It was Bear’s school sports day today and finally the finish line is finally coming into view. The last corner is just ahead. Finishing is my objective now. Winning is irrelevant. The race? The school year of course.
In September Bear was finishing his homework on the day he got it. This week he did it before breakfast on handing-in day. In September, Bear’s school uniform was ironed and ready for the week on Sunday night. I haven’t ironed since Easter. I’m not even sure I have enough clean shirts to get through the week and what does it matter anyway? He can barely fit into them. I refuse to buy new school uniform in the summer term. Not only does he have six whole weeks to grow out of it, but the uniform must be new and shiny in September. Don’t ask why. It just does. I last wrote in his school reading record about a month ago. He has read his school books to me, but not when I’ve had a pen handy. He only reads them if we don’t have anything else on us, in the same way that I read the sick bag on an aeroplane if I forget my book. He prefers his own books. He’s six. He wants to read. He’s reading. He enjoys it. End of.
This is my big time of year for feeling inadequate. Around now I take stock of what I have achieved compared to what I wanted to achieve and I find myself lacking. I wanted to write every day. Ok so this blog is not all I write but we can all see how well I’ve done. Not. I wanted to get my house sorted out. It still looks as though about twenty untidy people live here. I have this vision of how my house should look. I had a plan for getting it like it. Life got in the way. As for deciding what I want to do with the rest of my life. Well, I might just leave that for September. In fact, I might just leave everything for September. I might just stop being so hard on myself for now. During this school year, Auntie and I cared for our Dad as well as we were able. He died peacefully with both of us by his side. Dogford and Catford are healthy and seemingly happy. Bear is still laughing and Mr. Invisible is still here. I must have done something right.
I think I’ll enjoy the summer and save the resolutions for the season of new beginnings, when the air is filled with the fragrance of empty notebooks and freshly-sharpened pencils.
I never had books by Julia Donaldson in my house before Bear. It wasn’t personal. I’d just never heard of her. Within a very short time, I knew a number of them by heart and now I can’t imagine life without them. Similarly googly eyes. What would I have done with them before Bear? Maybe put them in pairs on the walls to make Mr. Invisible and I look popular? Like pancake ingredients, they are now firmly established as something I can’t run out of unless I want to be classed as a ‘bad mummy.’
For the past few days, Bear has been rescuing empty bottles to upcycle into weird creatures. He has found tissue paper, bits of card, feathers, paint and glue from our craft supplies and got on with it by himself. Halfway through the second bottle creature, disaster struck. No googly eyes!
After a good rummage in (yet another) box of collage and craft stuff I found a few and saved the day. Phew! Bear celebrated by making a couple of red tissue paper creatures. In the meantime I added googly eyes to my shopping list. You can’t have too many!
I love the way Bear uses language. Children seem to have an innate aptitude for grammar. They need to learn vocabulary and the irregularities. The rest takes care of itself. When Bear was a baby someone advised Mr. Invisible and I that children are as intelligent as we are, just smaller. Bear interchanges expressions into different contexts, sometimes with hilarious results.
We were walking home from school today, hand in hand when I pointed out that he is a bit croaky today. ‘Yes mummy,’ he said. ‘My real voice has gone away. This is my supply voice.’
Now I’m starting to wonder how often his teacher is away!
Bear and I often walk past this VW camper van on the way home from school. Maybe the window sticker is supposed to say something about newer, faster cars. But I hear it mocking me as I try to edge past unnoticed.
Bear had his first ever spelling test at school last week. There were four sets of words increasing in difficulty from set 1 to 4. Bear’s teacher said the children could choose which set to learn. Much to my relief he decided not to go for set 4. I thought ‘counterintelligence’ was a bit optimistic for a six year-old too! When he chose to learn set 3, my first reaction was to gulp and ask myself if these weren’t too difficult. I’ve known adults who struggle with ‘surprise’ and even some who’ve been on a snowboard before they could actually spell it. But I resolved to apply my usual parenting mantra – provide support and do a bit of clearing up if necessary.
I needn’t have worried. He thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing and spelled all of the words correctly in the test. Apart from another boy in his class who chose set 4, everyone chose one of the easier two sets. I was impressed by the confidence of the two and I admit to feeling slightly humbled. In their shoes I would have balked at the task unless explicitly encouraged by an adult. At first I assumed that Bear is simply more confident than my younger-self. But what if there’s more to it than that? Are we to believe the stuff about school being geared to the way girls learn? Surely if two of the boys could do it, at least four of the girls must have been able to do it too. Maybe the difference between Bear and me has more to do with gender than personality. Apparently testosterone levels double in boys at around the age of four, so hormone differences must come into play even at their tender age.
I could go on all night about measures of success in society being set by men, so of course they’re more successful at the stuff they find important. I’m not going off on that one now, I just know the girls can do it too! We might need confidence and encouragement, but my hope for the girls in his class is that they will find it – from parents, teachers, friends and ultimately from themselves. Come on girls! I know you’ve got it. It’s time for you to know it too!
Snow. What does it mean? Transport chaos. The wrong kind of snow. The right kind of snow at the wrong time. Trying to keep warm. Treacherous pavements. Problems with deliveries to shops. Unable to get to shops. Nightmare journey to work. Even worse coming home.
I guess it depends whether you’re 6 or 86. Grandad used to dread it, the cold, that icy layer when the top bit has melted and then re-frozen, the grey stuff by the side of the road, the slowdown in the economy…
To Bear, it’s the pinnacle of winter. The stuff that he’s been waiting for since the sun first dipped in the autumn sky and we started needing coats and proper shoes. The anticipation is almost as good as the event itself. He was sorely disappointed when Monday’s offering didn’t settle. He’s been listening to weather forecasts and checking for updates on my phone as if life itself depended on it.
It’s almost time. For the past couple of days the frost has still been on the grass mid-afternoon. The early-morning icy layer on the puddles is now an all day event. One more sleep and if the forecast is to believed, we will be living in a Christmas card by mid-morning.
So if you’ve no place to go (and have sufficient food and heating!) let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Bear often comes up with something profound seemingly out of the blue. Of course it’s not out of the blue to him. His cogs are constantly whirring and trying to make sense of this world, of which he finds himself at the centre.
We were eating turkey and stilton tart (frozen Christmas offering – yum!) when he started off with, ‘Will Frankie Bear come to heaven with us?’
I am never prepared for these questions. My answer to ‘how do you know there’s a baby in your tummy?’ still haunts me and that was about three years ago. If I’d known it was going to be so important, I might have considered my response, rather than spend the next however many years having to answer further questions and speculation regarding the act of ‘weeing on a stick.’
So what to say? I can hardly tell my six year-old that he probably won’t care by then. Frankie will very likely be in a box in the attic or at the back of a cupboard if he’s a lucky bear. He might even come out occasionally, but he probably won’t be the constant companion he is now. Bear is six. He doesn’t need to know all of this. I opted for, ‘Would it be heaven without Frankie?’
Bear solemnly shook his head. ‘He’s part of love and love lasts forever, so he’ll come.’
Hopefully that set his mind at rest. Call me a bad mum if you like, but the ever after is something he’s going to have to work out for himself. I don’t have all the answers. And even if I do, they’re my answers. He needs to have his own. Even if it takes him a lifetime to work them out. Even if it means that Frankie Bear is going to heaven after all.
When I was pregnant with Bear, it was impossible to imagine how life would become. I was hanging up the little bodysuits to dry for the first time when it began to dawn on me that I was going to have an actual baby. I know it sounds daft, but there’s a world of difference between a theoretical baby and a real one.
I had a similar experience this evening. Dad is at Auntie’s this week and we have been talking about him, how we manage and how we might manage as his condition deteriorates. I went into his room to check for washing earlier and came down clutching a jumper. As I held it close to me, it dawned on me that the opportunities to do these things for him are diminishing. Every day, people ask me how he is. I am able to reel off what is happening. How he really is and what we expect to happen next. I am so caught up in the practicalities, spending time with Dad and making sure that he is happy. I forget the temporary nature of the situation. The temporary nature of life itself.
While I can, I forget that one day I will be left holding the jumper.
Bear lost his first tooth today. He hits all of his milestones before I’m ready. Whether it’s toilet training, leaving him to play at a friend’s house or starting school, he’s always up for whatever it is long before I’m ready to let go. Not that he knows that of course. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling his fun, or getting in the way. Whatever it is, my approach is the same: provide moral support and do a bit of clearing up.
This tooth business is something special. At the school gates this afternoon, I was trying to establish the going rates for the tooth fairy. It seems to be a pound, or even two per tooth. How does she carry those heavy coins! Times have certainly changed. It was a sixpence when I started losing teeth. He’s written a note for her and put it under his pillow. ‘I have lost a tooth. I don’t have it.’
Bear said he wants to save all the money he gets from the tooth fairy to buy a present for me, which Mr. Invisible can help him choose. Lessons in humility from a five year old. I’m humbled. I feel ready for this one, just unprepared. There’s a difference.
Grandad decided to give Bear some money to spend. Given a free rein, Bear would probably take it to the Lego shop. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that something a bit more special was in order. I’m not sure Bear can remember Dad at his best, even though it was under a year ago! Children live in the present. Sometimes it’s a good thing, but I want to protect his memories of Grandad. He enjoys Lego, but I needed to think of something that he could treasure.
About a year ago, a Build-a-Bear shop opened in a nearby shopping centre. Bear has been very interested ever since. He loves looking at the little outfits and shoes and hats, but most of all he dreams of having his very own bear to bring home and love.
Build-a-Bear. That’s the thing to do. He chose him! He stuffed him! He dressed him! And right now he’s snuggled up with him. I’ve never seen such a happy pair of bears!