Saturday morning started at a much more human hour than last weekend. Although there was singing at 6.30, I stayed in bed until 8.00 when we decided one of us probably ought to feed the children.
Once fed, I employed my new favourite trick – putting them in the bath. They played happily in there for the best part of an hour while I got ready for the day. As is so often the way, though, they had to be removed from the bath when behaviour got too silly and they were screaming/fighting/getting water everywhere. (Note to self: try using a timer next time and getting them out after 40 minutes.)
Once they were dressed, it was time for me and Joanna to go to the optician to collect her new glasses. Given a bit of one-to-one time she usually behaves beautifully, and we started well, with good behaviour trying the new ones on and putting her old ones in the Vision Aid box for someone else to use. She bounded out of the shop, wearing the new glasses, happy as a bean.
So far, so good, and since things were going well I thought we’d nip in to the bookshop next door. We often go there on our weekly after-school café trips and both love looking at the stationery as well as the books. Sometimes we buy things, sometimes we don’t, so there’s not a massive expectation there. This doesn’t stop Joanna trying it on. A lot. This time I bought a pack of 3 moleskine notebooks – one each for me, her, and Charlotte – but that wasn’t enough, she wanted books and games and all kinds of stuff. And the new-glasses-happiness evaporated. There was stropping. There was stropping in the shop, there was stropping on the walk home, and there was stropping… well, most of the day.
When we got home, Pete and Charlotte were tackling the hoovering and the kitchen-cleaning, and doing a rather good job. I handed the reins to Pete and went out for lunch with a friend to celebrate her new job. Peace! Adult conversation! Blissful.
I returned mid-afternoon to a frayed-looking Pete and a still-grumpy Joanna. She was doing her maths homework but clearly wasn’t in the zone, and was crying and grumping every time she wasn’t able to work out the answer instantly. Anything that required a bit of effort was too much trouble for her. We’re used to this fear of failure and associated worrying about rejection, but it’s unusual to see it in her with maths (spelling, yes, but not maths). So we packed it in for the day to avoid further angst. I encouraged her to write a story she had made up into one of the new notebooks, thus surreptitiously meeting some targets her teacher had mentioned, including getting her to write longer sentences using conjunctions. She loved it. Win. Once she’d finished, the girls went off to play together with no arguing (shock) for a whole hour while Pete and I had an uninterrupted conversation (yippee!) and I took the opportunity to have a go at Bible journalling, which is something I’ve been drooling over on Instagram for a few weeks (if you’re interested, search for #illustratedfaith or #bpcillustratedfaith).
I can cope with losing an hour’s sleep if I know there is hope of Charlotte not waking up ridiculously early as a result of the clocks changing. And yes! Though our house rule is ‘play quietly in your own room until 7.30’, we weren’t disturbed until 7.45, which counts as a lie-in around here. Charlotte had woken up at 7ish, which I am much more able to cope with than the usual 6.15 clattering and singing. [It only lasted the one day though. Today – Monday – she was fully adjusted to British Summer Time. Bother.]
Children merrily watching CBeebies, Pete headed off to church for a music practice before the service. I rounded up the girls just after 10 and we headed off to join him. After last week’s colouring-book success, I thought I’d try the same trick. It worked… ish. It worked so well as a technique for occupying them that they didn’t want to join in any of the singing, even the customary children’s song before they went to their groups. Charlotte’s turn to get stroppy when I suggested she put down her crayons and take part. Sigh. Still. After church I had a good chat with a couple who are going to fostering approval panel next month. It’s all getting a bit real for them now and it is ‘scaryciting’ – that heady mix of scary and exciting all at once. I’m really looking forward to having another family in our little social circle who ‘get it’, though I think it’s going to be a shock to their system, as they have two polite and well-behaved older birth children and this will be their first experience of living with traumatised children. Eeeek. Aaaannnd brace.
After church, Starbucks. Finally, contentment for all the family. Babycinos and marshmallow twizzle sticks for them; caramel macchiatos for us. A twenty-minute oasis of loveliness.
Back home (a bit more grumping in the car about not having any music on because the torrential rain was distracting enough to drive in), lunched (a bit more grumping about having a few molecules of salad on their plates) and my wet Sunday afternoon plan was put into action: the DVD. I’d bought The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the girls a while ago, and hidden it, appropriately, in Pete’s wardrobe, so it was on standby for such an eventuality.
I gave them the appropriate warning beforehand, because both the girls can be sensitive to what they call ‘scary bits’ and the film ratings people call ‘mild peril’. So we talked about how there was a bad witch in the film, but not to worry, because the goodies will win, and they could have a cuddle if they found anything scary.
That worked well. We all crashed out on the sofas with minimal fidgeting. They managed to follow the story well with a few little explanations about the war and the Pevensie children’s evacuation (I’d forgotten that was shown right at the start but actually the girls accepted it unquestioningly).
And we had TWO HOURS of really quite lovely family time together! The film has a running time of 2 hours 17 minutes, and although Charlotte started to get a tiny bit fidgety towards the end, it really held their attention well. By the time it finished it was time to make their dinner and then into the bedtime routine.
Joanna often wants to talk about her birth family at bedtime. Usually I sit beside her bed and listen and answer questions, and give her a cuddle if she’s upset. She talks for ten or fifteen minutes and then I tell her it’s sleeping time and leave the room. Even if she’s sobbing I do try to make an exit after half an hour at the most, because she would carry on crying half the night if she thought it would keep me in the room.
I’ll usually return to check on her after a while, and take her a hot water bottle or my teddy as a comfort if she’s still awake. Lately, though, she has been demanding both teddy and hot water bottle, and saying that she won’t get to sleep without them. I know this to be untrue, and don’t want her to believe it, but nor do I want to be completely heartless. I think I am a pretty good judge of when she is genuinely upset and when she is just talking about her birth family (a) out of habit and (b) as a procrastination-about-sleeping technique. I know the importance of repeating the ‘where I came from and why’ narrative… but sometimes it feels that she is repeating the same complaints every night, and I can tell that although there is some emotion there, it varies in intensity and doesn’t always need me to indulge her in a full-on sobfest.
Sunday night was of the try-it-on procrastinatory type, and I gave her a kiss and a cuddle and a gentle ‘I know’ when she repeated her ‘I had a tricky start…’ script. She started to complain about me leaving the room without furnishing her with a hot water bottle, and I just said goodnight. The complaining had stopped by the time I reached the bottom of the stairs (which it wouldn’t if she was very upset) and lo and behold, she was asleep when we checked twenty minutes later.
And then there was Ben & Jerry’s, and The News Quiz podcast, and sorting out of book bags, and then sleep.
The things that worked:
- colouring at church
- a new DVD to watch together
- talking about the DVD (and scary bits) before watching it
- bathtime for breathing space
- Starbucks (oh, how I love you)
The things that I don’t want to repeat:
- homework meltdowns (tips on how to avoid these – while still getting it done – gratefully received)
- extended grumpitude (though I think we’re just going to have to cope with this one for the next twelve years or so…)