Worth the wait 

So much to say, but a picture says a thousand words. So proud of my readers.  

 

I’m sorry for the smug parent post. I try not to behave as though she’s the smartest child on the planet because I know academic progress at this stage is so arbitrary: kids’ development turns on a sixpence. I just want to celebrate this enormous progress and Em’s achievement. This blog only exists because reading together was initially so hard. If you’re struggling with a child who can, but won’t, I hope this inspires you to keep going. 

I Feel Bad… (About my sofa) 

“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter.” Nora Ephron – I Feel Bad About My Neck

Yes, I’m just going to slide in here at the back, like a latecomer at a wedding, and just pretend like I’ve been here this whole last 5 months. Just write up a post like I’ve never not been posting… Will probably say too much, at speed, in my haste to be totally normal and on top of things, only to think later on “why did I even say that!??” So. Nothing to see here.

Yesterday, probably day 147 of sitting on the sofa that is my maternity leave, I actually did something about my urge to read whilst fossilising there… Incredibly,  I’ve been fighting it. “But I should just be DOING some housework. If I could only put Ben down.” Yeah yeah, I know, the only thing you should be doing is looking after the baby. So says everyone apart from my mother. And possibly my neighbours about whom I’m developing quite the complex. You see, they see me on the sofa when they go out, with my son in my arms, and they see me in the same spot when they return. Sometimes I have actually moved from that spot a little bit during the day. Not that they would know. But, trust me, nothing says you need to do some housework like  going out for the day 100 miles away, accidentally leaving the front door open and triggering those same neighbours to do a recce around your house to ensure you weren’t dead in your beds. Kind of them, sure, but socially even more mortifying for you.

But my new son doesn’t get this and now I have no choice but to accept that my neighbours are certainly convinced we are the family from hell next door, that I never move from my spot on the sofa and that I am definitely not currently on speaking terms with domesticity. Once you move past the unedifying shame of knowing they’ve seen the 2 weeks’ worth of ironing strewn about your bedroom, it’s quite liberating. I can finally stop the self-delusion and self-abuse that I even could be doing something else and instead just sit here holding my struggling boy who will not sleep anywhere but in my arms or in the pram. And enjoy it while I can. And I can give in to just sitting here and do some important things for my mental health, at the same time. Like watching entire seasons of House Of Cards. And reading.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first person I’ve turned to to read since having Ben is Nora Ephron. Heartburn was a revelation, to me, a few years ago, probably because when I thought of Nora Ephron, I thought of all of the sentimental movies she was involved in that invariably starred Meg Ryan and which I have never seen nor probably ever will. So, I read it with low expectations. And it hit me between the eyes. When I read it, my friend’s mum was mortally ill. For some reason, I really wanted and  intended to pass on the book. I feel I failed Lyn a little bit by not getting around to giving it to her. Which is ridiculous. She didn’t know I intended to let her have it and in any case she was probably too ill to read for herself. But to this day I think of Lyn when I think of the book and know she would have loved it. 

I was genuinely upset when I heard of Nora Ephron’s death on my husband’s 40th birthday. And yesterday I read the last thing she ever wrote and published, which I found very poignant – as well as hilarious – in my sleepless, hormonal state. As Ben lay, heavy in my arms, I devoured her words and wit and wisdom and felt quite healed in the process. There’s something about reading the words of others that can help order those conflicted thoughts that go around your head when you’re sat with only them and a sleepy weight in your arms for company, day after day. It’s a beautiful, silent dialogue with no one to judge you. I was an only child, so this conversation has always been a lifeline for me. She sums it up here, perfectly. Thanks, Nora. 

“Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.”

Books in bed with book and bed

A few days ago, before I ended up languishing in an NHS hospital bed, the Monkey and I spent a lazy Saturday reading and having fun. The monkey’s fun of choice was me reading the Enchanted Wood to her and her reading assorted Biff, Chip and Kipper tales to me. There may have been a bit of snoozing, too…
Happy days.

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Measuring Success

The Monkey has it bad for The Magic Faraway Tree.

After a bumpy start in her Reception class, she’s settled back down and is adapting to the new school regime. Or maybe its the combination of threats/ bribery that are working. Who cares?

So I was a bit surprised when I collected her from my mother’s, last night, only to be told that she’d been grumpy again when her grandmother met her at the school gates. “I don’t want you to collect me, I want mummy to get me.”

I tried to have a firm but fair word with her about speaking like this to nanny – as well as trying to get to the bottom of what is wrong and why she doesn’t want nanny to get her.

“Because I wanted to come home and read The Faraway Tree with you, mummy.”

Be very, very careful what you set out to achieve and how you wish to measure success…

Progress

After another pregnancy-enforced hiatus, for which I apologise profusely, such a momentous thing has happened that even I must abandon my self-enforced ban on blogging when I should be sleeping and get on here to record it.
In the midst of what’s been a bit of a torrid time, the Monkey has started school and – although this has been trickier than I expected it would be, given she attended nursery there and has made great friendships – she has still made some astounding progress. On Friday, she came home with her first reading book, Hide and Seek, and despite her recent, surprising and upsetting proclamation “I’m never going to learn to read,” when I purposefully left the book on the kitchen table, she picked it up and softly began to read it to me. I knew she could, because of the work we’ve done together and the words she can spell in her head and read aloud, when of a mind to do so, but lately she has become more and more determined not to engage with us if she could tell “trying to encourage your child to read” activities were afoot. We felt that, underneath this, was a worry that, if she could read for herself, that we would stop our nightly story time with her. Despite reassurances to the contrary, the monkey has become more and more aware and resistant to any efforts of ours to practice her reading.
Her teacher had had great progress with her that day and so I was curious to know how we would get on with reading at home. Not our story-sharing-at-bedtime, but our school homework of encouraging her to read the schoolbook she has come home with. Hence my decision to leave the book in plain sight and leave it to her to make the first move.
She read every page (somewhat missing in plot and character development, I felt) and only struggled on the word Dad, which she spelled out phonetically and got it straight away… Then. she reread the book aloud over and over and over in obvious glee. I was completely thrilled – she has only been back at school for 9 days! Because of her recent reticence to try and read aloud for herself (even though we knew she could), we decided to reward her amazing achievement with some Lego.
Result? One thrilled little girl.
Because of my own physical and mental absence, the monkey has not been reacting positively to me at all which is always a flag that I’ve not been there for her as I should have. So I’ve taken over bedtime duties for a while and we are reading Up the Far Away Tree, my favourite childhood book. I’ve told her it was my favourite book as a child too, and every night she is completely wrapped up in the story, wanting the next chapter and wide eyes at its guile and it’s charm. It’s helped me find a way to reconnect with her again, to share part of my story with her and to show her just how much I love her.
This day has also reminded me, yet again that, just when you feel stuck as a parent or your child has hit a behavioural or developmental hurdle, to just hang on, encourage, be patient, stop pushing, keep loving. They get there.

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Weekend Inspiration

Since finishing Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, I’ve struggled to start let alone finish anything else. Its protagonist, Theo, so completely occupied me that I’ve not been quite ready to let him go as yet.
The weekend has helped galvanise me, though, like a lost love, to move on!
We took the Monkey to Birmingham to
watch a stage adaptation of The Gruffalo and in truth the weather was so dire, I was so preoccupied and weighed down by third trimester aches and pains and modern-day todo list angst, that I was truly wondering whether we should just bench the whole thing. I’d booked the tickets six months ago. Now, my daughter is at the gate, leaving the Gruffalo behind, or so I thought.
How wrong I was – what a funny, knowing, engaging performance. I laughed a lot and actually ended up with the Gruffalo’s Madness-esque song stuck in my head for a few days afterwards. Monkey face loved it and got stuck in with the audience participation. Of course she did.
I only marvel at how empty these Midlands touring performances are and his lucky we are to have bagged front row tickets to our last four outings with relative ease. In London it’s a battle to even get tickets to such things.
Afterwards, the monkey really wanted to go inside the modern wonder that us Birmingham library and my heart was glad that once she’d finished messing about on the escalators that made me feel like I was in a West End super club trying to score, she was very keen to explore the children’s section, in the basement.
We spent about 90 minutes, with a lot of other parents, relaxing and reading in the super comfortable chairs.
What a place! For the first time since moving, in a climate where we had to battle to keep our London Carnegie Library open against the slash of Lewisham council’s budget, I felt incredibly proud of where I now live. To not only retain a library, but to push forward with such an amazing, modernist and enlightened space that makes grown adults want to be there, to join, to play… I am in awe of Birmingham’s world class space and commitment to learning and the future. I left feeling renewed and inspired for the remainder of what was to be a very special weekend.
Now just to choose another book…

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Perfect Partners – favourite children’s illustrated books

3 years since I started this blog, it’s hard to believe that the baby with whom I struggled to share books insists on reading together, morning and night and is taking her own first steps into reading and spelling as she prepares to start school in two weeks’ time. 

For children of this age, the familiar is still preferred. And so, newly purchased books often languish on the shelf, making a blog about your shared book experiences either venture into the personal impact or the deeply mundane. Yes. We ARE still reading Mr Men books. Every day. Care to read about it?  

However, my dear friend who teaches would-be teachers how to teach art, asked me a classic question, yesterday. What would be my top 5 illustrated children’s books, where the illustrations work magnificently with the text? The fact that so many of them are classics or have been in our possession for quite a long time made me decide I’d best step it up.

Here they are, in order only of recollection: 

1. Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman and Dave McLean

2. The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schaeffler

3. The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers (in fact, anything by Oliver Jeffers)

4. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

5. Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen

6. Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski  – I can’t count…

What are yours? 

Swapsies

A wonderful day, here, at bookandbed towers. The sun beat down, the monkey played with her erstwhile classmates in the park and I realised just how much she’s growing up and -slowly – away in the process and she’d a few tears.
When we got home we did some girlie things and cuddled whilst she will still
let me. And at bedtime we read a book that we have had since I first started blogging, but have never read: The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave Mckean.
It’s funny, acutely observed and of course ridiculous. We loved it, shared jokes about who we would and wouldn’t swap for two goldfish (nobody) and who we would swap for two rabbits (a boy at school whom she doesn’t like. How sad.)
Ending this lovely day by reading a new, great, long-awaited story with giggles and cuddles. So very special.

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