November 2nd 2017
So it seems that just as I thought I was totally on top of the whole 'we've-just-moved-to-a-new-area-but-we-can-totally-do-this' situation, my six year old decided to prove me wrong.
And it didn't matter to Little Lad that I had just invested my hard earned cash in extortionately-priced plane tickets to visit the good old North East during half term entirely on account of how settled I thought both Lads were. That I thought it was finally safe to venture up to colder climes and see all of their old classmates because both Lads were skipping in and out of their new school daily. The morning ritual of cool nods (Big Lad) and frenzied dabs (Little Lad) in the general direction of apparently hundreds of new friends along the school run had to be a good sign, right?
Because Little Lad's tears said otherwise. Tears at six thirty on a weekday morning. Tears that fell hot and fast from his cheeks and pooled on my lap as we sat together in the bathroom, my mascara half-applied and fast becoming less of a priority despite my zombie-like appearance without it. "I don't want to go to school mummy, I really don't. I want to stay home with yoooouuu." He blurted and sobbed into my chest. My first reaction was to try to explain the necessity of diligent school attendance, the inevitability that he would have to go despite any gut feelings he might be having. But this was more than Little Lad's repertoire of whinging at the thought of a day of adverbs and number sequences. This was real, raw upset. A mother knows the difference.
So I kept him off. After much cajoling and enquiring and enthusing and encouraging. I kept him off. Well it was a Friday. And he did have a sniffle. Honest.
I did, however, after depositing Big Lad at school (who had A LOT to say about his little brother not going to school - therein lies another blog post I expect), go to see Little Lad's teacher to find out what might be at the bottom of this. She had no idea. She looked me right in the zombie-like mascara-free eyes and said "But I have noticed that he doesn't like to leave you in the mornings. He obviously struggles with that."
She wasn't wrong there, and I pondered that as I made my way back home. When both Lads were toddlers, I stood so strong when dropping them off at places like the childminder's and nursery. Lots of straight-forward, kind explanations about when I would see them again, kisses and cuddles and I'd be off. Tantrum or not. I'd be off. But now that they're old enough to question and discuss and form their own ideas about how the world should work, it's a whole lot harder. Especially with Little Lad.
And as I was talking to my friend Isobel, who is a mum of four (four!), I was reminded that it's so damn hard to come up with good ideas on how to tackle this kind of stuff for your own kids. Oh, I'm full of ideas for everybody else, but when it comes to my terrifying twosome, I generally draw a blank. Luckily, Isobel was on full steam and suggested the following:
"Why don't you try getting him to imagine a balloon? Or he can even draw it. He can decide the colour and shape and feel of the balloon. And then every time he misses you through the day at school, he can blow a big breath into the balloon and blow it up really big. It gets bigger and bigger throughout the day, but when he sees you've come to pick him up at the end of the day, you can have a big hug and the balloon can pop. It can pop with love."
I nearly kissed her. Just by listening to this idea I knew Little Lad would completely lap it up. Whilst something else might work better for other kids, Little Lad's endless ability to imagine and visualise would bring Isobel's idea to life, I just knew it would.
So the next morning, during the usual painstakingly slow process of putting on a sock, I told Little Lad all about the idea. I didn't care about Big Lad tutting as if he was far too sophisticated to even be hearing about balloons, let alone imagining one . . . because Little Lad's eyes widened and his cheeks flushed with excitement and he hopped up and down on the one-socked foot as he described the rainbow-coloured balloon in his head.
We got to school and went through the ritual of hanging his coat up and ordering his lunch and then he sat down to do his morning job in his little workbook. But before he opened the cover he turned to me and said, "I'm going to blow up the balloon now." And he brought his fist to his lips and blew. I physically felt the spike of tension drain from my shoulders and jaw. The tension that was bracing itself for tears or sobbed questions or clawing at my coat. He wasn't doing any of that. He was blowing up his balloon!
I reminded him that whenever he felt he missed me during the day, all he had to do was take a deep breath and blow into that balloon, make it really big so we could make a big pop when we saw each other again at home time. He smiled his dashing smile and assured me that he would. And off we both went into our respective worlds of adverbs and housework until 3pm.
When 3pm came, and I was standing at the door of Little Lad's classroom, waiting for the teacher to open it and the kids to stream out, I have to admit I was somewhat distracted by the trials of the day. Housework. Bills. Things to be fixed, replaced, paid for, found. Lists to be written. Plans to be made. Dreams to be chased. I was hardly in the moment at that moment. So when a little back-packed body hurled itself at my legs screaming "Balloon pop!" at the top of his voice I was exploded out of my distracted world and into this very present, real and awesome moment.
And it was awesome.
'Balloon Pop' is totally a thing now. Little Lad has made the concept his own as every morning the rainbow coloured balloon now gets magical 'kiss-breaths' put into it as well as normal breaths, and it inexplicably has to be done at the doorway to his classroom. It's a proper little ritual. Although let's always remember that if we give kids an inch they will take the proverbial mile, as now Little Lad makes me wait at the doorway, other parents and children having to shuffle around us, while he takes a very long time blowing up his balloon. If I try to talk to him whilst this balloon-blowing is going on, he just carries on blowing and holds up one finger as if telling a well-behaved dog to bloody well wait.
It's better than the six thirty crying in the bathroom though, right?
Anyway, the popping of the balloon at the end of the day is always totally worth any amount of being put in my place by his authoritative finger. I think I look forward to that moment just as much as he does when he shouts "Balloon pop!" and his warm body crashes into mine, all laden with school books, letters, lunch boxes and yet another muddy coat. It's just another sneaky mindful moment worked into the day. Shared between mother and son. Reminding us all is good.
We did manage our trip to the North East too. We spent the week seeing lots of the Lads' old friends, including a truly manic trip to a soft play centre where, really, the owners should have given me commission for the droves of kids I managed to get through their doors. Little Lad had a few tears on leaving his beloved Granny (who can blame him for that?), but all other exits from the old life went pretty smoothly. Now we're back in our Devonian life, at the end of the first week of half-term and 'Balloon Pop' is back in all its magical, kiss-breath glory.
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