forever. However, I also knew that whatever happens H will be involved because we have zero family close by so whatever we do involves the three of us and our family unit.

The first death happened suddenly and unexpectedly. Shaun’s Nanna, H’s Great Nanna died. She lived in Australia. So after a quick talk, going from ‘we can’t afford it’ to ‘maybe we can do this somehow’, from her dying on the Thursday we had booked tickets to Australia, flying out the following Tuesday.

Fortunately with Australia we have family so it’s not an expensive trip other than getting there. For some reason the gods of cheap flights were looking down on Shaun on the Saturday morning we booked them. Prices lowered by over £1000 so we quickly booked, paying just under £3000 to travel.

The thing with Australia is that you can’t just stay for a couple of days and come home as you’re on the other side of the world. My work were brilliant, I took my laptop and did loads while I was out there – even working on my holidays to keep on top of things. We still got to do fun things through the day thanks to the time difference so H was never bored. H loved being around her Australian family and I’m glad she has better memories of everyone now.

Obviously a funeral is a sad place to be with your family (as it would be nice just to be with your family), but being out there for longer and being around everyone was a good place to be. H got spoiled rotten and I started sleeping again after having had the best part of four months of little or no sleep at all.

H dealt with the funeral well. She knew what she wanted to do, and while sad, made sure that we knew what she wanted too. She was mentioned several times, it was a lovely service.

We were back in London a week or two and I found out my godfather died. A heart attack. So now we find ourselves heading to Swansea on Wednesday for his funeral. After a lot of talking (actually, that’s not true, we did more emailing about it, we’re too tired to talk about important stuff unless we absolutely have to) we decided H should stay in London. I’ve failed in that I haven’t sorted out somewhere for her to have a sleepover tomorrow night, so our lovely next door neighbours have said they’ll take her in early on Wednesday, and another friend will call to drop her off at school.

She was set to have a playdate with another friend later that day, so they’ve agreed to let her stay as long as necessary – until we get back to London which hopefully won’t be late.

I have a lovely circle of friends and I feel like we all do each other favours when we can, and I’m never too scared to ask. I don’t feel like I’m imposing on them.

I’m glad I kept in touch with my godfather, even if it was just Christmas cards. I don’t send many out, but the few I do he was always on there. I’ll be sad, but glad we can go and pay our respects.

So that has been the last month or so. Death. H’s first real experience of it and actually, she was fine. I know the older she gets the harder it will be, but for now the weight is lifted knowing that she dealt with it fine. The first time we’ve had to juggle childcare and make sure school fitted in too (although school would have been fine with her taking a day off for a funeral because of the travel involved).

Stop This Year Please

I want to get off.

So, the big B word is happening now, and the uncertainty is everywhere. Friends are paying lawyers to get their British Citizenship sorted, fed up of being pawns in some crazy political game. Wanting to stay in this country they’ve made their home and have paid into for many years.

Uncertainty is everywhere as now experts are needed to get us out of this mess, but there are no experts as nobody has done anything like this before. In the meantime European workmates are worried as they don’t know what’s happening.

I’m worried because nowhere is there anything saying this is a good thing. I live in an area that voted Leave and yet nobody is stepping up and saying “this is why leaving is a good thing” – they’re all hiding.

This is H’s future now too. This isn’t about mine or Shaun’s now (do we even have a future with rents sky-high and no new affordable houses being built?) – it’s about H’s ten years from now.

I don’t think this country likes itself much, and the people in it… I don’t think they like it much either. It’s the little things. The lady whose chewing gum fell out of her mouth this morning who didn’t even bother picking it up, leaving it for someone else to deal with or stand on.

The pile of Red Bull cans near the bus stop in Hackbridge which becomes a bigger pile every time I go past on the bus. You never see anyone drinking them, or throwing them over into the field but they’re there and getting bigger.

The plastic bottles left on the floor.

The adults who sit on the train with their feet up on the seat.

The kids who do wheelies, swerving all over the main road, not a care in the world especially for the other cars on it.

The people who don’t bother cleaning up their dog poo on the grass outside our house.

The crisp wrappers which gather in our front walled area, a new set every day dumped from the schoolkids and students nearby.

The local teachers who have a sneaky cigarette break by our back wall and leave their cigarettes on the floor (while chatting about pupils of theirs, loud enough I can hear some of what they say – and I have tinnitus).

What do we have to do to make each other like this place again?

I am out of ideas. I never had any in the first place.

I don’t know where to go next.

I said it recently on a Facebook post, but what happened to the United Kingdom of the Olympics? Watching the Opening Ceremony and feeling that sense of pride at what made this country great. Because right now all I see is a Government who are ripping it apart, people being ripped apart and nothing that can bring it together.

Is it the kind of place to bring up a child any more?

My Seven and a Half Year Old

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She forgot about her half birthday for the first time ever. Phew. I reminded her the following day, but I’m hoping this is a phase we’re moving on from.

We still joke the day before her birthday that she’s six and three hundred and sixty four – three hundred and sixty fifths. I think if she could count every single day and attach it to her age she would.

Anyway, Seven and a half.

I’ve noticed a few changes. Little things. She wants to dish out our desserts every night – be that washing fruit to go with yoghurt or just fetching the aforementioned yoghurt. Little bits here and there. Tidying away plates into the dishwasher.

Occasionally Shaun and I look on, she does it without us having to ask. She wants to do it. Blimey.

I still can’t quite get my head around that. Not that I’m in any way complaining about it of course!

At the weekend we visited Hever Castle for the first time. It was a great place, and at one point I saw food to feed the ducks and koi with, so gave H 50p to buy some. Another first – she happily went up and asked for it and handed over the cash. She’s done this a few times – but has always wanted Shaun or I close by. This time she wanted us to be as far away as possible.

Her current favourite programme is Outnumbered. Every single time they mention sex I hide behind my glasses hoping we won’t get the “what is sex anyway?” question. It’s surely only a matter of time? I had no idea they mentioned it so much. I suspect H’s hero is Karen – I’ve always thought she was a bit of a mini Karen in the making.

We’ve just had Parents Evening at school, our second. She’s well up on her targets, and doing really well at everything. Her teacher also said she’ll get her pen licence soon which is good – she’s been desperate for that for ages and her handwriting has improved a lot.

I was surprised to read the quality of her work – my daughter has a bloody good imagination. One piece of writing she did about the Kraken was particularly good and got a sticker from her teacher for being an excellent piece of writing. I liked some dialogue she did to speech bubbles coming out of Orlando Bloom’s mouth. Which reminds me, must start watching Pirates of the Caribbean.

I love her current confidence, or lack of it. The ways they do maths these days confuse me. I didn’t get number lines for a long time. The seventies way vs now are two completely confusing things. So when she described to me the way she does fractions of a number, it made no sense at all. I didn’t get it one bit. She put her best teacher-like voice on and explained it, and I had a lightbulb moment.

“anyway, I can’t do that way as it’s too tricky” she told me, after having taught me. Seven and a half year old’s can be quite contrary, it would seem.

I am still gobsmacked at how easy she picks up pop music and learns the words. We listen to Fun Kids in the car and I’m often hearing her singing along in the back, thinking “who is this? How do you know this?!” sort of stuff.

So yes, seven and a half is pretty rocking really. We have no complaints about it. Neither does H, I think she’s quite enjoying it – even if she is still the youngest in her year (which is still a big deal when you’re the youngest year in school, therefore making you the youngest in school).