The Adventure of Starting Primary School (And Being A Butterfly)

Today marks the end of an era. Tomorrow I am going back to work full-time. I will become a FTWM. How to I feel about this? Don’t ask me. I try not to think about it. When I do, it’s incomprehensible to me. How am I going to manage it? My days will go something like this:

6.30 a.m. get up, get washed and dressed and have breakfast. Get Noah up, washed and dressed.

7.25 a.m. coax Noah out of the house by any means possible

7.30 a.m. leave Noah at Breakfast Club

7.35 a.m. arrive at work, then work solidly without time to come up for air

4.00 p.m. (if I am lucky) get home, cook dinner, force dinner down Noah’s throat, play with Noah (more likely to involve us both flaked out on the sofa watching TV)

6.30 p.m. Noah’s bath and bedtime (my husband shares this if he is home in time)

7.30 p.m. work

10.00 p.m. admin for the next day and getting ready for bed

10.30 p.m. bed

Where is the time for sitting down and reading a book? Where is the time for series 12 of Grey’s Anatomy? Where is the time for writing blogs and baking cakes? Where is the time for going to the gym? Plenty of women live with this daily routine so it must be possible. But how? How will I do it without being broken?

And to top it all off, Noah has gone and grown up into a school boy.

Back in July, Noah had an induction morning at his new school. Parents had a two-hour lecture in the school hall and the kids were ferried off to their new classroom to meet their new teacher. The Head Teacher met everyone at the door. She asked Noah his name, ticked him off the list in her hand, and passed him over to an older pupil who took him down the corridor to his classroom. This was a significant moment for me. First of all, it is the first time he has ever left me without me stealing a kiss or a cuddle. I was unprepared. I wanted to run after him and squeeze the life out of him. But I am far too frightened of the Head Teacher to do anything like that. As I watched him walk away, I realised that Noah was taking his first steps into the world by himself. And he didn’t look back.

Hot on the heels of his school induction was his graduation from nursery. Parents were invited to sit on chairs in the garden whilst the children were all inside. The Principal of the nursery welcomed us and made a joke along the lines of, “I hope you’ve all got your tissues ready.” I laughed politely. Ha ha ha. I didn’t have tissues: I wasn’t about to cry. Then the children filed out and sat in a circle and started to sing: the Graduation Song, Butterflies, I Can Sing A Rainbow, He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands. During all this, one of my eyes – just the right one – leaked continuously. I couldn’t make it stop. And then one of the kids arrived late so they did it all over again. It’s the Butterflies song that gets me the most. I don’t know if it’s an official song or if it’s something that this nursery wrote because it’s called Butterflies. It’s a song about them being caterpillars when they start at nursery and butterflies when they leave – “time to fly”. The metaphor is as old as time, but as I watched Noah mouthing the words and making a half-hearted attempt at the actions, I realised how true it was. Noah is going to school. It’s time for him to fly. I can help him, I can guide him but I cannot control him. It’s up to Noah now. Not that the choices you make at four years old define you, but the whole school experience goes a long way towards defining you and that’s what this all represents.

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What about me? I am starting a new job. I am picking up exactly where I left off three years ago. Career path back on track. Am I a butterfly? Is it time for me to fly? It doesn’t feel like it. It feels a little bit like I’m an ant in a production line, carrying my own little scrap of bread back to the nest. We need my salary to buy a bigger house in this area. Noah is going to be at school so there is no need for me to be at home. In truth, being at home would kill me. I would die of boredom and lack of direction. I am an experienced and skilled teacher. I like many things about teaching and I am not cut out to be a Housewife. What else am I supposed to do? It’s a no-brainer.

But still.

I am not taking Noah on his first day of school. I have been there for 99.9% of Noah’s firsts in his short life so far. But not this time. My husband is taking Noah to his first day of school. And why shouldn’t he? Noah loses nothing by me not being there. But his first day of school is just the first in a long line of things that us FTWMs* have to miss out on. I can’t go into the school and hear children read like some parents do; I can’t go to the parents’ tea afternoon they have once every half-term; I can’t go to Noah’s class assembly. I don’t even know if I will be allowed to go to his school play at Christmas. It’s a loss and I feel it right in my core.

It doesn’t help that Facebook is kindly throwing memories at me every day of my Noah as a baby.

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Like this one…
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 …and this one

Of course, I need to woman up. I need to get over it. Having three years out of full time work to raise my child has been a privilege, not my right. And my child is strong, he is clever, he is confident and he is good (for everyone on the planet except me…and sometimes my husband…and occasionally my parents…). He is ready for school. I believe in him. I believe he will fly.

It’s the end of an era.

Good luck my Noah.

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“What if I fall?” “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson

 

*Mum, in case you haven’t worked this out yet, FTWM is Full Time Working Mum

The Adventure of Superheroes and Dreams

All my Noah wants in life is to be a superhero. Judging by the number of superheroes that exist in the world of television these days, I am quite sure that a lot of four-year-olds share the same dream. Of course, with Noah, the superhero fixation is intense. And although I find it charming, although I am proud of the boy’s imagination, I do find it all a teeny tiny bit exhausting.

Example:

Last night, my husband was working late, therefore not in the proximity at bedtime. Noah knows what’s what. He knows what he can get away with. He knows I am the weaker one, the one with the more wobbly and changeable rules. My husband is the first to attest that Noah never plays him up at bedtime. Oh no. He saves that particular superpower for me. Two minutes after I said goodnight and left him in his bedroom, he was calling me. I trudged back upstairs.

“I need to be blue, Mummy,” he said. “Blue like the Blue Beetle. How can I get a blue face?”

“You can get face paints. Goodnight, Noah.”

“Will face paints make my face blue?”

“Yes.”

“All over my face and my eyes?”

“Yes. Now, goodnight.”

“But not inside my eyes, Mummy.”

“No, not inside your eyes.”

“Because if paint gets inside my eyes, I won’t be able to see. And it will hurt.”

“Okay. Goodnight now, Noah.”

“Wait, Mummy! What about my feet? How can I get blue feet?”

“You can put face paint on those too. You should have been asleep ages ago so I’m going now.”

“Face paints on the face of my feet?”

“Er…yes…”

“And my legs?”

“Yes.”

“Both sides of my legs?”

“Yes.”

“And I need blue arms.”

“You can use face paints. We’ll get lots of face paints and you can be painted completely blue. But right now, you need to go to sleep.”

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A lot to answer for

Every day, Noah wants to dress up as a superhero. He can go through several different personas in the space of fifteen minutes. I have to watch his superhero moves on my bed. “Watch this, Mummy!” And he launches up in the air at a contorted angle. “And Mummy! Watch this!” And he attempts some sort of gymnastics, landing in a heap. Putting the washing away takes about half an hour because I have to enthuse over so many of Noah’s moves. The bedsheets, pillows and mattress protector have to be reattached to my bed several times a day. There is no escape from the superhero downstairs, either. He launches off my chair (which I am not allowed to sit in) and throws himself across the room crying “Super cat speed!” Every time he needs to pick something up, he declares “Super Gekko muscles!”

I am also required to be a superhero myself in role plays where Noah is director, creator and controller of the game. He tells me everything I have to say and every move I have to make. I often get things wrong which enrages him. There is no room for improv on my part and no opportunity for my own creative exploration. Noah is a creative dictator.

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I’ll be Batman and you be…the green one…and you stand over there and don’t say anything

Noah’s passions have always been relentless from the moment he was born. His first passion, of course, was breastfeeding. As a baby, this was all he was interested in doing all day and (especially) all night. Until he discovered the delights of food and breastfeeding was just at night. All night.

Noah is a spirited and an intense child and I often question whether I am cut out to be the mother of a spirited and intense child. I wonder whether I’m getting it wrong somehow. When we are in a restaurant and Noah is hanging upside down from his seat, refusing to talk in anything but baby speak, refusing to eat anything, I look around the restaurant and every other child of his age is sitting there eating dinner calmly. I have no idea how other parents manage this. Okay, so a lot of these quiet children are on ipads so maybe I do know how a lot of parents manage this…But I have to wonder – did I eat too much Haribo when I was pregnant? Did I make Noah like this? Because I did eat a lot of Haribo.

And yet, as my Dad is fond of saying, it’s the Noahs who change the world. Passion is a gift. Spirit is a gift. Dreams are a gift. So I play along with these superhero games with as much enthusiasm as I can muster. I often find myself gritting my teeth and waiting for Noah’s phases to pass. But do I actually want this phase to pass? Do I want Noah to give up on wanting to be a superhero and get the bad guys? Do I want him to stop believing he can do the impossible?

Hell no.

Today I turn 35. Every time I think of this, I feel like a bucket of ice has been tipped over my head. I am closer to 40 than I am to 30. I am virtually middle-aged. I have grey in my hair and frown lines between my eyebrows and little pouches under my eyes when I smile. I have a little lump that comes and goes on my leg, about the size of the fingernail on my little finger, and I am terrified it will turn into a varicose vein. My metabolism gets a bit slower every hour (although that could have something to do with the amount of jaffa cakes I consume to get me through each day). Today I turn 35 – that magical age when a woman’s fertility suddenly takes a nose dive because my eggs are all old and my ovaries are weary. Yesterday, when I was 34, I was so much more fertile than I am today. But today I turn 35 and I am still chasing after my dream.

Since I was twelve, I have wanted to write novels. In fact, I have written several novels. I wrote a series of novels when I was a teenager. Think Sweet Valley High. Think Sweet Dreams. Think Point Romance. I created my own version called The Kool Kids. I wanted to have a novel published before I was 30. When I was 28, I decided I had better get cracking so I religiously wrote for 20 minutes every single day. After ten months voila I had my first novel. Alas, it wasn’t good enough. So when I went to Vienna and faced two years of unemployment, I decided to neglect my Hausfrau duties (such as doing the washing or tidying up) and spend my free time writing another novel. But an average literary agent receives fifty unsolicited manuscripts a week from people like me. That’s 2600 a year. An average literary agent takes on about three of these writers. This is the kind of thing they teach you at the writing events I have been to: how unlikely it is that you will ever get published. The book I have just written is better than the book I wrote six years ago. But is it good enough? Look at the odds.

If this novel gets rejected 50 times, if this novel doesn’t make it, it will be disappointing. No, it will be soul destroying. Every rejection hurts. Of course it does. I am not particularly resilient by nature. I am not particularly confident or driven. But eventually, I know for a fact, my soul will heal, I will get over it and I will start writing another novel and maybe that will be the one. Who knows?

My spirit and determination is altogether a quieter thing than Noah’s. But I am 35 and I still have a dream. I still have a dream because my Mum and Dad believe in me and they are as close to real life superheroes as you can get. By the time Noah is 35, I hope he is everything he wants to be. And if he isn’t, I hope he still has a dream.

So when Noah is at nursery today, I will go to the shops and find him some face paint. A lot of face paint. And I will come home and paint him blue if that is what he wants. And I will let him paint me green. Or red. Or stripy. I will do whatever I need to do to keep him believing he is a superhero for as long as I possibly can.

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Present Boy…Superpowers include unwrapping other people’s presents and camouflaging himself in the wrapping paper.

P.S. Can anyone tell me where to buy face paints??


 

The Adventure of Getting a Primary School Place

Getting your child into the right primary school is actually a bit of an adventure, and not in a good way. It’s a gamble, a game of risk and, in actual fact, no matter what we do, the outcome is not really in our control. Like all parents of four year olds, I spent the end of last year researching, visiting schools and submitting the application, then waiting the long four months for the verdict: which school would my Noah actually be going to?

I read all of the Ofsted reports, analysed the data and made arrangements to go and see seven local schools. The school visits set my mind whirling. At the first school I visited, I was informed along with the other parent being shown around, that if we didn’t put the school down as first choice, we stood no chance of getting in. Schools in our area are heavily oversubscribed. So if Noah didn’t get into his first choice, it was entirely possible he wouldn’t get into his second, third or even fourth choice?! It made me feel a bit sick.

Education is such a fundamental part of childhood. In the culture we live in – the culture of target setting and exams – primary school is not about cultivating a rounded human being, it’s about results. Sad but true. And Noah has to survive in this world so, of course, my husband and I wanted to do everything in our power to give him the best start.

Private v State

Having been to private school myself, and having worked in local state schools, I can conclude that I am a believer in the state. As far as I can see, there are two main differences which make private schools more successful than many state schools: funding and entrance exams. Private schools have more money. Pupils have their own text books – there is no one-between-two malarkey. Pupils have access to a wide range of equipment and facilities. If you go to a private secondary school, you have usually had to take an entrance exam to get in. You have been selected by your performance. You have been pitted against other eleven year olds and you came out in the top half. You are bright. When you go to a private school, everyone around you is bright. And that makes life easier.

Here is one thing I am 100% sure of: teachers in private schools are absolutely not any better than teachers in state schools. When I was at school, I had a lot of good teachers and one or two brilliant teachers. I also had a lot of awful teachers. I had teachers who could be bullied by twelve year olds. I had teachers who gave us the wrong information about what was in our GCSE exams. And that’s what really matters – who is standing in front of the class – isn’t it?

And so I am a believer in state education. So much so that it didn’t even cross my mind to put my Noah down for the local private school. I am not against private schools by any means. Private school stereotypes really wind me up. You know the ones about Mummy and Daddy owning ten acres of land with a swimming pool, tennis courts and stables as well as a property or two in the South of France? In reality, for over half of the people who went to my school, Mummy and Daddy had to work their little middle-class bottoms off to afford to send their children there. My school friends and I were not born with silver spoons in our mouths.

Truth be told, if our choice of local state schools had not been good, I would have sold my soul to send my Noah private. No question about that.

Church v Non-Church

I always had a vague notion that I would like my child to go to a church school. My husband and I both went to Christian schools. I wouldn’t say either of us are devout Christians. I can’t speak for my husband, but I don’t live by every word of the Bible. In my opinion, a lot of biblical ideas are outdated in the world we live in today. But I was in the church choir when I was a child. I went to church as a teenager although neither of my parents did (I dragged my sister with me). I do believe in God and I am supportive of the Church of England. Faith is a gift and I would at least like my Noah to have the choice to believe or not to believe. If you have no religion in the first place, it must be more difficult to acquire one when you are older.

The school I had always had in mind was the one attached to our parish church, but when I went to Noah’s catchment school, I really liked it. It is surrounded by lovely grounds, has a warm atmosphere and is multicultural and modern. But did I prefer it to the church school?

The Ofsted for the church school is outstanding whereas the Ofsted for the catchment school is good with outstanding behaviour. However, the Head at the catchment school has recently qualified as an Ofsted inspector and they are expecting an outstanding grade at their next inspection. As I said, my head was spinning. I am writing about this as if it was my decision. Of course, my husband had an opinion (or ten) but because he was in Vienna, I visited the schools on my own so, essentially, I was more in a position to compare them than he was.

In the end, the decision came down to two things. First of all, my heart leaned towards an Anglican school. Second of all, the Ofsted.

Here is something I know about Ofsted grades: they change all of the time. I have been a teacher for nine years and have worked in three schools. Not one of these schools has maintained a consistent Ofsted grade for the whole time. The Ofsted inspection criteria itself has changed at least three times in those nine years. Just because you send your child to an outstanding school, it doesn’t mean it will be outstanding for the whole time he/she is there. And the same applies to a good school or even an inadequate school. But the church school has always been outstanding. Even Ofsted couldn’t find any points for improvement on their last inspection. That counts for something. So first choice was church, second choice was catchment.

The Verdict

It was a long wait from when I submitted the application in November, to the 18th April when we’d find out the verdict. We stood a very good chance of Noah getting in to our first choice school. There was an eight point criteria for submissions and we should have been at number three seeing as we were regular church attenders in Vienna. Logic told me that Noah would get in. But you can never be sure.

The verdict would be published on the Essex schools website at midnight on the 18th. I had no intention of staying awake until midnight: I would find out in the morning as soon as I woke up. My subconscious obviously thought otherwise. I woke up five minutes before midnight. Naturally, I reached for my iPad to log on to the website. The room was lit up by the light from the screen. My husband stirred.

“What are you doing?” he growled.

“It’s five minutes to midnight. I’m logging on.”

He tutted and turned over.

I logged on and watched the time changing 11.56, 11.57…0.00 and nothing happened. I pressed refresh. Every other parent of a four-year-old in Essex obviously had the same idea. The page went blank and wouldn’t reload. After five minutes of pressing refresh, refresh, refresh, the page still wouldn’t load and my husband was getting annoyed.

“Leave it till the morning,” he said. “You’ll find out as soon as you wake up.”

I pressed refresh for a couple more minutes.

“This is not fair,” my husband protested. “You don’t have to go to work in the morning!”

“Yes, I do!” It gave me great satisfaction to inform him. Hahaha. He had forgotten that I am, in fact, a working woman now.

But I put the iPad down. My husband went back to sleep. I picked up my phone and checked my email under the covers so I wouldn’t disturb Sleeping Beauty. I did this several more times. There was absolutely no way I was going to be able to go to sleep until I found out what school Noah was going to.

At 12.50 a.m. Noah did me a favour and woke up. I went in and cuddled him (he was scared apparently) and then kissed him goodnight and left. I strode straight back into our room and picked up the iPad. This time the website let me log in.

The boy was in the school.

Even as I write this (four days later) I still feel emotional. The thing is, Noah would have been okay whatever school he got into. All the schools in this area are outstanding or good with outstanding behaviour. I told myself this at least a thousand times in the run up to the 18th April.

But Noah will be going to the best school in the area. He is lucky. We are lucky. And it does feel good.

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At his first Nativity – the first of many

10 Things I Love About Noah as he Turns Four

My Noah is four. Last week, he had a dinosaur-themed birthday party at the local park which consisted of an hour and a half of outdoor activities. From the moment I booked it, I worried it would rain on the day, but it didn’t. It was lovely. My dinosaur cake also turned out well (if I do say so myself) but there were a few hairy moments where I thought it was going to be a lost cause and I felt like throwing myself on the floor in a Noahesque tantrum.

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As I watched him at his party, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much he has grown up since last year’s birthday. Rather than ignoring all of his guests, he revelled in being in the thick of it. Some things remain the same: the tendency to whinge, the emotional rollercoaster he rides every day, the unshakeable wilfulness. I had hoped the threenager would become a distant memory, but he has merely turned into a fournager. Oh, well.

But he is also a good boy.

“I’m not a baby,” he responds indignantly, when I call him such. “I’m big!”

“You will always be my baby,” I tell him. This week, I got a tiny leaf, about the size of a grain of rice and showed it to him. “This was how big you were at first and then you grew into a baby in my tummy. That means you will always be my baby because I grew you.”

He contemplated the leaf for some time (at least five seconds) and then agreed that he would always be my baby and went back to eating his dinner.

But the truth is, he really isn’t my baby any more. He is a remarkable little person in his own right. Here are 10 things I love about Noah as he turns four:

  1. He is extraordinary at colouring in. He favours A3 colouring books and Crayola Supertips. Nothing else will do. And he is very possessive over them. He uses one colour at a time, forms an orderly line until he has used every colour and then goes back to the beginning. He often colours a tiny spec of the picture then abandons it, but occasionally he will persevere and finish one. Twice, he has finished one of these fantastic pieces of artwork, only to get angry at something and rip it up. Both times I was devastated. Everyone wants one of Noah’s colourings. He has a backlog of orders. Only very lucky souls will eventually get to own one.
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He insisted this picture go in the middle of my parents’ kitchen wall
  1. At least once a week he goes to nursery in one of his fancy dress costumes. This week, I went into nursery for his birthday walk, a little ceremony they have when it’s someone’s birthday. Noah had to wear a huge birthday cake hat. It even had candles on top. As if this wasn’t funny enough, he was also dressed as a Power Ranger.
  1. He speaks to his toys. When I am in another room and I overhear him having a conversation with his lion or one of his dinosaurs or Buzz Lightyear, I stop what I am doing, stand very still and listen. It never fails to bring a smile to my face.
  1. He knows all of the words to the introduction and song for P J Masks. The tempo is quite quick and he struggles to keep up, but this doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the task.
  1. He will sit and watch a film. Finally. I thought the day would never come. We can actually sit and watch a film together now. He won’t get fed up after twenty minutes and ask me to put a different DVD on. He won’t stand on the arm rest of the sofa and hurl himself at me. Over the Easter holidays, we watched lots of new films together: Brave, Inside Out (my favourite), The Good Dinosaur, Penguins of Madagascar, The Princess and the Frog, Dino Time (Noah’s favourite).
  1. He is ready to learn. I bought him a lift the flap Usborne book for his birthday about the human body. He is full of facts such as: “Mummy, did you know, that when we eat food, our tummies break it down into tiny pieces to give us energy?!” Or, “Mummy, did you know, that we could fill ten thousand balloons with the breaths we let out every day?!”
  1. He thinks Father Christmas is the most magical person in the world. I suppose he would be if he actually existed.
  1. He has mates. Proper little mates. As each friend arrived at his birthday party, he greeted them with a hug. Whenever we go to soft play, he always finds himself a friend. He makes friends easily. This is a gift and I hope he retains it throughout his adult life.
  1. He will speak to anyone: the postman, shop assistants, delivery men, old ladies walking down the street. I find delivery men are the least likely to want to engage with him. He often disappears to get a toy to show them only to find they have gone on his return. For some reason, this leaves him heartbroken. I truly think half of Essex must have known it was his birthday last week, because he told every single person who crossed his path.
  1. He is so much more confident and independent. Over the Easter holidays, I booked him into a “create and play” session at the local theatre. We went along and I imagined it was something we would be doing together, or I would at least be watching. When the woman running it asked me whether I intended to stay in the building whilst it was going on, I was taken aback. The children would be taken off upstairs to the session on their own?! I also felt a bit panicked as I didn’t know how Noah would react. A few months ago, I’d have had to play gooseberry and sit in or else he wouldn’t have taken part. But my Noah was happy to go off without me. After I watched him disappear up the stairs with the other kids, I hurriedly phoned my husband and my mum to share the momentous news. I was proud of him. And it was nice to sit there and read my book for a couple of hours. But I also felt a little bit lost. He really isn’t my baby any more. The world will have to be adapted accordingly.

I can’t help but wonder if all birthdays will be this way now. Every year he will get bigger and stronger. Every year he will need me less and less. It’s the way of the world and the way it should be. It means he is being raised properly. It means he will have the tools he needs to tackle the big wide world out there.

But it hurts just a teeny, tiny, eeny, weeny, minuscule, little bit because I know that the day will come when my Noah no longer needs his mummy at all. By then, of course, I won’t even be Mummy any more: I’ll just be Mum.

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Happy Birthday my gorgeous boy

Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

10 Differences Between Going for a Job Interview Before and After Having Children (and a Career Break)

Until last week, I hadn’t been in a classroom for two years and three months. It’s safe to say, I am not at the top of my (teaching) game. In fact, when you take my maternity leave into consideration, I have only spent eight months out of the past four years teaching.

Before I had Noah, I was responsible for Key Stage 3 in English (that’s years 7-9 for non-teaching folk). At that stage in time, it was exactly where I wanted to be and I gave it everything I could. When I went on maternity leave, I didn’t dream that once I had a child, I would want to abandon my post and work part-time. But once Noah was here, I could not bear the idea of being away from him so many hours of the week, let alone doing a job where I had to give so much of myself. Teaching is a blood, sweat and tears kind of job and I was already bleeding, sweating and crying profusely just being Noah’s mother. So I left. Temporarily.

And now I’m back. I want to pick up where I left off. When I saw a job advertised for second in department at a secondary school that is a mere hundred footsteps away from the primary school Noah will hopefully be going to in September, I decided that was the job for me. Obviously. What could be more perfect? So I went to the interview and the Head came over to introduce himself to me and the other candidate. As he shook our hands, he clearly wanted to acknowledge that he knew something about each of us already. I was “the one who had been abroad for two years” and the other guy was “the one who had achieved ground-breaking GCSE results at a school where he was already second in department”. And I realised, quite calmly (a bit like how I imagine having an epiphany would be with sunshine and soulful music), that this was a one horse race: I was the horse who didn’t even cross the starting line.

The whole experience of applying for a job, preparing to teach a lesson, standing in front of a class for the first time in two years and going through the interview process (as well as the epiphany) was all a bit draining. A lot draining.

Here are ten differences between a job interview before and after having Noah (and a career break):

Difference 1: Location

Before – I’d pretty much have worked at any school within a 45-minute radius of my house. I’d have had a look at the most recent Ofsted report, browsed the school website and if the role was right and the kids weren’t terrors, I’d have gone for the job.

After – I want to be close to my Noah. My husband works in London. My Dad works in London. My Mum works all over the place. I feel that someone has to be close to Noah whilst he is at school and naturally that person should be me. I’m not sure why my conviction is so strong on this point. It’s what I call my Mother’s Random Logic: weird and probably ungrounded, but intense nonetheless. I don’t want to be more than 20 minutes away from his school. And 20 minutes is a push.

Difference 2: First Reference

Before – When applying for a job in teaching, your first reference needs to be your current employer, i.e. the Head. It’s fairly obvious who to put down.

After – In absence of a current employer, your most recent must be approached as first reference. Unfortunately, the head at the school I worked at for four months just before going to Vienna has retired. I had to send several e-mails before I could ascertain who my first reference actually should be and it turns out it was someone who I have never met…

Difference 3: Availability

Before – When a school rang me up and offered me an interview, I could go. All I had to do was ask for the day off.

After – When the school rang me up and offered me an interview, I informed them I was free between 12.30 and 3.30 on that day. When the school informed me the interview process was actually a day-long thing, I had to find someone to look after Noah. My Dad was working, my Mum had a pupil on a driving test, my husband was going to a funeral. The nursery couldn’t take him for the morning because they were at full capacity. My aunt was a possibility but the issue was with the car seat and ferrying Noah to nursery. In the end, my husband missed the funeral.

Difference 4: Interview Attire

Before – I had a wardrobe full of work clothes. For all of my previous interviews in teaching, I wore a black suit with a jazzy accessory to show, you know, I really am quite jazzy. For the interview at my first school I accessorised with hot pink shoes. At my second, I accessorised with a cobalt blue blouse. At my third, I wore a frilly black and white blouse with a slightly Victorian feel about it.

After – I had absolutely nothing to wear. Absolutely nothing. All of my work clothes have spent the past two years festering in my Aunt’s loft. In anticipation of getting an interview, I ordered three dresses from the Oasis sale. When they arrived, every single one of them was too low cut to wear in the vicinity of teenagers. I then had to drag Noah around the high street, buying outfit choices from Next, Marks and Spencers and Dorothy Perkins, none of which I had time to try on until the morning of the interview. Luckily, one thing fit me: a black and white dress. There was nothing jazzy about it.

Difference 5: Level of Polish

Before – I was pretty well polished when I rocked up on the day of the interview. My hair was blow-dried, my make-up was subtle, my black suit was pressed.

After – I only put mascara on one eye because Noah came in and distracted my attention from the other eye by showing me he had put his own vest and socks on.

Difference 6: The Lesson

Before – I would plan the best lesson it was in my power to create. There at the forefront of my brain would be all the things I needed to include in the lesson: engaging but challenging activities, differentiation, SMSC elements (spiritual, moral, social, cultural), progress, learning objectives, assessment criteria…The list goes on. As soon as I found out the topic of my interview lesson, my brain would be buzzing with ideas. I would be nervous about the lesson, but once I got in front of the class, I switched into role and things came naturally.

After – My lesson was distinctly average. Things did not come naturally.

Difference 7: Interview Questions

Before – I could answer the questions. I knew a time when a child hadn’t done what I had asked of them because it had happened just the day before. I knew how the department would be affected by upcoming changes to the curriculum because it had been the topic of department meetings for months. I knew of a time when I had done something in my role which had made a significant change because I had done it last week.

After – I had a hazy notion I could deal with behaviour and had made positive changes in the past, but the details escaped me. When asked about a time a child hadn’t done as I asked, my Noah’s face loomed into my mind. I am yet to meet a teenager as obstinate as Noah. Teenagers at least pretend they are going to do what you have asked.

Difference 8: Truth and Lies

Before – When asked where I see my career going, I said Head of English. That was what I eventually wanted to be.

After – When asked what I want to be in 5 years’ time, I said Head of English. This is a lie. What I want to be in 5 years’ time is semi-retired from the profession. I want to be standing at the school gate as Noah walks into school and to be there again when he comes out. I want to be a professional writer. I want to have had two books published. I wouldn’t mind having a trophy on my bookshelf for best debut novel or something like that.

Difference 9: The proof was in the pudding

Before – I proved myself at the interview for teacher training, therefore I could train to be a teacher. I proved myself whilst training, therefore I could get a real teacher job. I proved myself at my real teacher job, therefore I could get a promotion with responsibility.

After – The pudding was at a banquet eaten two years ago. In fact, because of changing schools and going on maternity leave, the last set of GCSE results I got from a class that was mine from the beginning to the end of the course was in 2010. And those results were okay. But they weren’t ground-breaking.

Difference 10: The Job Offer

Before – I got every teaching job I went for. I am not blowing my own trumpet. First of all, before I was a teacher, I wanted to be an Editorial Assistant at a publishing company. I went for thirteen interviews before I actually became an Editorial Assistant. Secondly, I was the only candidate at one of my teaching interviews and the only sane candidate at another. But still…

After – Nein.

 

Have my seven years of teaching really been wiped off the slate? Maybe not all of them –  I have had several people contacting me about jobs since I came back. But not jobs that put me right back in the spot where I abandoned my career path. This is all part and parcel of the decision some mothers make to stay at home with their children. It is part and parcel of the decision I made to go to Vienna. For, after all, I was the one with the deciding vote. The hardest thing about being in Vienna (apart from being away from my family), was the feeling of being in limbo: I felt like I had left my life behind in England and had to live in a kind of in-between state of nothingness for two years. I thought we would come back to England and everything would magically be okay. Whilst I thank God every day that I am home, I hadn’t anticipated that settling back in would be so hard. There are so many changes, so many things that have to slot back into place. It will happen. I know it will. But it is taking longer than I thought. And I don’t regret leaving teaching to look after my Noah. I don’t regret it one bit, no matter how much it may have set my career back.

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My non-jazzy interview attire. (Excuse the mess behind me – these are rejected interview outfits).

Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

The Invincible, Incredible, Effervescent Character of My Mum

Anyone who knows me, knows my mum even if they have never met her because I talk about her all the time. I talk about her because she is what is commonly known as “a character”. But when I started to think about what to write about my mum on Mother’s Day, I didn’t know where to start. There is too much material. My husband calls her “omnipresent” and he has taught Noah to call her that too. (He has also taught Noah to call her “doolally”…).

To put my thoughts into some kind of order, I am going to write ten (slightly random) facts about my mum which will hopefully serve both to depict her character as well as show what she is like as a mother.

  1. She always gets what she wants

I am my mum’s first born child. She wanted a girl, a princess, a dolly to dress up. When she was in labour, her midwife was listening to my heartbeat and told my mum that she was having a boy because of the heartrate. “I’m having a girl,” Mum said with absolute certainty (obviously, they never used to tell you the sex from a scan in 1981). The midwife disagreed; she was sure I was going to be a boy. Mum was more sure. Experience and expertise amounts to nothing when my Mum is sure about something. Obviously, I was a girl. In my Mum’s own words: it’s better to be born lucky than rich. Mum was definitely born lucky. She somehow always comes out on top. As my nan used to say, if my mum fell down a manhole, she would come up with a bunch of flowers. My family like a good proverb.

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My Mummy and me

Except there was one time she was wrong…She was convinced Noah was going to be a girl. She was so sure that she bought girl’s clothes in the Monsoon sale almost as soon as she knew I was pregnant. When I had my 20 weeks scan and found out I was having a boy, I was in a state of disbelief. “Are you absolutely sure?” I asked the sonographer. She pointed to his hazy little willy on the screen (which I couldn’t make out myself but trusted she knew what she was talking about). I had so much faith in my mum’s certainty I was having a girl, that I felt a bit shaken. We had actually been referring to the baby as “Nellie” after my Nan. Then I went into Baby Gap and bought lots of boy’s clothes and all was fine with the world. And I wouldn’t change my Noah for no girl.

  1. When I was pregnant, I nicknamed her Granzilla

My god was she excited she was going to be getting a grandchild. She was, quite literally, delirious with excitement. She bought him several £60 baby grows. Here is an excerpt from one phone conversation a month before Noah was born:

Granzilla: (excited tone) The knitted outfit I ordered to be made has come. It’s so cute! Knitted hat, cardigan, mittens, leggings and booties.
Me: Leggings?!
Granzilla: He needs to keep warm. It’s so cute!
Me: What colour?
Granzilla: Mink.
Me: (incredulous tone) MINK?
Granzilla: (stern tone) You’d better tell me if you don’t like it because it was expensive.
Me: I don’t like it.
Granzilla: Wait until you see it first. Nina thinks it’s cute, don’t you Nina?
Me: I don’t want my son looking like a giant squirrel.

In the run up to the birth, she couldn’t sleep a wink. She said if she could give birth for me, she would. At the time, I thought she was being ridiculous. And then I gave birth. And I understood.

  1. She could have been anything she wanted to be

She has the kind of brain that can wrap itself around anything. If something’s broken, she will tackle it until it is fixed. When she is reading a detective novel/watching a thriller on TV, she always knows who dunnit. But she left school when she was 15 without any qualifications. She went to work in the family driving school business and later became a driving instructor. She is like one of those cartoon characters whose eyes scroll over with pound signs. She has expensive tastes (e.g. one babygrow for the price of six) and that was no different when she was a teenager. She would save her earnings to buy designer items. “Buy cheap, you buy twice,” she often tells me, lover of Primark and Asda that I am. She has always worked hard, sometimes seven days a week for seventy hours. Even now, approaching 65, she shows no sign of slowing down. Her work ethic is incredible. My sister has inherited it; I have not. I work hard to be the best teacher I can be but I am not interested in making any more money on top of that doing hours of tutoring. I’d rather be poor and have time to read a book.

Of course, she is the best driving instructor there is.

  1. She is a glamorous woman

My Mum’s outfit for my sister’s wedding cost more than my wedding dress (and my wedding dress wasn’t cheap). She saw a picture of Helen Mirren in a magazine at some awards ceremony and admired her dress. She admired it so much that she scoured the internet until she discovered the source of this dress. My Mum, my sister and I traipsed up to London to this exquisite dress maker and looked at her designs and materials. They were beautiful. Mum designed herself an outfit with minimal help from the shop assistant and picked herself a matching hat. As we left the shop, she decided she wouldn’t get that dress, it was too expensive. A few days later she had decided that yes, she would have that dress: your daughter only gets married once (she hoped). Imagine how many driving lessons she has had to do to pay for that dress. But it made her happy and that’s what’s important in this life, right? “You’re a long time dead,” she says. It was the dress of a film star or a Queen and she deserved it.

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Mum in The Dress
  1. She delights in winding people up

In December, I received a text message from her informing me she had bought me a new set of bathroom towels for Christmas. Towels?? Towels? I didn’t care whether they matched my new bathroom perfectly.  I phoned her straight up, full of outrage. I didn’t want towels for bloody Christmas. Ha ha, only joking, she said. Wind up. Noah can often be heard roaring at the top of his lungs, “STOP WINDING ME UP NANA!” and she loves it.

  1. She is the most generous person I know

My sister and I have always had everything we wanted, as well as everything we needed. We both had sparkly new cars sitting in the driveway on the morning of our seventeenth birthdays. We had the best education. We had the best clothes and the best toys and the best birthday parties and the best holidays. There was nothing we didn’t have. (Of course, this is due to the generosity of my Dad as well as my Mum). It’s the same with Noah. My Mum loves to give. Everyone she knows gets a Christmas present. Do you have to buy that person a present, I ask (usually because I have been tasked with finding the present whilst “nipping” to Lakeside)? Another thing about my Mum: she like to delegate.

  1. She had the worst gallbladder that Princess Alexandra Hospital had ever seen

A week after my sister’s wedding, my Mum took herself to A&E and was admitted to hospital. Her gallbladder was choc-full with gallstones. They had spilled into the bile duct and were blocking it. Her gallbladder was inflamed and infected. It would have to be removed. Because she was born lucky rather than rich, it was a week after the wedding and not a week before. Last February, she went into hospital to have it removed. It was a procedure that would take 45 minutes. She would be out later the same day. Except it didn’t and she wasn’t. It took five hours and later that same day, she was in intensive care. The surgeon started to attempt to remove the gallbladder by keyhole but had to call in his superior. It was the worst gallbladder they had ever seen. The nurses later told her that she was the talk of the hospital. Hadn’t it been causing her any pain? She shrugged. What is pain to my mother? A minor inconvenience.

It was the worst day of my life. My dad was prowling the corridors of the hospital trying to find out where she was, what had happened? I was at home with Noah and my sister, waiting for news. When she finally came out of surgery, we kept being told “she’s in recovery”. This went on for seven hours and I came face to face with my biggest fear: would she recover?

But she did. After the surgery, she had an infection. The thing that scared me most was that she was out of radio contact. Usually, I hear from her several times a day. She was in hospital for two weeks. She had a week off after that and then she was back on the road. She’s my superhero.

  1. We have no secrets

It’s hard to keep anything from my mum. She asks a lot of questions. She likes to be aware of every little thing that’s going on. I speak to her every day, sometimes several times a day. Even in Vienna, we Skyped every day. When I was at university, my mum and dad went on a cruise. Mum told me to call her, rather than the other way around because calls from the ship were £4 a minute. My phone bill came to £350 that month. It seems that calls to the middle of the Caribbean ocean cost £8 a minute from a university landline.

She was there at Noah’s birth. Yes, she likes to be involved, but it wasn’t just about that. She’s given birth twice and she wanted to be there to oversee what was going on. It wasn’t just that she wanted to be there for the birth of her grandchild; she needed to see with her own eyes that her daughter was okay, rather than waiting in the corridor for news. Every time I had to be examined by the midwife, I sent my mum into the corner or behind the curtain. Even I have to draw the line somewhere.

It’s unusual to have a mother who knows everything about you, but that’s not the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge is that she can’t keep a secret to save her life. One of her sayings: “I know something you don’t know!” said in a singsong, delighted voice.

  1. Her family is her life

My husband calls us “hillbillies”. My Mum is one of four children. I am one of eight grandchildren. At one stage, we were all living off the same road: us, my grandparents, my two aunts’ families and my uncle’s family. Now my grandparents are gone and my uncle has moved away, but my mum and her sisters are still there, the three witches (Mum being Chief Witch).

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The witches and Noah
  1. Her love is fierce

It’s the fiercest thing there is. I didn’t really understand how fiercely you could love someone until I had Noah. Sometimes, when I have contemplated whether I will have another child, I have wondered aloud how I could possibly love it as much as I love Noah. How would I find the space inside myself for all that love all over again? How could I carry that much love around with me? Surely it would break me? “Don’t be ridiculous,” my husband once said in response to these musings. “You have your mum’s capacity to love.”

My mum’s capacity to love. But I am not as tough.

I hope I can be half the mother to Noah that she has been to me.

Mum, when I’m with you, I’m standing with an army (as Ellie would say).

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Happy Mother’s Day, Mum

 

Please note: The photos of my Mum in “the dress” were taken by the fabulous David Michael at David Michael Photography who was the photographer at both my wedding and my sister’s. Mum chose him without consulting me. “I’ve booked the photographer, ” she rang me up and told me one day. And I’m very glad she did.

Mami 2 Five

Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

The Adventure of being a SAHM … or not

Some months ago, I wrote The Adventure of Being a SAHM (Part 1) which focused on how not going to work has affected my appearance. I had a whole host of blog posts planned on being a SAHM; I had a lot to say about the matter. But after reading Part 1 (which actually only scratched the surface of my feelings), many of my friends and family members were a little bit concerned about me. My Dad found it “depressing”; my husband “had no idea I felt that way”; my Aunt “felt a lump in her throat as she read it”. Friends texted me promising a “big night out” next time I came home from Vienna. Soon after, my husband put a picture on Facebook of me without a smidgen of make-up, a wonky smile and a squinty eye, and I was bombarded by comments from my loyal friends about how fantastic I was looking. So, not wanting to cause any further alarm, I let the subject of being a SAHM lie.

Until now. Because now my SAHM days are numbered. Soon I will be but a part-time SAHM and, not long after that, I won’t be a SAHM at all.

My husband works in London. He sees Noah in the morning for half an hour. He goes in to Noah when he wakes up, has breakfast with him and then goes to work. He gets home ten minutes before Noah goes to bed. This is hard for my husband, especially when he gets home and Noah is in a bad mood (a.k.a. Little Shit Mode). On bad days, when he comes home to find me face down on the sofa wailing about how awful my life is, about how terribly Noah has behaved, about how I can’t cope with this existence for one more day, he informs me that he would “give his right arm” to swap places. Of course, when he says this, I would like to strangle the man. But I refrain, because, actually, if I could only spend forty minutes a day with my Noah, it would break me in half.

Being a SAHM, I find my days are often long. So very, very long. I live quite an isolated existence and it can be mind-numbingly boring (sorry my Noah).

“Shall we all go to the park?” my husband sometimes suggests at the weekend.

“The park?!” I sneer. “The park? I spend my whole bloody life at the park. I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than go to the park on a Saturday!”

“Well, I’ll take Noah to the park, then,” he says.

“And leave me here on my own? I spend my bloody life on my own!”

And so on.

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Ah, the park

Sometimes it feels like my days have no purpose. Over the past two years, I have missed using my brain, using my training and skills. I have missed adult conversation. Most of the time, I feel like I have no idea what I am doing. My main responsibility (apart from ensuring Noah is safe and well) is to know where Leo the Lion is at all times so he is not left anywhere or lost, so we know where he is when bedtime finally rolls around. Before, I was responsible for hundreds of teenagers’ exam results. Results which they will write on job application forms for the rest of their lives. It just felt a bit more important.

 

And yet…

Our days are precious.

When I am not with Noah, I feel slightly untethered, like I am missing something. Slightly. Sometimes, when he is asleep, I actually miss him even though he is just upstairs. Every day, a hundred times a day, he makes me smile. In fact, despite everything, despite the fact that I had to move to another country to enable it, I am lucky that I have been able to spend these two years as a SAHM. I haven’t missed a thing.

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I didn’t miss the time when we got caught in a downpour on the way to nursery and Noah’s trousers were soaked so he had to borrow a pair of his g.f.’s leggings.

This is especially important because Noah (like all children) has grown up so fast. Everything is a phase. All those clichés are true. God knows, Noah’s sleep has been a nightmare on and off (mostly on) since the day that he was born. But the time will come when he calls out for me in the night for the very last time. Just like he used his pram for the last time or used a nappy for the last time. His development over the past few months has been staggering. Many of his sentences start with “Mummy, did you know…” – “Mummy, did you know that the sun is a STAR?!” “Mummy, did you know that inside a volcano is LAVA?!” “Mummy, did you know that my shadow gets bigger when I move further from the wall?”

This one is my recent favourite:

“Mummy, did you know that when it’s daytime, the stars don’t disappear, they stay in the sky but you can’t see them because the sun is too bright?”

“How do you know that?!” I asked, aghast. I’m sure I didn’t know this until I was about 10!

“Ben and Holly.”

Of course. Who else?

We live behind a Premier Inn and Noah thinks it is an “astronaut school” because the sign has moon and stars on it. Where did this ability to interpret signs and symbols suddenly come from? His nursery teacher told me his writing is exceptional for a boy of his age. I’m not quite sure what they’re on about with this because, apart from writing his name, he just writes a load of gobbledygook. I suppose it’s the fact he is trying to write at all. My point is that children advance so quickly in these first years of their lives that time together is all the more treasurable.

After Easter, I am going back to work two days a week. It’s definitely time. When Noah is at nursery, I spend a lot of time tidying up after him or shopping or breaking my fingers trying to create roses out of royal icing (don’t ask), or going to the gym. But sometimes, when I am not doing any of these things, I feel a guilty for having nothing to do. Two days of work is ideal because the balance is still tipped in favour of not working. I’m not even working on consecutive days so I get a rest in between. I’d happily work two days a week for the rest of eternity.

But life isn’t like that. In September, Noah will start school and I will have to go back to work full time. I want to be the one dropping Noah off in the morning and to be the one waiting for him at the school gates at the end of the day. I ache for it. But I won’t be there. I’ll be at work. “Welcome to my world,” my husband says. I’ve had my time and soon I will have to give it up.

I have toyed with the idea of a career change. I’d quite like to be an exercise instructor doing aerobics classes and spinning and Body Pump. When I mentioned this to my Mum at dinner last week, she almost choked on her food. “With your education?!” she demanded in a shrill voice. Alternatively, I’d like to be a cake maker (hence the royal icing flowers) but there are plenty of those about, all of them more skilled than my novice self.

The truth is, I am not a cake maker, neither am I an exercise instructor: I am a teacher and to teaching I will return. I will pick up my career where I left it. Once more, I will work hard to be the best teacher I can be. Instead of dragging, the days will whizz by. I will have much to do and not enough time to do it in.

I have made myself a promise. A promise I hope I will keep. I have thought about what I want from my job carefully, about what will make me happy and what will make me unhappy. I have written a list. I have made myself a promise to be guided by my list when going for a job. More and more, I have realised that so many things happen in life that are out of our control. Last year, my Dad was investigated for prostate cancer. It’s the biggest killer of men in the UK. Blood tests and scans indicated it was 50/50 either cancer or simply an enlarged prostrate. It all came down to the results of a biopsy. I remember waiting for these results was like standing at a junction. Looking one way, there was cancer. Looking the other, there wasn’t. And there was nothing anyone could do to make it go the good way. It either was cancer or it wasn’t. It was terrifying. It wasn’t cancer.

A job is just a job. It’s necessary for most of us, but it is something we have control over. Unless I want to go gallivanting off on another foreign posting (which I most certainly do not), I am going to have to give up my SAHM mantle. Teaching gets a lot of bad press at the moment and there is no doubt it is a challenging career, but there was a reason I went into it and there are lots of things I love about it. I intend to find myself a full time job for September that will enable me to focus on the good.

A change is coming my Noah.

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Love the park, really. Don’t know what I’d do without it.

Mami 2 Five

The Adventure of Being Back

I am in Essex. Noah is in Essex. My husband is in Vienna. This is not an unusual situation. This has happened a lot over the past two years. But this time it’s different. Why? Because this time we are back for good. This time Noah and I are not staying with my Mum and Dad, we are living in our own house. Five days a week, I am a single parent. And don’t I know it.

I had forgotten how stressful it can be living in your own property. Every time we had a problem with our home in Vienna, we phoned my husband’s office and they sorted it out. It makes me wonder why people actually buy houses rather than rent for the rest of their lives. Since we took our house back over from the tenants, we have had it painted, completely replaced the kitchen floor, replaced the kitchen worktop and hob, bought a new washing machine that couldn’t be fitted, replaced the kitchen tap and had Noah’s bedroom door re-attached three times. Is it just me or is it impossible to find reliable, reasonably priced, skilled workmen who actually turn up when they say they will? Is it just me or is it reasonable to expect Currys to be able to fit a washing machine when you pay them £35 for the privilege?

I have become a nervous wreck about the paintwork and the doors. The doors are so old and crooked, I am worried that Noah and I are going to be stuck on opposite sides one of these days. We frequently have this interaction when he fools about running around upstairs trying to shut me out of rooms: “Noah, don’t play with the doors…Please don’t play with the doors…Don’t play with the doors!…STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS! STOP TOUCHING THE DOORS!” I brought the wrong kind of paint for the bathroom and it marks and stains when it is splashed with water. It looks a state already and it has only been painted for a month. How was I supposed to know this? What do I know about paint? So when Noah splashes around in the bath, we frequently have the following interaction: “Noah, don’t splash about because you are ruining the walls…Please don’t splash the walls…Stop splashing the walls!…STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS! STOP SPLASHING THE WALLS!”

I don’t even want to get started on what it was like unpacking all of our stuff and getting the house straight. Our house is small and we have a lot of stuff. I am never moving house again. Whenever we need more space, we will just have to build upwards. We’ll end up with a twenty storey house by the time we retire. A twenty storey house with a roof garden.

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Nightmare
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I must admit, I did a great job of Noah’s dinosaur bedroom

And then there’s Noah.

Noah is used to my parents’ house. He has five big boxes of toys there and a treehouse. Seventy percent of the Sky Planner is full of his programmes. To Noah, their house is more home to him than our own house. He has never minded leaving my husband in Vienna whilst we came back to England to stay with my Mum and Dad. He accepted that this was what his life was like. If we had moved back from Vienna and chosen to live there whilst my husband was away, things would probably be okay right now. But I made the decision to move back into our house. In no way, shape or form did I want to live on my own. I made the decision because I thought it would be best for Noah to be near his new nursery, surrounded by his things, to settle into his new home and his new life straight away.

What Noah doesn’t get is what the hell his father is playing at coming and going backwards and forwards to Vienna. Initially, I suggested to my husband that we just tell him Daddy was going to work during the week and leave it at that with no mention of Vienna. I quickly realised this wasn’t going to work because Noah would see he was in our old flat when we Skype.

Last week, he painted a dinosaur from one of the craft kits he got for Christmas and presented it to my husband at the weekend. On Monday morning, ten minutes after my husband had left for the week, I came downstairs to find Noah sitting in his armchair crying his little heart out. Clutched in his little paw was the dinosaur. My husband had forgotten it. Noah cried and cried and I couldn’t console him. I phoned my husband to see if he was still at the station but it went straight to voicemail. “I want daddy!” Noah wailed. His little heart was hurting and I couldn’t make it better. So I gave him a chocolate bunny. Yes, it was 8 o’clock in the morning, but it was a desperate situation: my little boy was feeling real, raw emotional pain for the first time in his life and I was helpless. When my husband found out what happened, he was a wreck too.

So Noah is confused. He is frustrated. He is angry. “I’m sad about Daddy,” he says two or three times a week. And what happens when Noah is confused, frustrated, angry and sad? That little strand of demon child which runs through his veins, rises to the surface.

From the moment he wakes up, he is a challenge. He either wakes up during the night or wakes up before dawn. Seeing as the prospect of getting up and getting Noah through breakfast before 6 a.m. makes me want to throw myself from the roof tops, I allow him to watch YouTube on my phone. By the time I have reconciled myself to the fact that the day must begin, Noah won’t get off the phone. Once this struggle is over and we are standing downstairs in the kitchen having a discussion about breakfast, Noah demands pancakes. If pancakes are not on the menu either because (a) we have no eggs (b) he had pancakes yesterday or (c) I really can’t be bothered to make them, a full-on screaming fit ensues. Once he has calmed down, I have to coax him to eat more than 30% of his breakfast. A month ago he was a vitamin addict. He relished the moment when he got to eat his Bassets chewy vitamin every morning. Now, he refuses to eat them. He doesn’t like them. Urgh. Yuck. They are disgusting. I got him a different flavour; the response was the same. I find slightly sweaty, slightly sticky gummy vitamins under the sofa, by the front door, on his train set etc. etc.

The day continues in this vein. Getting washed, getting dressed, putting his coat and shoes on, lunch, dinner, tidying up, bathtime, bedtime. Every time we’re in the car, Noah insists on winding his window down for “fresh air” even when we’re on the motorway. Every time we’re in the car, Noah takes his shoes and socks off and refuses to let me put them back on. We’re late for absolutely everything.

It’s all one big challenge. It’s a battle. And I’m the one that’s losing.

It was the vitamin fiasco that kicked off events last Thursday. For the purposes of this blog post, I will refer to it as Black Thursday. On Black Thursday, I lost the plot. Noah has had a cough and cold hanging around for over a week so I decided I was going to make him eat his bloody vitamin. He refused. I cut it up and mixed it in his porridge. He refused. I paused the TV and told him I’d turn it off if he didn’t eat his vitamin. He poured his drink all over the floor. He wouldn’t sit on the naughty step. He wouldn’t stay in his room and think about what he had done. I didn’t know where to go next. He was hitting me and pulling my hair. He refused to get washed and dressed for nursery. He took things off of the sides in the kitchen and threw them on the floor. So I lost it. I went berserk. God only knows what the neighbours thought of me, screeching through the walls at my three-year-old like a demented banshee. In the end, he didn’t go to nursery. We sat on the sofa, both of us emotionally exhausted and held each other. All over a vitamin. I never want to be like that again. I have always been one to choose my battles with Noah. I often let things go. Isn’t that better than finding yourself pushed over the edge of your patience?

Noah is not responding well when he doesn’t get his own way. Today, he tried to show the postman his lightsaber and the postman only gave a fleeting response before continuing on his way to deliver the post to the rest of Brentwood. Noah threw himself to the floor, kicking and screaming. Yesterday, I bought him a little packet of Star Wars cupcakes. He had one and asked for another one. I said no. “You’re not the Mummy I love,” he said. My heart stopped dead in my chest. “What?!” I asked, aghast. “Only joking,” he said quickly. “You are the Mummy I love.” But still…

The end is in sight. My husband moves back to England in three weeks’ time. Life will calm down for Noah. For all of us. I am home. I am where I want to be. I repeat this to myself like a mantra.

On the plus side, Noah has taken well to is his new nursery. He has lots of friends and has already been invited to a birthday party (where he was the only boy). I felt sick in the lead up to his first day. I took him in there and had to stay for ten minutes whilst I signed some forms. He was subdued. He stood silently beside me. When it was time for me to kiss him goodbye, he was pale faced and miserable but he didn’t cry. He didn’t tell me not to go. I left and watched through the window as he went to join the others for circle time and sat there quietly whilst they were singing. He would one hundred percent have rather been going back to his old nursery in Vienna with his old friends and familiar surroundings. Being in a situation where you don’t know anyone is hard for adults, let alone three year olds. I hate changing jobs and having to get to know everything and everyone all over again. But sometimes we have to do these things. And as I stood there watching Noah through the window, I realised that he saw this too. He was feeling a little bit apprehensive, a little bit lonely, a little bit lost. And he just got on with it. I have been proud of my Noah since the day he was born – he is mine and he is a marvel – but as I stood and watched him through the window that day, I saw that rod of iron strength inside him that some people have and some people don’t. I admired him. I respected him. People who have this iron strength will be okay, no matter what life throws at them. When they get knocked down, they can get back up again. It’s a gift. My job as Noah’s mother is to make sure he never loses it.

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In his new nursery uniform

P.S. I have not tried to force Noah’s vitamins on him since.

P.P.S. He still isn’t doing a thing he is told.

The Adventure of Saying Goodbye (to Vienna)

Three more sleeps.

On Monday, the packing company came and packed up eighty boxes of our stuff with minimal disaster. It is now half way to England. My main concern is that the new Christmas decorations I bought will be smashed in transit. But they, like most things in life, are replaceable. Noah took the packing up of his toys fairly well. He grasps the fact that his toys are too big to take on the plane and will be at our “little house” in England when he gets there. There was a minor issue that went like this:

9 a.m. Sunday Morning. I am piling up Noah’s toys along one wall of his bedroom.

Me: Noah, do you want to keep Aylan here or do you want him to go in the big lorry with the rest of your toys?

Noah: In the big lorry.

Me: Are you absolutely sure?

Noah: Yes. In the big lorry with the rest of my toys.

Me: You won’t see him until we get back to England.

Noah: That’s okay. I want him to go in the big lorry.

Aylan, in case you were wondering, is a large teddy bear brought for Noah on our last trip home by my Mum and Dad. My Dad named him Aylan after the three year old Syrian refugee who drowned. He liked the idea of Noah looking after a refugee. Anyway, I put Aylan in the pile to be sent back to England with the rest of Noah’s toys (a) because he would take up a lot of room my suitcase, (b) because it’s stressful when Noah is carrying an enormous teddy around the airport, not least because we are always losing toys at airports and (c) because Noah seemed pretty adamant that Aylan should be packed with the rest of his toys…

4.30 p.m. on Monday, 10 minutes after we had waved the lorry off with all our stuff inside (including Aylan)

Noah: Where’s Aylan?

Fifteen minutes of wailing ensued.

 

Moving abroad for two years is many people’s idea of a dream. Usually, when it comes up in conversation that I live in Vienna, I’m met with responses such as “Wow! How exciting!” And I am the miserable cow who shakes her head and says, “Not really.” For me, it was never going to be easy. My husband knew that when he applied for the job. I am a home bird if ever there was one. Back in May 2013, the job came up in Vienna and my husband presented me with a written proposal listing all of the benefits of going for it. It wasn’t the first time he had broached the subject of doing a foreign posting. I phoned my Mum up and read her out the proposal. Because my Mum saw the £££ signs and (reluctantly) said go for it, because I had just gone back to work after maternity leave, because I wanted to work part-time and couldn’t, because it was a good opportunity for us financially, because it was my husband’s heart’s desire, I agreed. We formed a pact: I would try living in Vienna as long as Noah and I could come home for one week every month and stay with my parents. Last year, every single time I waved goodbye to my Mum and Dad at the airport, every time I waved goodbye to them here, it was with tears in my eyes. I am not given to public displays of emotion but, quite honestly, I felt like my heart was breaking. My husband’s posting shouldn’t actually end until next October, but I knew with absolute certainty that I couldn’t do another year here. Have I cried myself to sleep every night for two years? Of course I haven’t. Have I been depressed? No. Although I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate and drunk a lot of Gruner Veltliner to see me through. Have I made my husband’s life a living hell? Probably. Sometimes. Do I regret agreeing to come here? Actually, no.

Over the past six weeks, I have felt an over-whelming sense of relief every time I thought about how close I was to moving home. I felt as if I was crawling towards 19th December on my knees. I even planned what I would put as my last Vienese Facebook update at some point in August.

And yet…

I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel a sense of loss. And actually, it’s quite a strong sense of loss. How can this be? I’m flabbergasted by it. I should be excited. I should be deliriously happy.

It all comes down to change. I don’t like change. I don’t embrace it.

 

Last week, I was washing Noah’s sand toys in the bidet (what else is it for, after all?), when I had a bit of a moment. I looked at his buckets and spades and diggers lined up to dry on a towel on the bathroom floor and I felt winded, I felt bereft. The sadness I felt surprised me. Where had it come from? I am not sad to be packing up our things and moving back to England. As I took a deep breath, I realised that I was sad about what those sand toys represent. They represent a part of Noah’s childhood. The park that we live on represents a part of Noah’s childhood – all those hours we have spent there being cooked by the sun or being frozen solid in the winter. I felt the same when I got his pram and his highchair out. These things are obsolete. My Noah is done with them. He is not my baby anymore: he is my clever, strong minded, curious little boy. When we moved here, Noah was 20 months old, he spoke in nouns, he beat up any child who came within a mile radius of him, he had a little white rabbit comforter called Booby that he took everywhere, he couldn’t scoot or ride a bike. Now he is nearly 4, he loves Star Wars, he doesn’t know who Booby is, he wants to have conversations about what happens when you die. The fact is, Noah has spent more of his life in Vienna than he has in England. It feels a little bit as if, when I get on that plane on Saturday, I will be leaving a part of Noah’s childhood behind. Ridiculous, I know. But sometimes emotions are.

 

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January 2014, at our park

The other thing which makes me sad about leaving is that I am taking my Noah away from the life he knows. I am taking him away from the kindergarten he is happy at, from the friendships he has formed, from the enormous flat he can ride a bike around. Of course, even if we stayed until the end of my husband’s contract, we would still have to take him away from these things. I think I am seeing this through my own eyes rather than a three year old’s. I know what it feels like to leave your home and I am projecting those feelings on to Noah.

“How do you feel about moving back to England?” I ask him frequently.

“Alright,” he says. “I can’t wait to go to my new nursery! It’s great!”

I realised just how often I must have spoken to him about this when he turned to me yesterday and said, “So, Mummy, how do you feel about moving back to our little house?”

Noah is 3 years old. His language is developing every day but it is by no means advanced. He isn’t capable of telling me how he feels about moving back to England. He isn’t capable of understanding it himself. He pooed in his pants every day last week which is something he never, ever did whilst he was potty training well over a year ago. Is that relevant? Is he channelling his uncertainty about moving back to England by pooing in his pants? Or is he just being a sod? He certainly isn’t doing very much of what he is told at the moment. Even phone calls to Father Christmas and threats of him losing presents doesn’t seem to hold any sway with him. He’ll be okay. I know he’ll be okay. I know this experience won’t damage him in any way. But I still feel sad on his behalf, especially when I see him running home from kindergarten every day, hand in hand with his best friend.

 

A few weeks ago, one of my friends asked me, “What are the top five things you’ll miss about Vienna?” “There aren’t five. I will miss absolutely nothing about Vienna!” I exclaimed. But that’s not true. I will miss living on the park, I will miss my husband being home in time to play with Noah, I will miss the wine, I will miss the Sachertorte, I will miss the public transport, I will miss that most things are within walking distance, I will miss the space we have in our flat. I will miss the lifestyle we have been able to afford. I will miss my friends.

 

I know I am doing the right thing going home; I couldn’t bear to imagine the alternative. I have had a hard year in lots of ways. We all have them. Going home is faced with its own challenges: unpacking, cramming all of our stuff into a two up, two down cottage, finding myself a job. I am surprised to realise that I will have to adapt, to settle back in. But I am looking forward to starting up my life again in my beloved Essex. I have not liked living in Vienna but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it as a place. There is a grace and a grandeur about it. I respect it. But there’s no place like Essex.

Auf Wiedersehen Vienna, from my Noah and from me. Over and out.

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There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
My Noah and Me

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The Adventure of Toys, Toys, Toys and Treehouses

Christmas.
I know. It’s 14th October. It’s far too early to be thinking about Christmas. And yet, it’s difficult to avoid it. Vienna does Christmas in style: renowned for its Christmas Markets, it has a reputation to uphold. Advent calendars and decorations are in the shops already. Noah’s eyes boggle in excitement at the shiny red and green splendour of it all. And it’s still 10 weeks away.
Noah’s Chirstmas list is all written, decorated and ready to be posted to Father Christmas next week when we are in England (because Royal Mail will send a reply). This year will be the first time he has asked for things himself. To be honest, I am a bit dismayed – I had so many good ideas for what he’d like! But my baby is growing up and God knows he’s got his own mind, so this year, it’s over to him.

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About a month ago, we had the following conversation on the way to nursery (thanks to a certain episode of Peppa Pig):
Noah: Mummy, please can I have a treehouse?
Me: You can’t have a treehouse. We haven’t got a garden so we haven’t got any trees.
Noah: In Nana and Papa’s garden, I mean.
At three and a half years old, the boy sees exactly how the land lies. Noah went straight to the heart of the situation: if anyone was going to get him a tree house, it would be my Mum and Dad. So my Mum commissioned me to make Noah a star chart. She had a long list of things Noah had to do to get stars. At first, she told him he would need 300 stars, but she later changed it to 100. To add to the confusion, she was calling the stars “brownie points”. This Skype conversation mostly went over Noah’s head. My Dad would get Noah a treehouse tomorrow as a just because present (just because you are my Grandson).
Anyway, Noah now has a star chart with a skewered picture of a treehouse and Father Christmas (drawn by my own fair hand) at the top. He gets a star every time he does something good, but a red dot goes over one of the stars when he does something naughty. When he is threatened with a red dot, he says, “I don’t really want a treehouse. I was only pretending.” He is mostly being good at the moment, which is just as well because the treehouse has already been sourced, payed for and delivered. I just hope it doesn’t snow this Christmas, otherwise we’ll be spending a lot of time outside freezing ourselves to death whilst Noah delights in his new treehouse.
My husband and I have already bought Noah a Playmobil farm house, tractor and some animals to go with it. Playmobil is quite big over here. I bought it on Amazon.de because it worked out £30 cheaper than buying the same products in England. However, as I paid for it, I realised I had somehow signed up to the German Amazon Prime. I went to cancel it but realised I’d actually been a member for 6 months and the €49 had come out of our account in May. Damn and blast bloody Google Translate! How had I missed that?! Now I am desperately racking my brains to think of things I can buy to make use of the free delivery before we move back to England.
Thankfully, Noah doesn’t watch children’s television channels because we live in Austria, so Noah hasn’t seen any toy adverts. He has, however, been watching the Toy Genie on YouTube, and for the past two months has been saying, “Oh! I wish I had all these Paw Patrol toys!” in a small, hard done by voice, as if he doesn’t have a palatial bedroom crammed with toys as it is. So another thing on his list is Paw Patrol toys and I am having a bit of an issue with these. Firstly, he wants all of the pups with their vehicles. When he was dictating his letter to Father Christmas, he expressly reminded me to write down the names of each pup, just in case Father Christmas didn’t know what they were called. Each pup with their vehicle should cost about £13. Oh, if only life were that simple. It appears these fairly reasonably priced toys are being discontinued. What is replacing them? Super-duper lights and sound Paw Patrol trucks which cost £25 each. There are six pups and Ryder, the boy who looks after them. If Noah’s wish is to be fulfilled, that’s £175 on Paw Patrol toys! Some shops still have the old ones, although on Amazon they’ve put the prices up to £20+. So I am doing what any concerned mother would do: trying to buy up the old ones whilst they are still around. What does this mean? It means we have already blown our budget for Noah’s Christmas presents. Oh, yes, and he also wants the Paw Patrol “house” as he calls it.
My husband and I have conflicting philosophies surrounding Christmas presents. My husband’s stance is thus: Noah has a room full of toys, many of which he never plays with. Noah does not need a lot of toys for Christmas. If people want to give him something for Christmas, they should buy him something small and then give him money for his savings account if they so wish. My husband is a sensible man. He is a practical man. He is not a material man. He thinks of the people in this world who have nothing. And he’s not wrong. I am sure many readers would agree with him. Last year, Noah got so many presents, he got fed up of opening them. My head tells me husband is not wrong…

But my heart says otherwise. I can’t agree with him: it’s just not me. It’s not what I come from. When my husband declared that Noah doesn’t need “sacks and sacks” of presents this year, my family were aghast. What? No sacks? He usually gets a sack from us, a sack (treehouse sized) from my Mum and Dad, a small sack from my sister and a sack from my Aunt and Nan. It was my Nan who actually started the sack tradition. My Nan was a single parent at 20 years old with twins. She had no family around her. It was the 1950s and she was a housekeeper. In other words, she was skint. But she saved hard to make sure my Dad and my Aunt had a sack of presents every Christmas. Despite my husband’s moral barometer, my family will not be deterred from buying lots of presents (sorry dearest). My husband’s family get Noah lots of presents too so I really don’t know where he gets it from.
How much should children get at Christmas? It’s a controversial matter. Out of curiosity, I googled how much do you spend on your children at Christmas and was taken to a handful of parenting forums. I discovered that it really varies. Some parents were saying £50, some £500. There is no right or wrong answer. Partly, I suppose it depends on how much you have. I think we have spent enough now, but I keep seeing things and thinking Noah would like that.
Also, should Chirstmas be about getting lots of presents? What is Christmas really about? I’m a Christian: I know what Christmas is about. I’ve also heard sermons on what it shouldn’t be about.
But this is my stance: treehouses are built for children. There are websites full of different treehouse designs for children. So if some children in this world are lucky enough to be born into a family who can afford to buy them treehouses, why shouldn’t Noah be one of them? Part of the magic of Christmas for children, is wishing for something and then getting it. Dreams coming true for three year olds is all about toys and treehouses.
My husband worries Noah will be spoilt. His theories are noble and perhaps mine aren’t. But as we were growing up, my sister and I had everything we could possibly wish for. We are nicknamed “The Princesses” by the rest of my Mum’s family. Although I have been privileged, I don’t come from a wealthy background; I come from a very hard-working one. My Mum is 64 and frequently works 12 hour days. My Dad is always crusading around the country for the greater good of mankind. My sister and I may well be Princesses, but we are good people and we work hard and we value everything we have ever been given. Being spoilt is not always about how much you are given in your life, it is about what you think you are entitled to. We are living in a material world and I am a material girl. And I want to give Noah what I can.

Noah and his sacks last year
Noah and his sacks last year

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