Snips & Snails & Puppy Dog Tails

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.


21 Responses

  1. He sounds pretty normal to me. 🙂 I’m sure I would eat nothing but cookies if left to myself…

    It’s interesting that the school is already concerned that he’ll fall behind. Isn’t it kind of their job to make sure he’s prepared so he doesn’t do so?

    • The school can only do so much though. They can’t fundamentally change who Harry is, or go back and change the past.
      Averages work because there are some children who are above that average, and some who are below (something our government hasn’t managed to grasp yet), even with all the help, and support in the world, some children have to fall below that average.

  2. I do believe that not one person in my entire adult life has asked me what age I learned to read. I wouldn’t have thought it was a race and I’ll bet there are a ton of kids who loath reading when they’re older because they’re sooooo over it having to start when they’d rather be playing.

  3. I suppose the thing that stands out to me about the lovely Harry, is how much progress he HAS made. It really doesn’t seem that long ago (maybe I’m afflicted by that terrible thing of time moving faster as you get older…) that he wasn’t speaking, and he’s now, well he’s verbose. He’s also a bright child, that much is obvious, but he is young by comparison.

    I’m sitting here thinking of alternative packed lunch foodstuffs… which you’ve probably already tried, but if he’s ok texturally with nutella, how about cream cheese? Or how about those savoury muffins (that I’ve never tried making to be honest) with grated courgette etc in them? Or, if he’s removing the ham from his sandwiches, is it a textural combination thing he isn’t liking in which case how about ham on it’s own and a pot of fruit and veg… kind of like a salad?

    If all else fails, remember what the paediatrician said about kids eating habits, and then get Harry to do his “special dance” for you.

    • Another thought – as you say, he’s actually going to school a year early, considering his conception date, so he’s young ANYWAY, but add to that his difficulties at birth etc, it’s really no wonder Harry is “below average”. Of course he is, because the average is based on kids essentially a year older than him. And a year at 4/5 is a lot.

      • Absolutely. These things all level themselves out in time.

        I caught John feeding Harry ham – JUST ham – out of the fridge a la Performing Seal fashion the other day. No wonder the child removes it from his sandwiches!

  4. Lucky he’s so gorgeous looking. Good luck with all the other challenges. xx

  5. Re: his eating – I know this won’t help in the SLIGHTEST, especially right now, as this is pure assecdotage (like assvice, only less helpful) but we had a similar ongoing anxst thing with my little brother, who was premature (admittedly not as drastically turfed out as poor Harry), and who had manymanymanymany food and texture aversions as a boy, and who couldn’t run or skip until he was seven, and who was a total shrimp (smallest in his class from four until fourteen), and who lived on peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches and celery for FOUR YEARS, and is now over 6 foot tall, played rugby, and went to Oxbridge. I save him up ‘specially to annoy the parents of little kids with food issues.

    The ham sandwich thing intrigues me. Is it, like wombat said, a THING about foods of different textures touching/having to deal with two textures at once? Many testure-averse peeps will eat a lot more if foods are separated from each other. Or have you done this one to death already?

    Harry And The Biscuit Barrel made me snort tea all over the bed (yes, I am having tea and lap-top in bed at 10:30 am. ENVY ME). Said tea whch had only JUST survived ‘Mummy needs just one more minute!’ which I am laughing about all over again as I type. Oh, that child is a hilarious delight. No wonder everyone adores him at school.

    (I learnt to read when I was three. My sisters didn’t learn until they were seven and eight, respectively (no idea about other siblings, didn’t grow up with them). The only person in the world who gives a damn is my mother, who is Officially Baffled as to why I am more dyslexic than middle sister, but learnt to read early, and normal sister didn’t learn until practically the same age as severely dyslexic sister. WHY?).

    Last thought on food issues – one of the joys of my existance is being a grown-up and not having to eat foods whose textures ick me out. I was a fairly biddable child and used to force myself to finish everything on the plate when shouted at by adults, but to this day there are foods the sight of which fill me with gloom. I do wonder if texture aversion isn’t actually quite common and the reason some adults have no sympathy with it in kids is because they were forced and now, British-public-school-fag-style, are taking it out on the next generation, the previous generation being unreachable.

    • I have always taken great comfort from your brother!

      The texture thing has no set rules, but experience has taught us what is likely to be unacceptable. Cream cheese is out (too ‘cheesy’) but butter is ok. I have recently thought of trying it spread to butter-like thinness, and having another try. I also have a tub of Shiphams paste (scraping the barrel here, but worth a go) to see if he will try that spread very thinly, but he’ll probably reject on grounds of Newness, as he does a lot of things that theoretically fit his Acceptability matrix.

      I think some of it is about his textural wiring, and some of it is about being 4 years old. And SOME of his peculiarities, as I think I may have said before, are very honestly come by. If someone puts baked beans over my chips, so help me God, I will Create Hell from my horrified misery. Separate! Separate! Separate! John once reduced me to tears, actual sulky disappointed TEARS, by wantonly adding peas and carrots INTO the cottage pie, when God CLEARLY MEANT us to eat them on the side. I had to sit and pick them all out of the mince individually. Gah. My mother used to remark that an army-style cafeteria tray with individual dimples would suit me. Unless jumbled together by the nature of the dish, I almost never put two foods together on a fork, because WHY? WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO DO THAT?! Eeerk!

  6. That “Just one more minute” thing made me laugh. I might start using that at work. A lot.

    I echo wombattwo, from a ‘not there all the time’ perspective he still seems to be progressing leaps and bounds. he talks, he walks. He is the cutest kid in school.

  7. At four and a half, the school had my little ex-premmie down as a child who was going to need 2 years in Group 1. Too wigglely, too scatty, too young. At five and a bit, they said actually he seems to be catching up a lot, maybe we should give him a try in Group 2 activities (much easier to do in the Dutch system, because the two groups are merged into one class). And now at 5 and half (ish), he’s just aced the progress tests and is considered almost entirely age appropriate, so will be off to Group 3 come August with all the other 6+ year olds. Harry HAS come on in leaps and bounds, just watch and he’ll surprise them all!

    I can’t remember when I learnt to read, but expecting all 4 years olds to do it seems a bit over-optimistic to me. Here they don’t even start trying until Group 3 and there’s nothing wrong with the Dutch academic standards. Also: happiest kids in Europe. Take a note, Mr Gove!

    “Mummy needs just one more minute” SNORT! And the biscuit barrell ruse shows amazingly high levels of initiative and natural cunning. The child is a criminal mastermind. Move over, Artemis Fowl!

    • What makes me specifically anxious is that Harry scored so highly, aged 3.11, at his receptive language tests. 97th percentile highly. I worry that by being obliged to learn in the One Size Fits All fashion – because how else can you mass-educate? – he is not having all his needs met, given that he is now so ‘far behind’. It would interest me greatly to see if the same test system would still score him so far ahead of his actual age – I could stop worrying, if so! Providing he’s continuing to build on hjis knowledge and connect the dots of the world around him, learning to read and write can really go hang themselves. If he’s lost that early lead he had through concentrating on activities that he wasn’t suited to, then that’s a shame.

  8. Reversing letters and numbers is completely normal in non-dyslexic children, and I am mighty impressed with CVC at 4 1/2 – not totally sure my niece has those down at 8…

  9. It truly warms the cockles of my heart (Uh. Whatever they are. You know what I mean.) to hear about Harry’s successes – it’s a privilege to be able to follow and cheer him along from across the sea. Your writing about him is such a touching mixture of clear-eyed observation, affection, worry, exasperation, honesty. It’s a true account of being a mother, of being Harry’s mother.

    Also, I do extend empathy to those of you with texture issues, for now that you and May mention it, I – ehem – recognise I have some. Certain types of soup, or other non-solids: bleah, sometimes, sometimes not. And otherwise I am – emmmm – pretty normal and all functional and stuff! Geeeelalllyyydiiddoo! See? Only a bit crackers.

  10. I’m with everyone else
    – you write astonishingly well. What a magnum opus and such a joy to read
    – he has done incredibly well. Wow. May I point out that Pob, who is the same age Harry should be, will not go to school til Sept. Her nursery is teaching her to read because she’s ready, but she is sitll on three letter words because they see no need to push her. She has just this weekend realised that she can read pox and box because she can read fox. And that’s about it. She’s not really into it. Harry has lots to deal with but sounds to me like he is holding his own.

    • Ahh, you do say NICE things! :@)

      WordPress is being a dickhead, and inconveniencing all of us, sadly; I’ve changed nothing. I would deal out a swift kick in the pants to whoever tinkered with it if I knew whom!

  11. um, lovely HFW? Your settings have changed so word press wants me to log in before I can leave a comment. This (for complex reasons) involves me using a different identity to post here which I’d rather not do. Is there any way to avoid this? (hence fake email address in the signature, real email address still

  12. I am totally delighted that the wonderfully personable Harry is making his present felt in so many heartwarming ways. And that you are feeling comfortable with where he is and where he is going.

    I still treasure my primary school report card that told my parents that I would do better if I were not so scatty and learned to concentrate in class. Despite the fact I spent hours focused on finishing reading the inevitable book I had hidden beneath my desk.

    I know it sounds like ADHD…and it might well be as episodes of hyperfocus and flightiness are certainly characteristic of it. I have my own theory which has no scientific basis whatsoever, but I think brains are wired in such a way that their owners become arrow people or spiral people, and neither side can ever really understand the other.

    You may well be laughing about this (and go on Arrow People, you know you want to) but, in the entry to Villa Kore, I have framed three North American Indian arrowheads I found in Delaware (years ago when you were allowed to pick up artefacts off the ground and take them 17,000 miles away from where you found them) with three half ammonite fossils that are more than 65 million years old!

    Arrows think, then act. They have commonsense (whatever that is) and like the practical solution, logic and facts. Their language is clear and concrete, they notice tasks and work to be done…and what’s more, they bloody well get on and do it. Step by thorough step until they get to the end with all their attention on the detail. They live in the Now and are always responsible.

    I know I’m a spiral. I act and think about it later. Maybe. Spirals live in the future where all exciting things are possible. We like patterns, contexts and connections and depend upon our imagination to create new possibilities. We wander around the spiral, our mouths open in wonder at the potential of it all. We constantly multi-task, seek out variety and actively avoid anything that interferes with our freedom and flexibility like responsibility.

    Arrows think spirals are irresponsible and flaky flibbertigibbets whilst they are well organised and logical hard workers. And make no mistake, the world would not function without them, they get things done. Spirals think that arrows are anal retentive party poopers whilst they are exciting free spirits with a creative imagination. And we are the ones who have the Big Ideas. The ones we most need the Arrows to help us realise.

    It’s likely that Harry’s a spiral to the max and his age and the circumstances of his birth means he will take longer to begin to work out the strategies to temper the more Out There spiral tendencies. As we all have to eventually if we are to work and play with those of the Arrow persuasion.

    I have spiralled out of control. Must.Stop.Now.

    • That makes very many heaps of sense. I am a spiral living with an arrow, right enough.

      And have no fear about the Delaware arrow-heads: there’s no judgement here; I have an unethically large stash *cough* of Jordanian pottery. 8 years ago, you could barely put a foot down in Petra without treading on a bit; dunno if you still can.

  13. ooo, i’m a little in love with the kid who ran out for the spares.

    and with your marvelous, talking(!), reading (!!!), chocolate-y boy.

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