Loud ‘n Proud Week 3: Leaving Mummy’s Comfort Zone

Welcome to week 3 of Loud ‘n Proud! If you are new to this linky, you can read more details here. I look forward to reading about all the amazing things your wonderful children have done recently – and perhaps some of your own achievements as well. Feel free to be proud of yourself! You can link up your posts below, and don’t forget to grab our badge.

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Personally, I find it easy to brag about my children’s academic achievements (erm, I do realise they are only 3 and 1 1/2 years old), and to wax lyrical about their linguistic prowess, but something you will rarely hear me mention is their physical abilities. I’ll level with you: I am not into sports and I hate playing outside. Well – I like playing outside, but not if it involves too much supervision, mess, potential for injuries or physical exertion on my part.

So, I guess, I hate playing outside.

As a mum, I am great at encouraging music, art, reading books, imaginative play, but ask me to go and teach my son to ride a bike and I’ll suddenly be very busy with Important Jobs in the house, or you’ll find me asleep on the sofa with Team Umizoomi on repeat.

It took me 6 months of being nagged, prodded and reminded to sign my son up to Tots Tennis at our local tennis club. It was cheap, it was short, it was run by someone we know and trust, yet every week there was something. He didn’t have the right shoes. Or I had work. Or I didn’t know what I’d do with the Girl while we were there. Or I’d just forget.

Then just before half term, we went to the grand opening of a local community centre, and the Tots Tennis stand was there, complete with tiny rackets and soft balls. The entire time we were there, both the Boy and the Girl were running after the balls, waving rackets around and generally having a marvellous time. Before I could stop myself, I found myself saying to the Boy: “Would you like to have tennis lessons?”

“Yes!” he said breathlessly. “I have tennis lessons!” His voice went up to a squeak at the end, that’s how excited he was.

So I signed him up.

We bought him Special Tennis Shoes in Primark. He carried them home as gently as if they were made of porcelain, and kept showing them to everyone, telling anyone who would listen that he was going to have tennis lessons.

He has had three lessons so far and he loves it. In fact, he is quite good at it. He follows instructions quite well and does an impressive job of hitting the ball. I keep bracing myself for failure, or at least mediocrity, as this is all I have ever known in sports myself. But why should The Boy fail or be mediocre? Why should I set the bar so low for him? Why shouldn’t he have a talent for sports? Not just The Boy, but The Girl too. The first lesson I brought books for her to read along the side line, but it soon became clear that that was not going to happen. Within seconds she had appointed herself ball girl, and now every week, she invents her own little tennis lesson while the bigger children have theirs.

I am starting to entertain the idea that my kids actually really love being active and being outdoors. And as I watch the two of them running around on the tennis court, rosy cheeked and laughing, I think that maybe I could get used to it myself…

Tiny ball girl

Tiny ball girl

 

Link up your Loud n Proud posts below and we will read, comment and retweet! Next week’s host will be Tas at Not My Year Off.

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Dual-wielding Dutch and English: bilingualism second time round

Zhuzh

Zhuzh

From the start I have been dying to find out how the Girl would get on with the two languages spoken in our house. In case you are tuning in for the first time: I am Dutch and (try to) speak Dutch exclusively to the children. My husband is British and speaks English. And as we live in the UK, absolutely everybody else in the children’s every day lives speaks English too. I often feel like I am battling the tide trying to maintain Dutch – I myself have spent most of my adult life here and it takes a little effort to speak Dutch all the time, and as my friends and their children speak English, all our play dates take place in English.

I know people who have grown up in a similar bilingual set up and almost without fail, they tell me that their younger sibling barely spoke the minority language. This is not surprising, really. The second child in a bilingual family like ours grows up in a very different language environment to the first. Whereas the Boy spent 98% of his time with me, his Dutch mum, for the first 2 years of his life, and went on fairly frequent visits to the Netherlands with me where nothing but Dutch was spoken to him, the Girl has a constant confused language tutor by her side, even when we are at Opa and Oma’s house. Inevitably, and rather sadly, the Boy’s language of choice is English. Especially since starting pre-school and spending a lot of time with a group of people who just speak English, he will often answer me in English even if I start a conversation in Dutch. So of course he will always address his sister in English too.

I could see the effects in the Girl’s early vocabulary. Her first ten words or so were English: Daddy, cat, teddy, down, juice, cheese, shoes and so on. She had two Dutch words: “aai” (stroke), said running after the cat or when saying sorry to someone for yanking their hair out, and “dag” (bye), which she only used for a book I read to her in Dutch at bedtime with little animals you could tuck up in bed. “Dag!” she’d wave as the rabbit disappeared into his hole.

When children start to speak and come into contact with new words, they make several assumptions that help them learn vocabulary more quickly. One of those is that the new word refers to the whole object and not a part of it (“cat” must refer to the whole animal, not just the tail or the ears or the colour of its fur) and another is exclusivity: each object only has one label. This means that bilingual children start off learning just one word per object – which language they go for depends on what is presented to them first, but to start off with they will not absorb both “cat” and “poes“. So most bilingual children of the Girl’s age (18 months) have an expanding vocabulary that includes words in both languages, but only one word per object. In a later phase they will start to realise that Mummy speaks one language and Daddy another, and that they each have a word for “table”, “juice” and “bye bye”.

Except the Girl is already doing this now. And she has done from the beginning.

Not with every word, but from very early on I could hear her experimenting with Dutch and English words for the same concept that had a similar sound. She went through “hello” and “hallo“, as if trying to taste which version she liked best and got the most laughs. And sometimes, she kept both.

She says “neus” AND “nose”, mimicking the version that the person she is speaking to is using. I have also heard her use “voet” and “foot”.

And where she started off with just “cat”, she now also says “poes“.

She says “vast” plaintively when she can’t get out of her high chair or car seat (“I know, I did that on purpose,” I explain). But I also hear her say “stuck”.

She seems very aware of her own language learning, and when she tries out a new word and I repeat it in Dutch, she will repeat what I have said, looking at me proudly as if to say: I am saying it like you, aren’t you pleased, mama?

It isn’t just giving two labels to one object that is quite advanced about her language learning. Generally, she is speeding through the process much more quickly than her brother did. Bilingual children are on average about 3 months behind their monolingual peers when they learn to speak. I was already quite proud of the Boy, who hit each milestone exactly on cue and said his first two word sentence a few weeks before his second birthday (it may have been “bye bye baby” to his new sister…) But the Girl is blowing his progress right out of the water. Besides being an entire phase ahead in her bilingual language acquisition, she is also using personal pronouns, something her brother didn’t do until he was two. She started saying “my Daddy” at about 16 months, expressing a sentiment I had seen in her eyes from her earliest cuddles with him, when she would turn into him and glare at any bystanders who looked like they might be about to muscle in on her special time with Daddy. Also “my juice” turned out to be a necessary addition to her phrases to ward off any thirsty friends or brothers.

She also started making sentences a few months ago, waving “bye bye Daddy” when he goes to work, prodding me while I try to have a sneaky Team Umizoomi-nap saying “mama sleep!” and most recently breaking our hearts with a little sleepy monologue in the Fairy Godmother’s arms at bedtime, saying “Mama? No, mama work. Daddy? No, Daddy work.”

And so it starts. As they say, you spend ages wishing they would talk and then when they do, you wish they’d be quiet. I do love this phase. I love finding out what is in her head, how she is making sense of the world. And I feel more than a little proud of how quickly she is learning to talk, dual-wielding Dutch and English like the bilingual ninja she is.

"tat" or "poes"

“tat” or “poes”

Secrets of the  Sandpit

Lost Fish: Films and Fear in pre-school age children

watching a film

Last week while going around LIDL, I spotted some toffee popcorn and had a bright idea. It was time for a film night. We hadn’t really watched a film with The Boy since the endless Muppet-marathon of September last year, and he was probably going to be that much more able to grasp a longer story line now, six months later. I put the popcorn in the trolley.

“When we get home, we’re going to watch a film!” I announced.

“A film!” the Boy cheered.

“Which one would you like to watch: Cinderella, Ratatouille, The Muppets or Lost Fish?”

“Lost Fish!”

Finding Nemo it was.

I should explain that this was a risky venture.

We have made several attempts to have “nice family film nights” (or afternoons) with the Boy, most of which ended in tears. It turns out that Disney is pretty darn scary when you’re only 3. I realised pretty quickly that Ratatouille wasn’t going to happen when in the first five minutes the loveable furry main character is chased into a river by a woman wielding a carving knife and then a shotgun, after which he loses his family, gets lost and ends up homeless and starving in a sewer.

Cinderella took me by surprise, but it turns out a jolly set piece of a cat – with a broad, toothy, menacing grin – chasing a mouse – with an adorable twitchy nose, wearing a jaunty hat – is actually very distressing to a small boy. So Cinderella had to be switched off as well.

I was a little worried about Finding Nemo, to be honest. It starts with a massive great big shark eating the main character’s wife and all but one of his children, after which it goes on a roller coaster ride of separation, misunderstandings and mortal peril until finally, in the very last five minutes, you get your sugar-coated Disney ending and everything is okay. Mostly, my son doesn’t last past those first few heart-stopping minutes.

But he had once seen all of Finding Nemo – admittedly he was ill and drugged up to his eyeballs at the time – and had apparently been left with quite a positive feeling about it. Possibly because he had got to the end and realised all turned out okay. Whatever the reason, he had remembered the film as “Lost Fish” and I thought we’d risk it and I would just make sure I was to hand to comfort him and put things in perspective where necessary.

And the Girl? Over Christmas, when the Boy had been backing away from the television, terrified yet unable to unglue his eyes from the screen while watching the Gruffalo, she was calmly sitting on the sofa watching the story unfold, munching on a bread stick.

“Ah, she’s fearless,” we said to each other, with not a little pride. And that was what we continued to think, watching her try to scale climbing frames and slides meant for much older children, hurling herself through life, running away from us on tiny shoes adorned with strawberries. The Girl is a ninja badass. I didn’t even consider her feelings in my impromptu film night idea.

Finding Nemo was going really well I thought, and I was even able to retreat quietly into the kitchen to cook dinner. Then I heard a familiar whimper of fear. We were now in the midnight zone and Dory and Marlin were being chased by the angler fish.

But it wasn’t the Boy who came running into the kitchen. It was the Girl, padding on her little feet, reaching for me in distress, expressing with her limited vocabulary what the matter was: “Fish!”

And I realised that maybe it wasn’t that she was fearless. Maybe around Christmas time she was still too young, to understand context, to pick up on the implications, the scary music, what those massive teeth might mean, that the little fish she liked were screaming because they were scared of being eaten. And now, three months and a vocabulary explosion later, she had discovered fear.

So I did what any self-respecting parent would do.

I gave her a cuddle, then put her back on the sofa and wrote a poem about it.

 

Enter the World

Your world was safe, cocooned, defined
It was out and underlined
My arms your home
My hair your own
Image sound the world awash with colours friendly noises hugs and hair

You stood up, stepped and turned away
Charged into a world of play
A joke, a game,
You learned your name
Detach break free you ran off tugging me along by painful strands of hair

But with the wonder also crept in fears
New awareness came with tears
New lines to cross
With joy comes loss
Vast scenes and spaces gripping terror of a world without the comfort of my hair

Still I am always there
When dangers send you crying
you come flying to me cooking up some dish
you wail of “sad” and mourn for “fish”
unnamed undefined yet fear of dying
brings you crying hand still reaching
screeching for the soothing comfort
of my hair.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2014

 

I read this poem at the Virtual Open Mic Night on 25 March 2014 – watch it here!

 

Prose for Thought

Miniature Mathematical Genius: Will my son end up being an accountant?

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Just before the Boy was born, I remember the Husband and I were out having a curry one night and we talked about our hopes and dreams for our son: the kind of parents we wanted to be and all the mistakes other parents made that we were obviously never going to replicate.

One of the things we talked about was: what do you think he might want to be when he grows up? We started off daydreaming about our son taking our own roads-not-travelled. Maybe, my husband thought, he’ll study military history. Or maybe, I mused, he will learn lots of languages and become a diplomat.

“But you know,” my husband cautioned, “we have to be prepared for the fact that he might be very different from us. We want to support him whatever he chooses to do in life.”

“Yes,” I nodded fervently, ever the tolerant Dutch-person. “Even if he wants to do sports.”

We grinned. We both hate sports.

“Maybe he’ll want to study Chemistry!” I suggested.

We tittered. Chemistry, how dull.

“You never know,” my husband said, scratching around now for something utterly outrageous, something no sensible arty-farty parent could ever support, “he might want to become an accountant.

How we laughed, dear reader.

Fast forward three years, and my husband has just picked up our son from pre-school. I am at work. Inspired by this fact, they are having a conversation about work, and at the Boy’s suggestion that perhaps he could do some work my husband starts explaining that you have to be a bit older. Some people start work at sixteen, some at eightteen, some at twenty-one…

The Boy nods sagely.  “When I am be twenty-one, I go to work.”

The Husband: “And what kind of work would you like to do?”

The Boy, without hesitation: “Numbers.”

“Would you like to tell other people about numbers, or do you want to do numbers by yourself?”

Again, the Boy is ready with his answer: “Numbers by myself”.

You guessed it. The Boy really does want to be an accountant.

It’s not surprising really, because he just loves numbers. Nothing fascinates him more. They are his friends, they make the world exciting and comforting at the same time. I recently went to an information morning about how Maths is taught in primary schools these days and we were given some handouts that the children might get in school: pages full of number lines and multiplication squares and rulers. I knew I would have a very happy boy when I got home and I was not wrong. We put all the handouts in a special folder for the Boy’s “Work” and now he likes to get it out importantly and pore over the Pages of Joy.

Maths - the Boy is in heaven

The love affair started almost as soon as he could talk. The Boy could count to ten fairly flawlessly before he was two, and has since moved on to bigger and better things. He now startles teachers and hairdressers by counting to 100, simply to amuse himself. In fact, he can count to one hundred in English and in Dutch. A few months ago he still had some interference issues, as in Dutch you say “three and twenty” where in English it would be “twenty-three”. This would sometimes cause alarm when he was reading out my friend J’s digital speedometer on the way to pre-school and confidently announce that it said “Eighty-two!” (I should just stress, for the benefit of my friend’s husband who is a police officer, that it really was the Boy’s error and she was doing a very conservative 28 mph).

However, he seems to be on top of the distinction now and doesn’t swap the numbers around any more. He has become quite enamoured of finding big numbers and will announce with glee that he loves me “one hundred”, and when entering a room full of people he will say in a (rather loud) awed voice: “There are thousands of them!”

At just over two years old he amazed me by taking a piece of chalk and writing the numbers from one to ten on the pavement as we walked along. He has been practising and perfecting this skill ever since. Last week I was sitting next to him at the table doing some work and he was busy with paper and a pen. I looked over and he had done this:

photo 3

It turned out to be a plan for the day, which he explained: “Step 1: Go to the moon. Step 2: Go to Nediland [The Netherlands]. Step 3: Go back home. Step 4: Is a surprise.”

Really, everything to do with maths is exciting to him. He loves going round with my tape measure to measure things and likes to spot shapes where ever we go. “Look Mummy, a trapezium!” he shouts from the back seat of the car, pointing at my rear view mirror. It’s only a matter of time, we think, before he’ll start adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing and calculating the decay rate of gamma radiation in preparation for the nuclear apocalypse.

The other day in the car he was again musing on what life would be like when he was older. “Next week is my birthday!” he said. (It wasn’t) “And then I be 4, and then I be 5, and then I be 6…” (This was where I tuned out for a while.) “…and then I be 21 and I go to work…” The counting continued with this addition (“and then I be 43 and I go to work, and then I be 44 and I go to work”) until he arrived at: “…and then I be one hundred!”

“Well, when you’re 100 you won’t have to work,” I said. “You can have a nice rest.”

“Yes! Then I can have a nice rest.

I quickly switched the radio on at this point, to ensure that we did, just for a moment, have a nice rest from the counting. Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of his skills, but let’s face it: (ac)counting is a bit boring.

All the numbers had to come into the kitchen at Opa & Oma's house to join in with lunch.

All the numbers had to come into the kitchen at Opa & Oma’s house to join in with lunch.

This is what Play Doh was made for

This is what Play Doh was made for. Outside the frame the line goes on to twenty…

All linked up to the first ever Loud ‘n Proud linky!

3 Children and It

Life Game: The Brother

Hey there Gamers,

I’m pretty much blazing Level 1. An average day will find me clocking time with the toy garage or the board books to get my xp up and then blowing it all on vocabulary. My latest discoveries are “Daisy” (gets you access to In the Night Garden books and TV shows), “seep” (the name for an undesirable state of affairs where the character you want to interact with is unconscious) and “am” (this can be added to bread to make sandwiches).

But what I want to talk about today is that very special person you might be lucky enough to run into in Life Game: The Brother.

The Brother has been around ever since I started playing and seems to be in control of the game a lot of the time. He controls what appears on the Awesome Viewing Device and also has ways of influencing what food appears on the table. I’ve been observing him closely and as always, the trick seems to be gathering more words. I’ve been trying it out myself and have had some success with words like juice and cheese.

"No! You cannot play with my tower!"

“No! You cannot play with my tower!”

It’s always a good idea to check out what the Brother is doing, because he has a lot of cool stuff that you can use. You do have to be really careful only to use it while he is looking the other way, otherwise he uses Snatch on you and it is gone again. In fact, try not to look like you’re enjoying anything you are playing with while in the Brother’s field of vision or the item will disappear from your inventory and reappear in his. This is an extremely annoying trait but I have recently mastered a skill that trumps Snatch: it’s called Snitch. Basically, using Snitch involves a loud cry of anguish and the repeated use of “Mama!” This will summon the Mummy who will use what seems like Snatch on the Brother, but is really a higher level skill called Discipline. Details, details, I know – the most important thing is that the item is back in your inventory, you get a “Sorry” from the Brother and you can carry on playing with the toy. Or abandon it for something more interesting that has caught your eye during the conflict sequence.

The Brother comes with a lot of entertainment options. He can sing no end of brilliant songs with actions, and you can play running, chasing and hiding games with him which really boost your Happiness. The best game is “Round and round the garden”, where you hold hands and he spins you round and round and then tickles you. Word of warning though: games with the Brother do have a tendency to drain your energy levels and you often take some damage due to falls and bumps or getting squished.

Squishing: this is something that deserves a special mention/warning. Although the Brother is a friendly character, he does come with some “hostile” traits. If you see the words “A is very cute, I want to hug A” float above his head, run for the Mummy as fast as you can. If you don’t manage to get away, he will grab you around the waist (if you’re lucky) or the neck (if you’re unlucky), squeeze as hard as he can, tackle you to the ground and throw his full weight on you. The number of hit points this will cost you depends on how he grabbed you and whether your head hit any furniture on the way down, as well as on the response time of the Mummy. Basically, running away is your best bet, and get a head start because he is both stronger and faster than you.

"Mama! A is playing with the tower!"

“Mama! A is playing with the tower!”

Another annoying feature of the Brother is that he’s got Snitch too. So when you’re minding your own business, pouring out the entire contents of your beaker of juice onto the dining table, he will pipe up: “Mama! A. is pouring juice!” Or when you’re gleefully pulling your shoes and socks off in the back of the car, he will say: “Mama! A. is taking her shoes off! No Baby, don’t take your shoes off, you have cold socks and feet!” Worst of all, when you manage to get down to floor level in a big shop and you make a break for freedom while the Mummy is distracted, he will shriek in distress, shout “Mama, A is running away!” and then run after you full pelt and trap you in a bear hug until the Mummy captures you again.

All in all, though, Life Game is so much better with the Brother in it. Whenever you see him, you get a massive boost to your happiness bar, which is only increased by waving at him and giving him a hug.

Finally, I will leave you with a little montage of great Brother moments:

* When a pint-sized NPC came up to investigate me, he jumped in front of me protectively and told him I was his sister.
* I love holding his hand when we go for walks. Holding his hand makes me feel happy.
* When I come to pick him up from The School, he shows me off to his teachers and his friends.
* The first night we shared a bedroom, I managed to get the Mummy and the Daddy to take me out of bed in the night for extra cuddles, and I had to spend the rest of the night trapped in the travel cot. In the morning, the Brother’s sad voice could be heard coming from our room saying: “Where is A? I want my little sister back.”

brother and sister

 

There is still time to vote for my blog in the MAD Blog Awards! So far I have been nominated in the categories Best Writer, Most Entertaining, Family Fun and Blog of the Year (but that was probably just my mother). Click here to vote, you have until a minute to midnight on the 14th of March.

C-section, live.

Yesterday, I had the tremendous privilege of being a good friend’s birth partner. This was the first time I had ever done anything like it, and it also happened to be a planned caesarean, something of which I had no experience either. So, naturally, I had to write a poem about it. This one is for you, M.

scrubs

Birth

All I can see is your head
You are strapped to a bed
with what looks like pink parcel tape.

You smile and shiver while unseen
doctors work behind a screen:
to us they’re only sound and shape.

We chat about sci-fi and fantasy
and agree to disagree,
then we fall silent, you close your eyes.

On three hours sleep, you’re looking worn
and out of sight your child is born,
breaking the hush with disgruntled cries.

Birth for me was full of stress,
full of noise and blood and mess.
This gentle stillness is quite new.

I cuddle your daughter, hold her up,
as invisible doctors stitch you up,
and I look at calm and glowing you.

Thanks
for sharing these first moments
as a mother of two.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2014

Don’t stop here! Look on Prose for Thought for inspiring poetry and prose from talented bloggers.

MAD

IMG_9819

I wonder why you come here and read my blog.

Perhaps you are a bit of a language geek like myself, and you enjoy reading about my bilingual children.

Maybe you know me in real life and use my blog to keep tabs on me (feel free!).

Maybe you like my poetry.

Maybe you come here to share in my ups and downs as a parent, and to feel that wonderful relief that you are not the only one.

Maybe it is a window on a world that is entirely unlike your own but that is strangely compelling.

Or perhaps this is the first time you have come across me and you are now a bit disappointed to find that the first post you read is asking you to nominate me for an award.

Because that is what I am working up to.

Last year I had only just started Secrets of the Sandpit and was reeling from the discovery of a Narnia-like World of Blogging, just a hash tag away from normal every day life. I saw other bloggers put themselves up for this award but could not imagine ever doing this myself. Fast forward a year and I have cast aside all shame: will you, dear reader, consider voting in the MADs and nominating my blog? There are many categories and I don’t fit into many of them. My suggestion is the Writing category, because that is what I am all about.

There is a badge on the right that you can click on, or you can click here to go straight to the voting page.

You can vote for lots of other blogs at the same time to fill all the other categories. I was going to give you suggestions, but almost all of my favourite blogs would be my rivals in the writing category, so I’m just going to leave you to figure it out for yourselves!

Normal service will resume shortly with inside info from the Girl on the Brother in Life Game, some reflections on how the Boy is coping with his two languages now he has started pre-school and hopefully more poetry.

 

 

Waiting for adventure

rainI have been writing this poem for a long time. For six weeks, in fact. I’m not sure if it has actually made it better or worse than the poetry I was churning out in about fifteen minutes flat on a weekly basis before I went back to teaching in September.

Anyway, I mention this to explain why the topic of today’s poem is a tiny bit out of date. It is about how I hate January.

January Carol

Too long it stretches with grey foggy skies
No hidden, glittering gem now lies
In bleak midwinter meadows
Bearing hints of spring
And gleams of hope.

starry Virgin
weary mother
bringing up Immanuel

Stark leafless trees and churned muddy fields
No thrilling adventures the world now yields
Just bloodless exposition,
First chord struck,
The first page turned.

After pains of birth and newborn joys
Comes slogging feeding chaos noise
Through plain days drained of colour
Watching drying paint
And growing child.

changing nappies
washing dishes
destiny seems a fairy tale.

Beyond the horizon veiled from view
The humming prelude of something new
Where long awaited promise blossoms
Layers peeled away
And life reborn.

Glory lies just there, you see?
Forgetting what is past
The ordinary steps will lead
To the thrill of life at last.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2014

regen tegenlicht

Photographs (c) Pieter Kroonenberg

Click here to read poetry and prose from an ever increasing community of writers at Prose for Thought.

 

Prose for Thought

Team Kingston does Stamptastic

label Stamptastic

Sunday night. I pull three only-slightly-damp pairs of trousers off the drying rack: one for the Boy to wear to pre-school tomorrow and two to pack in his bag for the inevitable accidents. I quickly check the labels and realise that two out of the three pairs are rogue – they have somehow escaped The Great Name Marking ceremony. Do you WEARILY PICK UP A BIRO? Go to page 2. Or do you TRY YOUR NEW STAMPS? Go to page 45.

Perhaps you will remember my wistful musings on the eve of my 3 year old’s first day at pre-school. Many of you commented on your own feelings at seeing your first-born head off into a new independence, or having to wave goodbye to your littlest child. Others commented on my struggles to mark every wretched item of clothing the Boy owned with his name, armed only with a biro. Overwhelmingly, you recommended a company called Stamptastic, saying how they had taken the pain out of labelling.

It sounded promising and I would probably have gone to check them out anyway, when they beat me to it and offered to send me a set of stamps to try out and review. As I watched my son’s name fade from his far-too-frequently-washed wee-soaked trousers day by day, I felt there was no time to lose and I wrote back saying yes please.

While I eagerly awaited the arrival of the stamps, the Boy started puzzling out what I had written in shaky writing on his lunch box and in his clothes. He recognised his first name, but pointed at the second word: “What you writing this one, Mama?”

“Kingston,” I explained. “That’s your name. And Mummy’s name, and Daddy’s name, and your sister’s name. It’s our special family name.”

“S. Kingston.” He tasted it. He decided he liked it. For the next few weeks he kept randomly announcing his full name, with great pride. Then he would explain to me, as if I wasn’t already aware, that his sister was A. Kingston, that I was “Mummy Kingston” and the Husband was “Daddy Kingston”.

Then he became curious about his friends. He had clearly grasped the principle of a family name pretty well, because he knew they would not be called Kingston. We had to run through everyone he could think of, and he tried and tasted their names and rehearsed them for me. The concept was not only instantly clear to him, but also instantly useful. Now, we could be a team. We adapted the Team Umizoomi song for all our errands: “Who’s going to take baby clothes to M? We are! Team Kingston!” (I know, it doesn’t scan, quit bugging me.) On the phone to Gran, he told her about his new discovery as well, and not only was she suitably impressed, but she managed to astound the Boy afresh by revealing that she was a Kingston herself: Gran Kingston (of course).

Then, amidst all the last name excitement, a padded envelope dropped on the mat one afternoon. I knew instantly what it was and saved it up until the kids had gone to bed. I got their new coats and laid them out on the floor, ready to give my Stamptastic stamps a trial run.

Of course, when given amazing ink that works on plastic, fabric and wood and that doesn’t wash off, the first thing I manage to do is this:

D'oh!

D’oh!

I was kicking myself, but then thought that perhaps it was a good thing, as someone looking for a review online might be desperate to know how to get Stamptastic ink off their finger, so I felt it was my duty to try various cleaning methods and report on the result. Turned out serial hand-washing, including scrubbing with a washing up brush, combined with the good ole’ passage of time got it off just fine. I also imagine that if you had white spirit around it would come off in seconds.

That done, I could get down to business. I am far too impatient to read instructions, but thankfully it was all quite straightforward and definitely easier to work out than breastfeeding. These were the tools provided:

the gear Stamptastic

 

I simply put ink onto the stamp with my son’s name, placed the stamp onto the label Sainsbury’s had thoughtfully provided in the coat (see first picture) and pressed down. The stamps are see through, so you can look through the top to make sure you have positioned it correctly. Not really needed for the coat, but once I had labelled that so beautifully I went round the house in excitement to see what else I could put the Boy’s name on, and found that you really need to be able to look through your stamp for the tiny labels in pairs of underpants and woolly hats.

In addition to handling indelible ink with care and reading instructions, I am also not so great at tidying up after myself, so the next morning the Boy found the stamps on the dining table.

“What you got there, Mummy?” he wanted to know and without waiting for an answer set about investigating for himself. “Oh! My name!” He watched in amazement as I demonstrated what I could do with the ink and his name.

“I try it, Mummy?” was of course what came next.

But Mummy said no.

He was desperately sad that I wouldn’t let him stamp his full name all over every piece of paper in the house. Although I am sure that for every person Googling ‘get ink off my finger’ there are probably 10 people looking for ways to ‘get Stamptastic ink off my pre-schooler’s fingers’, I felt that was taking my service to society a bridge too far. He would have to make do with staring proudly at his name stamped lovingly into his slightly damp trousers by his mother. And again later in the day when changing into a clean pair. And probably again just before home time when the long suffering teachers hoist him into his very final clean – and clearly labelled – pair of trousers.

I received two free name stamps and an ink pad from the wonderful Stamptastic to review on the understanding that I would give my honest opinion, which I have. Sainsbury’s sadly didn’t give me a free coat, I just magnanimously threw their name in of my own free will. You’re welcome, Sainsbury’s.

A Great Gift

Gods hand

This letter is a tribute to a baby that will forever be 9 months old, found sleeping by her mother a year ago tomorrow.

Dearest Matilda Mae,

I am writing to you on the eve of the anniversary of your death. I have no idea how your family will cope with this day. I don’t know how they cope with nursery runs or supermarket shopping or peeling potatoes, to be honest – I hope that on the anniversary of the day you left they won’t need to do any of those things and they can just spend time being together and remembering you: wonderful you.

You are famous, did you know that? You didn’t stay very long down here on earth, but you have made a massive impact on many, many lives. You have trended on Twitter, you have had fundraisers organised in your name, you have inspired poetry and prose, you have brought about new friendships. You have accomplished more than most people achieve in eighty long years of life, just by being beautiful, adorable you – and by leaving far too soon.

You have changed me, too. When my daughter wakes in the night, more often than not I check my annoyance and frustration and think of you and your wonderful mother – how she must long to be woken in the night by your familiar sounds. You remind me, often, that caring for a small life is a wonder and a privilege, and every moment, night or day, is to be cherished. Who knows how many moments we might have.

I live in one of the teenage pregnancy capitals of the world. Back when I was desperate for a child but none seemed to be forthcoming, the grumpy teen mums on the bus made me furious: they had what I wanted, and didn’t want it. It had “just happened”, an unwanted accident. Those tiny faces in the designer prams, beautiful miracles. It is astounding that any children are conceived at all, so many factors need to line up for it to happen. Every child is a gift, I thought then.

But I was wrong. A child is not a gift.

Although every child enriches its parents’ lives, brings them joy and laughter and cuddles, it is not a gift. Children don’t belong to us. God does not create them for our benefit.

He makes people. The people that he has chosen, that he wants to put into the world for a special purpose.

Matilda Mae, you have done so much. You brought joy to your parents, your brother and your sister while you were with them. Now you are gone, but you are still working in their lives, in their hearts and in the hearts of thousands of people who never even met you, like me. And Esther and William, too, are special people with a special purpose, working at it perhaps a little more slowly than you have done, spending more time.

You are gone but you haven’t left. You are still fulfilling your special purpose. The star, the heart.

I’ll leave you with this. I wrote this for your Mum in a comment on her blog, but I will share it here as it seems appropriate:

The heart.

The single one that binds
the doubles:
the twins, the couple.
The little one to dote on.
Living out joy,
giving out love.

Unimaginable,
the hurt of the heart ripped out,
taken away to be elsewhere.
Your heart is elsewhere.

But the shape of her remains.

Curl round and hug what is missing.
Wrap yourselves around the hole
like a helix.
She shapes your family DNA
as it shaped her
your bodies, your smiles,
your tears, your heart beats,
spell her name
write love letters
to the heart
to Tilda
present in her absence
shaping a future
she won’t be in

loving still
still loved

Tilda.

The heart.

All my love to you and your family on this dark day, Baby Tilda. I am praying for brighter days ahead.

Judith
Letters for Matilda Mae