The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

And just like that

As bright as three shiny new pound coins, #1, 2 and 3 left the house, bounced down the road and around the corner, off to explore new places and be amazed by great things. 

It has been a long summer holiday for these three. A lot of change. A lot of moving around. A lot of waiting. But finally, a step towards normality. 

Filled with a good mix of nerves and excitement, #1 and 2 started their new Big School just a couple of days ago. Thrown right in at the deep end having never seen the inside of their new school before. What an adventure. And such bravery from them. For what else can be more nervewracking at that age than being the New Kid. The one that doesn’t know what is expected of them. 

  • What do I wear.
  • What’s my teacher called.
  • What do I put in my bag. (Actually this is more for me)
  • Where are the toilets.
  • What if I get scared.

Two years ago I was sending #1 and 2 off to Big School for the first time. They were fine. Two years later, I was sending them off again. They were fine. As I knew they would be. I took them to meet their new teachers, who were waiting to welcome them in class with big friendly smiles. I could feel their hesitation. A few more moments of delay. A few quiet words of nerves. ‘Mummy, I’m scared.’ I know sweetheart but you will have a brilliant day. And I will be waiting at the gates for you.

And of course they did. Brimming full of excitement and hardly believing their good fortune that for school lunch there was ice cream! Ice cream inside some kind of cake. Wow, that sounds exotic. Artic roll? 

The relief is palpable as I hear them excitedly chatter about their day. And the hug. That hug you get when they see you immediately after school. I’m so glad for the chance to get these hugs again. Those arms wrapped around you, filling you with warmth. Then it dissipates like steam and normality resumes. “I’m hungry Mummy.” “Can we go to the park? Whhhhy noooot!”

So you see, I’ve been through this before. I’ve done the whole starting school thing several times. I should be a Pro at this. I should be writing my Get Up and Go List with all three in Big School. Six hours a day of quiet time. Isn’t this what all parents have been waiting for? The countdown to the end of summer holidays and back to school. 

Yes that is quite true. When I was in Gainful   Employment, school marked a sigh of relief that their time was going to be properly occupied and I no longer had to wonder what to do with them outside of the annual leave Husband and I could take.

Equally, since giving up Gainful Employment I have enjoyed seeing their faces everyday. And not just for the last hour, half hour of the day. Some days have been looooong. Some moments of some days could be better but overall, I wouldn’t be without these days. Especially when I think about how fleeting every stage of their childhood can be.

Perhaps it’s because I know how fleeting it is, preparing #3 for Big School has been the hardest. Apparently it always is for the youngest one. Your last baby all grown up. The one you don’t mind crawling into your bed space in the middle of the night, long after the older ones slept all night in their bed. You don’t mind because you know one day it will stop, this little squidgey person snuggling up to you. And one day you want it to stop because they are taking up too much bed space. 

I always enjoyed shopping for school uniform. I think it’s because it was the only time you got so many new things at once! New clothes, new shoes, new bag and new stationery. It seems it’s just as much fun for #1, 2 and 3. (Less so on our pockets though. Three lots of uniform, school bags, PE kit, welly boots.) #2 and 3 have been wearing their new school shoes indoors for days! They are so proud to be wearing their new uniforms and they look so smart in them too.

It’s funny this whole Big School thing. Now that it’s the end of the day, I can laugh about it to myself. How this morning I could barely hug #3 closely and wish her a brilliant day before I could feel the tears threatening to fall. She had no doubt it was going to be ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT. Yesterday we talked about how she felt about starting Big School, she was ready. Then she said “you’re going to cry Mummy.” Really? Why! “Because you’ll miss me.”

Ah. She got me there. 

The walk was barely long enough. The Goodbyes in the school yard all too brief. I help her place her bag on her peg and walk her into her new little world. It’s colourful, warm, fun and exciting. This is where #3 belongs. She’s waited patiently for today. For the uniform, the shoes, the friends, the learning. The learning. Constantly telling me that she doesn’t know how to read the words yet. I’m sure it won’t be long. 

I watch her through the window. Overhearing other parents talking about the Parent Syndrome. I have Parent Syndrome too. I wonder if #3 will look up and see me for one more wave. But of course she doesn’t. She’s looking around with a curious happy smile on her face in her smart new uniform and shiny shoes. Full of confidence. She’s looking happy. And then she moves out of sight and it’s time for me to move on. 

But before I do, the Teaching Assistant has already clocked another one with Parent Syndrome. She comes over and asks if  I’m ok, offering words of comfort and encouragement.  I feel even more ridiculous admitting #3 is #3 but she reassures me it’s all quite regular. 

There are days you cry out for ‘ME’ time. A quiet moment to sit down and have a hot cuppa tea uninterrupted. None of the multiple echoes of “Mummy, Mummy”, being able to get jobs done within half the time it takes with three in tow. Sort out boring admin jobs. Clean and tidy. Go out running. Have coffee. Find new cohorts. Regain Gainful Employment. Read a book. Do something new! 

Six hours seemed to pass by quite quickly before I’m back in the school yard. There’s #1 and #2. We go and collect #3 together. She’s all smiles and dishevelled curls. A sign of a brilliant day. 

Later on, we all ask her how she felt. She thinks about it. 

“I almost cried but then I was having too much fun.”
And that is why she’s ready to join in with the big kids.


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#1’s first sleepover

Bedtime is a smooth running affair in our household. Sometimes.

Most times it’s fraught with dawdlers unwilling just to go to sleep when quite clearly the anger levels suggests they (or I) need to just go to bed. GO TO BEEEEEED! 

I have never quite understood that relationship between small people and sleep. The tipping point between coping quite well with the day to the sudden must-be-in-bed-screaming-like-the-whole-world-has-done-them-wrong can happen in a matter of seconds.

Invariably at least one of #1, 2 and 3 can be in this state once every few days. And at least one of them will feel the impulse, the need to drag bedtime out just that bit longer by hiding a favourite bedtime friend say, or disagreeing on bedtime story of choice and insisting on ‘their own’ bedtime story of choice. Then there’s demands for ‘one more story pleeease, that was so short’. It was short for a reason kids. 

By this stage, I just want them all to go to bed. JUST GO TO BED!! Goodnight kisses are hastily issued. Lights off. Door closed on disgruntledness. Then hopefully within five minutes all is quiet and good. Hopefully. I don’t know when bedtime because such a rushed affair that can take a two person approach. 

Tonight though there is one less in the bedtime mix but it still doesn’t seem to have made much difference to bedanger as I can hear that tone coming from #2 who is quite sure SHE IS NOT TIRED. Quite.

But bedanger is not today’s topic. Tonight #1 is away on his first ever proper sleepover. It’s not the first time he’s slept away from home without Husband or I being around but I guess being 19 months old doesn’t really count. Neither does sleeping over with family feel quite the same as a proper sleepover on your own all night. It’s in turn exciting and a little scary I imagine. 

 #1, 2 and even 3 have often asked for a sleepover but we’ve never gotten round to it just yet. As much as there’s a lot of talk about it, when it comes down to it, I don’t think they’ve been ready. They haven’t? Or I haven’t? Well I know for definite that #2 can’t have a sleepover until she can go to a drop off party for two hours without getting upset. But it is nice to be missed as her school friend’s Mum kindly put it, ‘she misses you a lot’. Indeed.

I wonder whether at 10.41pm. #1 is alseep yet. I very much doubt it but I’m sure he’s having a great time. What an adventure to be on to have your first sleepover with all your schoolfriends at school. This will be the first of many and it is another step of the journey towards independence. A necessary step of course but one that seems to come around far too quickly. I think back to when I had my first sleepover as such. I was 14 and it was a school residental trip to the Lake District. Completely exhilarating to have that freedom for a whole five days. Comparing the residential trips of then to now, it feels like seven or eight years old seems quite young but I forgot that when I was 10 years old there were already skiing trips away to France and weekend trips to Amsterdam which seemed a bit too adventurous for my Dad, Mr Li to allow me to go on. But I guess that’s exactly why #1 and eventually #2 will benefit from going on sleepovers, to build that confidence and reassurance that they can be away from home for one night, perhaps even two, and we will all be ok.

It’s an odd feeling without #1 at home. The things that I know he would do in the mornings. Such as being the first one up and alerting you to the fact by the bedroom suddenly bursting open and being woken up with whatever question is on his mind and ready to be asked with no consideration for the fact you are still sleeping and then getting impatient because you’ve not given an answer to said question immediately. And it won’t be just Husband and I missing his presence but #2 and 3 are also asking when is he coming back home which is a good sign considering I often wonder whether they even like each other the way they bicker and fight. 

There are times, many of them, when you say out loud how lovely it would be to have a night away from small people and all the crazy late night stuff you’d do. How you would love for someone else to do the bedtime routine. For one night maybes yes. So the next time I get a sleepover offer and off go #1, 2 and 3, I’ll make sure I have a long list of all the crazy late night things I’d go off and do. 

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The end of the first Big School year.

As we languish by our holiday pool five weeks into the long school summer holidays, I catch myself marvelling how it was almost a year ago since Husband and I waved off #1 and 2 onto the school bus for their first day at Big School.

Whilst the academic year is only a little over ten months long, at the start of it, it feels like a big a long stretch ahead. But at the end of it, it seemed to come by all too soon and I never felt I was totally on top of things. You know, the right kit for the day (swimming or PE?), signed consent forms, reading books, library books, rehearsing lines for school assemblies, missing the different tabs on the class blog because you can’t see them properly on a mobile phone and hence missing out on a whole terms of notices. Yep. 

Call me a Big School rookie. I think that’s why Class Parent Reps were assigned. They say it’s to support the Teachers but really it’s to let someone else kick parents like me into action. I love, and dearly need, those reminders about what kind of dress up day it is this week because there is always something going on that I’m not keeping track of. I am forever grateful to the Class Parent Reps for taking on this role, so much so that I feel like I may weep whenever I see them. 

I’ve promised myself that next year I will be READY for the end of the school year. In a flurry of end of year Parent Teacher meetings, swim galas and sports day; a class party marked the end of Year 2 for #1 and Year 1 for #2. The shock of how quickly this came about took me by surprise. On this last day, as I flitted between the two class parties barely able to put names to many of the children’s faces, I felt pangs of guilt that I didn’t know who they all were. Barely a year ago I knew all the names of every child in their class. To be fair though, it was a very small class. 

Whilst I fretted over #1 and #2 adjusting to Big School, guess who needed to adjust the most? Of course. You probably already know this and I was naive not to. I was not prepared for all the expectations that Big School brings. In my school days, there was very little parental involvement, take it not as a sign there was no interest but simply because they couldn’t help. So how would my parents fair in today’s academic world? Even for those in Infant school it’s all about using computers and coding (when did this change from being called computer studies?) as well as practicing handwriting, reading, maths and remembering stuff. 

I often wonder about the remembering stuff side of things. Like now that we can store all phones numbers in handy gadgets having only  to input the number once, what is happening to our brains? Surely less and less is being used up. I have more memory space in my brain than on my phone right now.

Then there’s the Work at Home stuff. This is the stuff that I completely wasn’t aware of for the whole first term. I will carry this shame for the rest of my days. Work at Home is like a multiple choice of project based activities to do together. Research about a shark’s life cycle. A video of a science project. Put together your time line. The research stuff I can do with the help of Google. Don’t you miss those trips to the reference section of the library? I remember aged nine having to go to the local libary to find out what the Magna Carter was all about. You could find out right now if you like. These Work at Home projects are an education for me as well as #1 and #2. Like having to work out how to make videos using iMovies. In fact, I should be given a report card on what new learnings I’ve achieved throughout the year. 

Provision of interesting and nutritious packed lunches every day? Satisfactory effort. Could do better though with variety. 

Attendance of all class activities? Excellent effort. Missed just one swim gala but said child did not particupate so it doesn’t count.

Attendance of Parent Social Activities? Poor effort. Try harder next year.

Competent understanding of the Work at Home requirements? Satisfactory effort once realised the Work at Home aspect.

The last day of school for the year is always going to be a nostalgic one. Just as you get used to the routine, the teacher, the challenges that have arisen for your child during that year and the discussions on how to overcome them addressed, it’s time for change again. And who is most resistant to that change? A new teacher, new class, new expectations. How will #1 and #2 rise to this? Will their teacher know that last year we had this to work on and that in class this one needs a bit more encouragement than other. Will #1 and 2 come back from school each day having absorbed all that you’ve said so that opinions are led not by what Husband and I have really told them but from what their teacher has said. 

It’s funny how there is another person in your child’s life who they will believe in without question. This is how I know that both #1 and 2 enjoy being at Big School and their minds are ready to absorb all sorts of new stuff. In both their Parent Teacher meetings, the eact same phrase was to said to me. They are ready for the next level. Am I? 

My babies are all growing up. And all is how it should be. The new academic year is almost upon us and I need to get myself organised with new kit, new haircuts, new marker pens for the calendar. 
With my marker pens I am ready. Well at least I’ll be ready with getting  the right kit ready on the right school day. 
Which is a start at least. 

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Are you ready for Big School?

We were at a Birthday party this morning of a friend #1 and 2 met Before Big School. It was lovely to see them hang out with friends they had spent much of the last three and a half years with.

At the party was my friend whose son also goes to the same Big School as #1 and 2. As we were chatting I suddenly thought of asking her ‘Do the kids go back to school tomorrow?’ She laughed and said ‘Yes’ whilst also making me feel better that she is just as on top of this new Big School business as I appear to be with adjusting to Big School anecdotes of her own.

I mean I would have checked at some point today whether half term holiday had ended or whether there was another week to go. I had half prepared myself for Big School tomorrow with getting hats and cardigans washed, packed lunch food items ready and that whole drill of ‘Must not miss the school bus again!’ into my subconscious.

Life Before Big School was merely eight weeks ago. For three and a half years #1, and for a year less #2, had been attending a charming school in a converted black and white house called The Children’s Place. It is technically a Daycare Centre because they are open all year round with just a two week break in December. This is a great set up for those who work or live an Expat Life and take children away for many weeks at a time at any time of year. It certainly was great for us when we went back to the UK for seven weeks last year.

Being called a Daycare Centre is certainly misleading for The Children’s Place because #1, 2 and now 3 have received a very high level of education for that age. Phonics, maths, science, cultural celebrations and languages have all been introduced to them and their knowledge has surprised and astounded me on many occasions.

Any doubts I could have had over whether the academic achievements of #1 and 2 would prepare them for Big School would be a complete disservice to The Children’s Place. The teacher’s and Lao Shi’s are caring, practical and have done a great job of making #1 and 2 enjoy learning.
A great start is so important to ensuring a child’s enjoyment and love of school. They have been very happy at The Children’s Place. Despite the months between May to July 2014 when #2 went through a phase of hysterical crying at every school drop off. The teachers always reassured me that once I was gone #2 was just fine. It can be hard to imagine that when they are clinging onto you with extreme tears rolling down their cheeks. I’m glad to say that all of a sudden #2 adored school again. Enjoying the company of her friends and teachers alike.

But at some point they would have to leave such a cosy set up and move onto Big School. They could only stay until they were just about to turn seven anyways and seeing as we are still living in Singapore five years on from when we thought we would exit, we thought we better make more effort in ensuring their education would continue.

This was not as easy as we imagined. International school fees are exorbitantly high. Perhaps stemming from the olden days when true Expat Living packages included housing, education and car allowances. I don’t know exact figures but if you get any of the three, let alone all of the three, you are getting a great deal and so you must never leave.

For most of us who don’t and like me had a very modest education whereby the complexity of thought that went into which school I attended was based on proximity to my home on foot, it can be difficult to grasp this cost of education for a five year old.

You could argue that we don’t need to send #1 and 2 to an international school when the Singapore local school system is exceptional in its own right. But culturally the style of the local system is very different to what we understand ourselves from our own experience, to how we can support them because our Mandarin is either non existent or so basic you couldn’t even order a beer correctly. Besides, at some time, be it two years or fives years from now, they will no doubt join some form of British or IB curriculum.

And, like all parents, you want to ensure every decision you make regarding the future potential of your child is naturally the best you can provide. It is difficult to choose a school for your children when it comes down to paying for it. You can’t help but wonder if by not choosing the most expensive school or the one with the biggest by numbers or with the largest facilities that you are not providing the best for your child. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

But you have to be realistic in your approach. Whether you choose the school that is more or less in cost, this is Singapore. Each child in any school is already off to a great start. Sometimes thinking about the detail can cloud your grasp on the bigger picture.

And so with that out of the way and just 10 weeks before the start of the new academic year, Husband and I were frantically submitting application forms and hoping for the best. It can be incredible the number you get quoted on wait lists which I am sure are genuine. I went to one school for a tour back in October 2013. I was informed that this school definitely had a place for #3 in January 2017. A slight chance for #2 to join in January 2016 and not a hope for #1 in either January 2015, 2016 or even 2017. So based on this information and the fact we may not even live here (but going on current trends we probably will be) would you fork out $2,500 (average) for each child to just be on the wait list with no guarantees?

But luckily we got an email just a few weeks later telling us that Big School would be delighted to have #1 and 2 join them this summer. Relief! They will be educated after all.

Husband and I were quite nervous for #1 and 2 adapting to Big School. After all, it was to be a huge step up with a proper school uniform and addressing teachers in the more traditional UK way I am used to. But mostly #1 and 2 would be taking their first steps into the Big Wide World. They would be catching the school bus all by themselves rather than be taken right up to class like we had been doing so. They would be one in a class of 22 rather than have dedicated one to one time with teachers and Lao Shi’s. They would be one child in a school of 900 compared to 90.

The school bus is actually more like a holiday coach. Whilst it wasn’t that long ago, I remember clearly standing with Husband and #1, 2 and 3 at the pick up spot. Nervous and guilty at the same time. A piece of my heart reluctant to acknowledge this new other transition that was taking them on a path towards greater independence. They seemed so wee with their too big uniforms that they will spend the next 10 months growing into. How would they cope on their first day in a much bigger school with no friends having come from a school where they knew everyone. Should I have taken them myself on their first day? Will they actually make it home on the right bus? Will they be OK?

Then with no time for further thought the school bus arrived. And with no long drawn out Goodbyes #1 and 2 were ushered up the steps that reach their knees. The bus had pulled away even before they were securely belted in and I barely got a chance to wave them off. Even now I don’t like it when the School Bus doesn’t allow me that wave Goodbye.

Those parents who are seasoned at the whole Big School thing then rush off to start their day safe in the knowledge the school holidays are over with and they don’t have to worry about activities to fill their children’s time with for another few months. But for us first timers, the day can stretch long and far ahead until it’s home time and you get to ask how this first day has been. Do you like your teacher? Did you make any friends? Did you eat your snacks and packed lunch? You know I missed you.

Six weeks on, #1 and 2 are very at home at Big School. They love the challenge and new routine. They speak fondly of their teachers and they like the new friends they have made. It seems they have adjusted well. Husband and I can both breathe a sigh of relief.

But wait.

Is the transition to Big School really that simple?

I thought it was until I realised that we as Parents have a very active role to play too. Not just remembering on what day which child has swimming or PE. What to pack them for lunch each day that is interesting and nutritious. Or how to get them dressed and ready with breakfast inside of them without having to run for the school bus every morning. If you know, please do share.

I suppose it’s sort of inevitable given my track record that we would have to miss the school bus at least once. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to happen on DAY THREE! On a day I had to be some place else at 8.50am when it is already 7.56am. We missed the bus by seconds. We actually saw it drive off. But by sheer luck I got to the some place else on time only because whilst waiting in line behind 25 other cars waiting to do drop off I saw the designated School Bus a few cars behind so I got #1 and 2 out of the car and back on the bus for the last 30 metres or so! I thought it was quite an inspired move.

We have’t missed the School Bus since I am happy to say.

But mastering getting them to school is just one of many things. Indeed.

There is the reading of the Class Blog, checking daily the Communications books, looking on the website for newsletters, checking the Facebook page for any breaking news and urgent messages, reading together the weekly library book. There is the Class Rep to connect with, two in our case. Coffee mornings, curriculum talks, social events of which I have not been able to attend so far.

Then there is the major school events that require you to know stuff about months ago and not just ponder the fact that you think you saw something about it but wasn’t quite sure. Cue a frantic scrabble through all paperwork received to find relative piece of information. Nothing. Cue texting more organised friends whose children will be ready and organised for the major school event. Thankfully I have those kind of friends who do not judge me for not being up to speed!

So Husband and I managed to get both #1 and 2 to Big School dressed in the correct attire on the right day for the major school event. It was a United Nations Day celebration. Every one of the near 900 pupils were proudly dressed in their national costume. Some countries like Japan, South Korea and India were represented in far greater numbers than I could have guessed. There was representation from over 50 countries. It really opened my eyes to how International this school is and I’m very happy that #1 and 2 have this exposure to all these nationalities with different cultures, languages and traditions. What a great start to the Big Wide World.
Yes, I was totally naive to think that Big School was as simple as packing them off on the School Bus with a packed lunch. But whenever there is a change in routine in a family, everyone needs a transition period. I’m looking forward to getting to know this Big School and the great plans they have to provide #1 and 2 an education they will remember fondly in years to come.

Now #1 and 2, let’s just remind ourselves again of the ‘Getting ready for Big School’ drill we need for the morning.

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