Tuesday 30 August 2016

A Big Day

Today was a big day in our house.   Smallest Boy donned a red jumper, grey trousers, shiny black shoes, snapped on an elastic tie, yanked a blue backpack decorated with moustaches onto his back and went to school.

I have been waiting for this day since the beginning of time.   At least that is what it felt like.   Out of my four boys, he stayed with me the longest.  He attended Montessori only when he “had to” which was last year as I felt to send him into Big School cold turkey would be an awful shock to his system.

And I enjoyed his company.  Immensely.    We get on very well together.   We gel.   He regularly tells me how much he loves me and if I am not in the same room, he will yell it out all the same.  

So when today rolled around I had a funny feeling in my tummy.  It was both a happy expectation and a dull sense of unease.

I could feel uncertainty rolling off Smallest Boy like waves on a beach.   I’m a great one for making mistakes.  I like to think it keeps me humble.   Keeps me grounded.   So having been around the First Day at School Block three times before, I thought I had this in the bag.

Janey, I thought Smallest Boy had this in the bag.

I allowed the fact that he has been “going” to school for the last five years and nearly five months to cloud how big a deal today really was for him.

Sure, he stood outside the school gate each morning and afternoon.  He knew inside “Múinteoir Stephanie’s” office as well as I did.  He knew all the múinteoirí.   All the múinteoirí knew him.  His brothers’ buddies have been greeting him by name forever.  He was known in there.

But that’s not the same as going as a student.

The wobbles last night were to be expected.  When he bumped himself on the trampoline and got upset, I put it down to sensitivity about the morning.   When he said he couldn’t sleep because he was “too hot,” “too not tired,” “too thirsty,” “too something” I knew trouble could be ahead.

And it was.  He became annoyed and frustrated at the obligatory school photos so we cut them short.   His daddy had words of advice and reassurance for him before we left the house and he was smiling when we got into the car.

On the drive into school, I kept the radio off so he could chat to me and ask me questions.   The first question was asked in a small voice.

“Will you bring me in today?”

My heart!  I can’t tell you.   This boy, who has been with me as I walked his brothers into their classroom for many many months until they were ready to do it alone, thought he was expected to do the same thing himself.

I reassured him that I would bring him in as long as he wanted me to.  Like I did for the others.

Another positive step when he ran from the car and to the gate by himself.   Nothing new.  He’s always done this.   He joined the “big boys” at the gate.  Nothing new there either.  He ran back and forth enjoying himself and chatting.

It was almost time to go in and then he said he wasn’t sure he would “get the hang of this day.”   I knew he meant he didn’t know what to expect.   

So I told him.  Again. 

How Múinteoir would take his books out of his bag and let everyone know when it’s snack time.  How it’s going to be like Montessori for days until everyone gets the hang of it.  How everyone is in the same boat today and no-one knows exactly what to do.

“I’ve got it now.  Thank you.” 

And in we went.   I thought I had covered everything.   But everything is different for everyone.   I thought I had learned that.  

It was a strange morning.  Stranger than I anticipated.   I went home and suddenly the house, the one that had been heaving with boy sounds for the summer, seemed louder than it ever did.   It was eerie.  I couldn’t figure it out. 

I realised the truth behind the expression, “the silence was deafening.”

Then it hit me.  

I missed them!  I missed my boys.   Hand on heart, it was something I never thought I’d feel or even admit.

I knew I would see them all in a matter of hours but it felt like days away.

Janey, I thought I had this one in the bag.  Like I said; I’m a great one for making mistakes.

It keeps me humble.  

Friday 19 August 2016

School Daze

A version of this appeared in the Autumn issue of Mums & Tots magazine in 2014. 

I used to be a sucker for magazines that displayed the tag line “First Day at School – How to Make It Easier.” I was convinced I was going to read something of worth, something I hadn’t read before or thought of myself.  But it was yet another advice piece that didn’t deliver.
More common sense wrapped up as counsel about having the uniform ready the night before, getting everyone up a little bit early to avoid a stressful rush out the door and giving your child a nice piece of fruit to ease them into their new experience.

Come on!  I wanted information on how to deal with the child who makes like an ostrich and blocks out the New Experience. I was looking for guidance on how to discreetly and politely intercept people before they asked, “are you looking forward to big school?” when I knew the thumb being shoved into his mouth was not only his way of self-soothing but also a stopper; his method of holding everything in. 

What about the playground?  There will be no swings and slides in this one.  How was he going to deal with that? 

I had done everything the magazine articles suggested; he’d been to the open afternoon and met his teacher.  He had not one but two school bags to choose from.  He also selected his own “easy open” lunch box. 

His new school books would be arriving any day now then we would try on his uniform and purchase those very much coveted runners and new shoes especially for school. 

I wanted my money back! 

So I was thrilled when he asked me to tell him about school.   It was the perfect opportunity to describe everything to him. His older brother was present and all set to offer his two pence worth. 

He had something of great importance to impart, something I neglected to tell him on his big day and this was to wait until teacher tells you it is time to eat.  Don’t just start eating your lunch when you feel like it. “Because you never told me that.”   See how they remember even the tiniest little thing? 

My fourth boy will be starting school in a few weeks.  Even though I’ve bought and worn the t-shirt three times previously, I find the same little problems arise each and every time.  The same little niggles and worries for both parent and child.

I have outlined the trouble shooters below.  Hopefully they will help ease your child through the transition that is Big School.


Sometimes it can be as simple as talking about it.  Don’t assume they know what to expect.  There is a big difference between the unstructured play of Montessori and the expectations of a larger classroom setting.  It is an idea to talk casually about school initially and then closer to the time discuss in a little more detail what the first day will entail.  Turn it into a game and encourage a question and answer session at the end.  Take advantage of any interest your child shows and talk about it.


A little prep goes a long way.  What happens if there are three Spiderman/Dora the Explorer school bags?  A key-ring on your child’s bag will solve that problem.  What about their gorgeous new coat with all of those buttons and shoes with laces?  A zipped coat is easier for little hands to operate and maybe Velcro-ed shoes are better kept until they master the art of lace tying.  Also ensure your child’s name is on everything.  It is inevitable mix ups will occur.  Maybe not on the first day but if your child can recognise their belongings it will eliminate stress.


Yogurts.  Yay or nay?  I can still remember spilling the contents of mine.  Does the school have a healthy food policy and encourage fruit and vegetables with a small treat reserved for Fridays only?     What if they are too shy to approach the person they will come to call Teacher when they can’t open their brand new cartoon character emblazoned lunch box?  Water bottles that refuse to open?  Bananas that are difficult to eat?  Of course, your child may opt not to eat anything at all due to utter excitement so a good, nutritious breakfast will stave off hunger pangs and an energy slump mid-morning.


Make sure your child knows where the bathroom is.  Anxiety can prompt them to “hold it” until it’s too late.    These days schools have boy and girl cubicles in the classroom which makes it a lot easier.    


I feel this is an important one particularly if your child is nervous.  Get to the school with plenty of time to spare. Absorb the atmosphere and just relax for a few moments before going into the classroom.  Allow your child to indicate when they are ready.  Most schools operate a staggered start time for the first day but one of the most important pointers is plenty of reassurance you will be back to collect them.  Make sure you are not late. 


Yours that is!  I’ve been there. Your child is nervously looking around, not making eye contact with anyone and their lower lip begins to tremble.  Water filled eyes look up and it is all you can do not to join in.  Don’t join in.  Wait till you are back in your car. Yes, it’s heart breaking.  Yes, it’s hard.  Tears can and will be frequent in the first few weeks but it is important that you keep smiling.  A big hug and a confident reminder that you will see them very soon might not work the first couple of mornings and in the event that your little one doesn’t settle, remember, you have picked a school you believe in for your child.   They will act accordingly and contact you if necessary.    


You weren’t expecting that!  I’m not talking about ghouls, goblins and ghosties, rather the shock to the system that can happen when small people realise they have to return to school after their first mid-term break.  This can be devastating and lots of parents report upsetting refusals to go to school are very common at this juncture.    Sometimes even Monday mornings have the same effect.  Inform your child that they are just on a little rest from school and will be returning after a few sleeps.

There are lots of ways to help ease them into their new environment.

Each child is different and will settle in their own time and own way.   Like every other event I was apprehensive about, the reality was easier than the perception and with a little luck, Big School for your child, won’t be any different.   Before you know it, summer holidays will be on the horizon.  You made it!  Congratulations.  Both of you!     

Wednesday 10 August 2016

A Really Lovely Nice Thing

Something kind of really nice happened today.   I got three and a bit hours all to myself.   It wasn’t bedtime.  It wasn’t a Guinness book of records shower or bath, nor was I in the supermarket on Christmas eve.  

The boys were frog marched off for a bit of work experience.

I’m all for child labour.  There’s nothing like it!

I jest.  I jest.

I’ll start at the two beginnings.   The first beginning is, for those of you living under a boulder, it is the summer holidays from school and Irish mammies everywhere have a little bald patch on their heads from pulling their hair out.   Have a look inside their recycling bin if you think you’re hard enough and you can count up the eleventeen empty bottles of Sav. Blanc or my own personal fave, Pinot Grigio.  

Do you see what I’m getting at?

Stress.  And lots of it.  From not having any time to ourselves at all in the last five and a bit weeks.  Do you see?

I go to bed at night and my mind races with all of the thoughts.  All of them.  It’s horrible.  It’s fascinating.  It’s frustrating.   All of the thoughts I didn’t get to write on paper during the day, come out to play in my brain at night time.

They say things like, “you didn’t pay any attention to me today, so you didn’t.   And I thought you loved me.”

Stuff like, “fek off so and do the dishes.  Don’t forget the hoover whatever you do.  And god forbid you neglect the swimming pool!  I’ll just sit here.  All by myself.  Until night time.   Then I’ll come out.”

Another really bratty thought process likes to pipe up around about then.  “That email in your drafts folder has only been there for a month!  You’d better do something about it.”

And on and on it goes like a jayzus washing machine in my head.

Do I sound a bit manic to you?  I do to myself.   That’s what no time alone to myself does to me.

So Mister Husband did a lovely thing today and took them all off to the office.   Even though I did protest. “No.  You can’t possibly take them all into the office with you.  However will you get any work done?  How will anyone get any work done.   No.  You’re grand.   I’m grand.  I’ll park them in front of the telly box.  Be grand.”

The big feker wasn’t having any of it and he carted them all off at 2.15pm with strict instructions for me to leave the dishes and stuff there and stay away from Facebook and Gilmore Girls and get some work done.

Ok. So.  When you put it like that.

At this very moment in time they are all due to come crashing through the door in precisely ten minutes.  Me nerves are a jangling again.

But the second beginning is, the boys are all saving up for a computer. 

All of them.   Well, two anyway.  The oldest and the youngest.

Christ on a keypad.   I know.

I blame the oldest.  He’s gone money mad.  First of all, it was all about saving the pennies for Rosslare and then when he got wind of the holiday fund I began about 6 weeks ago where I save a euro for them each week, his tune changed.

He moved onto the big guns.  Onto a computer.   A purple one.  His headboard is decorated with orange sticky notes and onto them he has carefully printed out the computer spec of his pleasing.   He also has a savings plan of sorts outlined.

He’s also going mad for work.  Which is why he hopped, skipped and jumped into the office today.   Thrilled with himself. 

He has offered to make me my coffee whenever I want one.   For twenty cents a cup.  The dishes and cutlery shake when they see him approach because they know their lounge time on the draining board is done for.   He dries them all and puts them away.   For fifty cents.   He wants to make the dinner.   He wants to help with the laundry.   All of it at a price.
So far he has earned ten euros from his work experience.  He shreds and files stuff in the office.   He has been given an introduction to AutoCAD.

It’s great to have a hunger for money I suppose.   He owes me an awful lot!

Anyway, that’s the lovely really nice thing that happened to me today.  It’s perked me right up.  I got loads of stuff done.  None of it dishes.   And I might even go for a run.

That’s been a while too.    

Empty Inbox.  Still draft email though

More Hell Than A Hella Holiday

Holidays:    We spend nine and a half months of the year saving up for and looking forward to time away somewhere for two weeks.  This’d better be good, right?   Hell, this’d better be great! 

The weather needs to have a word with itself and behave.  Same goes for the humans!   There must be no fights.  At all.  Everyone has to be jolly and smiley and nice and never, ever short tempered or tired or cranky.  No-one can get sick!     In other words, hit robot-mode with the setting firmly at happy-at-all-times.  In reality things rarely work out like that.  Flights get delayed.  Sat nav goes on its own little holiday and sends you all over the place.  There might be car sickness if small children are involved.   Or big people with hangovers!   

And people do get sick on holiday.  I got the worst cold of my life on honeymoon in Italy which meant I couldn’t breathe properly or taste a single thing for the first week.   I broke out in a horrible heat rash and the mossies loved me almost to death.  All I wanted to do was sleep.    

Personally I think holidays with small children are to be avoided at all costs.   It’s just not worth it.   Small kids need naps.   They like routine.   Their bedtime doesn’t change.  And worse still, neither does their wake-up time.   4am hello, did you not get the “office closed due to holidays” memo?

Our boys have never set foot in Dublin Airport, or any other for that matter, so we have always holidayed at home.  The infamous staycation.  And we love it.  

We had such a good time on our first mini-staycation that we did a silly thing:  tried to repeat the experience the following year.   Don’t do it, folks.   Just don’t.  It was a disaster.  We opted for Clonakilty in Cork and big, huge lesson learned – 2 adults and 4 kids will not fit into even the largest of hotel family rooms.  Don’t believe them!   The beds were side by side – if you wanted to get to the other side of the room to use the bathroom, for example, you did it by climbing over all of the beds.  We were there for three days so we decided to make the most of it.

Remember I mentioned getting sick on holidays?

It happened to us.  One of the boys had way too many coco pox and zero Weetabix for breakfast.   (This has turned out to be a recurring theme in his life. Another lesson!)     He was miserable.  We were miserable.  I slept on the floor one of the nights in order for him to get some proper sleep.

We did not avail of the in-house baby-sitting option.   So no date night for us. 

We were back in the cramped, stuffy and nasty hotel room at 8pm every evening with tired, cranky and constipated kids.  There were the usual early wake-ups.

And it rained.  All the time. 

It was such a shit, disappointing holiday Mister Husband and I decided to see if we could salvage something of it by staying one last night.   Somewhere else.

The receptionist booked us into a guest house in town and off we went.   This turned out to be a wonderful idea.   It more or less saved a desperate holiday.  We would have stayed an extra night but they were already booked out.

I am very thankful to report that was our first and only disappointing holiday.   

We have gone on to have great times.  I wrote  blog posts about it here and here.  Go on.  Have a look.  This is where we stay if you want to check out our accommodation.   

This blog post was brought to you today courtesy of an invitation from Elizabeth who writes at Life on Hushabye Farm.   If you click on this link you can read all about other holidays from hell.   Or even submit your own.  

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Summer Unrest

Suddenly August is here.    Essentially this means we have begun the second part of school summer holidays.   We are on the last leg.  In other words, they will return to school in four weeks.   Already there has been a couple “my tummy feels funny “complaints.  

There is no denying it’s getting closer.   I am not one bit happy about it for a variety of reasons.

I need to make a little confession here.  Really quickly. 

I haven’t enjoyed the holidays so far.

I know.  I can’t believe I am saying that either.  

I feel extremely guilty, shame-faced, guilt ridden and more than a little awkward all at the same time with this admission.    I look forward to the summer holidays every year and admitting to being fed up upsets me.

I think partly it’s because I feel like we haven’t had a single break from school stuff.    Before the schools broke up at the end of June I had already embarked on the trail that has become the school curriculum for 2016/2017.   School books were purchased before the old ones came home to be chucked into the recycling.    Immediately after that we needed to obtain crested school jumpers.    We segued into July which saw school bags being picked up and filled with newly labelled and covered books, colouring pencils, and miscellaneous school supplies.    More uniforms were collected.   Of the trousers variety.   Then we had to get shoes.  Yesterday I chased up crested track suits.  They are not in stock yet.    With four weeks to go until the school gates open, I have been busy accumulating school supplies for the last 6 weeks.  It’s been tiring.  

Then there is the getting used to a new routine, routine to settle into.   That didn’t happen for the longest time.  Until last week in fact.  We were grouchy most mornings, on go-slows, breakfast went on forever, and it appeared I had swapped one morning rush for another; that being the school run for the swimming pool one.  So I took a deep breath and decided it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we entered the blue body of water at twenty minutes past the hour instead of exactly on it.

However, I feel the main reason for this mutual dissatisfaction is our annual family holiday doesn’t happen until the last week in August.   The week before they return to school.

Again, I know.  Poor us, whinging about our holiday being too late.  I am aware our fortunate selves are in the enviable position of being able to go on holiday to the beach.  It’s the highlight of our year.   The kids love it.  I do too.  It’s all we’ve spoken about for the last two months.   Everything is held up in comparison.    No-one wants to be penny pinching on holidays so any and all disposable income goes towards spending money for this week away.   This means we can’t do any other activities on the weekends because we need our money for August.

It’s getting us down a little bit.   

I could mention the weather and its contribution but as there is nothing anyone can do about the absence of sunshine, I’ll let that one pass.

So after another day of kids asking is it almost time to go yet, how come it’s taking so long and one of them presenting me with a list of what we are definitely not going to do* I resorted to an old trick.  

I asked them to tell me what they are most looking forward to about our seaside holiday.

The answers came thick and fast.   The drive there.  I think he meant the anticipation.   Our upside down house.   (The kitchen is upstairs and the bedrooms, downstairs) The beach.  The sand box.  The BBQ.  The bread shop across the road from which we have croissants and chocolate twists most mornings.    Centra.  (strange child) Coca cola cake in The Yard Restaurant.   Tides Pub.  (How did that get in there?) *day trips without houses with furniture and wallpaper.  (So no guided tours then!)  Spending all day on the beach.   And just being on holidays.

Just being on holidays.     There is a lot to be grateful for in that last sentence.