Harry came out with a peachy bit of mimicry earlier this week. He surveyed the asteroid-field-like debris of his dinner under the table, concerning which I had just mildly rebuked him, his hands thrown wide in faux-horror, mildly aghast.
‘Oh. My. God.’
Proper pauses, and everything.
I feel I must take full responsibility for that one.
His pronunciation can be quite hard to understand – he gabbles too fast and too excitedly, substitutes letters all over the shop, embarks on labyrinthine sentences, cuts and shuts words, talks far too loudly, and concentrates so hard on how the sentence is ending that he gets befuddled over the beginning. I do all of this, too. We muddle along quite nicely, communicating, with only the occasional stamped, frustrated foot.
Harry is turning out very satisfactorily indeed. As if he could ever have done otherwise. 4½ years old; a 100cm-high imperious powerhouse of enthusiasm and energy, cuddles and clumsiness, stroppiness and scruffiness; by turns infuriatingly audacious and touchingly anxious. He takes personality straight through dynamism, into… what’s beyond? Ballistics, I think. Describing Harry’s unstoppability is much like calling a bullet ‘determined’. It just intrinsically… is.
He is left unsupervised at our emotional and financial peril. If there are buttons: he will press them. If there are taps: he will turn them. If there are lines: he will cross them (and then negotiate like an intransigent fishwife to avoid being replaced behind them.) The result of which – this week alone – is that we possess downloaded software we didn’t want, the sheep have rather less molasses in their main supply tank than they did,
and John and I are acutely fed up of either bellowing outraged remonstrances or finding new ways to explain quite why ‘I Just Want’ does not, in fact, result in ‘I Get’, however politely and wheedlingly re-and-re-and-re-phrased.
I do enjoy a good
power struggle challenge. Fortuitous, really, since Harry’s emotional understanding of himself and the world is still very much that of a toddler – a boy toddler – and the manifestation of this gives a certain extra complexity to the daily process of cramming a convolutedly-shaped and not awfully malleable child-peg into the square-sided hole of Cultural Norm. I am often happy to raise a single middle digit to Norm and his conformist cohort (Harry’s glorious interpretation of his first sight of the gesture was ‘Mummy needs just one more minute!’) but we have, after all, had to break the lad to the educational halter 12 months earlier than the date of his conception warranted.
Harry has settled beautifully into our local small primary – 102 children – and is firmly installed as the school baby. The mentoring culture is very strong indeed, and I am delighted with the kindness and friendship shown him by his seniors. I forgot Harry’s rucksack containing his spare underwear and trousers a week or so ago (he is many light years away from being capable of organising his own bags. And he is still not dry. Whatsoever at all. It is a particularly spiny, inconvenient kind of cross to bear, but we drag it forward in hope regardless.) and as I arrived outside at morning playtime and tried to catch the attention of the supervisor, I was spotted first by a youngster I didn’t know – not one of Harry’s particular intimates – who nevertheless bounded over to the fence and asked ‘Are those Harry’s spares? I’ll take them for you!’ He was eight, or maybe nine. I beamed my very best beams upon him.
This afternoon, we bumped into two of his elder compadres in Stratford, both unknown to me, but who greeted him with enormous hugs and introduced him excitedly to their Mum as ‘the cutest kid ever’. I can listen to that sort of thing. So his friends are legion in the other classes, seemingly – I am sure his frequent, impulsive and highly demonstrative affection does him a major solid in that respect – although not so much among his own peers, whom I think his immaturity can sometime irritate. ‘I think girls are stupid!’ he informs me laughingly, so it’s a pity that the little idiot is confined to a classroom everyday with 10 perfectly lovely ones, and only 4 other boys. Of these boys, he does have a bosom friend, however, of whom and whose family I glowingly approve, and I can only hope and pray it lasts. Just perhaps, there is a chance that the girls will become marginally more congenial to him in time…? Although I suspect the era of parroting learned opinions may be with us for rather longer.
He has a teaching assistant of his own for half the school day, and is in a class ratio of 1:7 for the other half, but his teacher still finds him a monumental struggle to educate and even just marshall to and fro, poor woman. If what I have as Harry’s mother can ever be described as (and it can’t, but let’s roll with the standard-issue phraseology anyway) My Pain: then she definitely feels it. Directing his activities in any way, shape or form is directly akin to herding cats, and I suspect she head-bangs the wall in exasperation at least once for every 20 of mine.
There is no magic wand to wave: he is simply too immature to fully engage with school, even allowing for his August birthday, and he often has to be taken out of any group learning activity. His attention span is variable, tending often towards the ADHD-end of flighty. I often watch him play quietly with his Lego for 60 – 90 minutes, designing, constructing, and re-building happily. In stark contrast, the point at which his sticker-reward system kicks in for Good Sitting in class circle-time, is currently 3 minutes – even with his own special carpet square to provide boundaries and a fidget-object to hold.
I was rather crushed at this term’s Parents’ evening when I learnt that he was actually now ‘miles behind’ all the rest of his class, but I was repeatedly reassured that he will mature, become less capricious, less childish. He is really not terribly behind for his actual August-birthday age, as such; and as there are, everyone agrees, absolutely no flies on him whatsoever, everyone has high hopes concerning his ultimate trajectory, but I sometimes feel panicky about the scale of the catch-up eventually expected of him. He is the youngest in the school, bar one (the bosom ally). He had a rotten start, and was inexpressibly lucky to dodge as many bullets as he has. He is, moreover, at the top school in our county, a highly ambitious and successful primary; among a culture of children who are achieving significantly above national averages. He is learning alongside noticeably more mature children from privileged backgrounds. Viewed objectively, Harry is also from a privileged background (although, lest you picture me sipping ambrosia, I will mention the lamb that shat copiously on my hand yesterday, and also the one that peed on my lap.) but he is, nevertheless, unfortunately placed for comparison purposes at present.
Which comparisons, of course, wouldn’t interest me per se, but I know, and the staff have begun to say, that he will, unless he catches up, ‘completely drown’ sans his current TA support in next year’s classroom and syllabus. (Now he is a speaking child: there is a chance he may lose that support next year. Times are hard; budgets have evaporated.)
But there IS progress. There undoubtedly is. Reading and writing were an unmitigated, demoralising non-starter for the first term and a half (despite a great deal of special Phonics input since he was 2 years old) until the last month, when he has begun to grasp the concept of CVC words. Anything more complex or longer than 3-4 letters still floors him, but we do have Actual Reading taking place, which is thrilling. Given the horrendous pervasion of dyslexia on both sides of the family, I’m keeping a weather eye on his marked tendency to read (and write numbers) backwards. Harry himself remains completely under-whelmed with the entire faffing business of literacy, and his evasion tactics when he sees his reading folder appear every night are wildly procrastinative, and productive of sighs that he dredges up from somewhere around his knees. I am not unsympathetic, and I’m treading the sticky rim of the glass between encouraging him to persist with a task he finds hard (no bad thing to indoctrinate young) and poisoning the literary well through too-early exposure.
Parenting with some special needs is a tricky old tiptoe through the tulips, especially when your natural style of
tyranny parenting veers, contextually, from despotic to casual, as I fear mine does. Where to exercise discretion? Where to enforce better habits? This business of his meals, for instance, and his packed lunch in particular. Harry has a reasonable degree of textural aversion – not uncommon amongst ventilated, premature or dyspraxic kids – and his liked foods range from diddly to squat. The list of what he cannot bring himself to touch, let alone eat, is long. He dislikes even being in the vicinity as someone eating a food he finds repulsive, and recently, to my only-partial mirth, instructed my mother to please eat her porridge somewhere else out of his sight. I am instinctively of the school of Eat It Or Go Hungry; There Are Starving Children In Africa, Dammit, and so I am occasionally publicly mortified by having to explain that Harry just can’t eat A, B and C, and likely won’t look at D, E or F, either, especially if it has G poured over it. I feel it reeks of embarrassingly Preshus parenting, but the poor child really does find many textures quite abhorrent, and has done so unswervingly since babyhood.
I have recently lost repertoire-ground with him, and I had no real slack to start with. John & I, stupidly, pushed the envelope with jams that contained seeds and pulped fruit, and so we have now lost jam entirely. He has recently stopped eating yoghurt because of a similar brand ballsup concerning Bits In It. A month ago he went off his cheese fingers/Babybel. I am left with Nutella or ham for packed lunch sandwiches, and half the ham ones keep coming home uneaten – to which I have, in response, removed the chocolate biscuit. He mourned the loss of his KitKats and Penguins, but still ate barely half his (Dino shapes! Jigsaw shapes! Crusts removed!) entirely appropriate-sized portion of sandwiches. He is surviving on a munch of bread and a tub of pre-approved varieties of fruit (although God help me if I try to insert a ringer of, say, physalis among the grapes), and, quel surprise, is arriving home ravenous and demanding His Chocolate Snack (Harry leans heavily on Case Precedent and a privilege extended once is rapidly an enshrined right in his legal opinion) and throws Le Tantrum when the left-over sandwiches (or the remaining bread & butter, sans the snaffled ham) are firmly proffered instead. I would be significantly more comfortable pandering to his idiosyncratic and limited dietary textural and taste requirements, did his Adored & Most Acceptable Foods not consist exclusively of chocolate, chocolate mousse, chocolate spread, chocolate biscuits, brioche, strawberries and crisps. The child will look like a chocolate brioche at his rate, a problem exacerbated by the fact that my morning discipline is lax (he wakes up well before I do; but after John is gone) and he can reach everything in the blasted kitchen.
Last month, he evidently arrived downstairs at an early hour, quietly extracted the actual biscuit barrel (empty 98% of the time. What unerring instinct led him to look inside?!) from the kitchen, stashed it judiciously behind the sofa (I dread the advent of him finding an alternative hidey-hole for all his loot) and feasted on Bourbons while enjoying Saturday morning TV. When enquiries were later instigated, he couldn’t quite remember how many he’d snaffled, but cheerfully acknowledged it was probably more than 5.
I feel he’s shaping up nicely.
Filed under: Parenting