Thursday, 29 March 2012

Exams and watching week

It's a big day tomorrow: P's grade one exam. Four of of them will be going in at the same time and she is the youngest, only just approaching seven years old. On the whole they are looking good and they've been working hard, but there are wobbles from time to time - setting off on the wrong foot, or turning to the right instead of the left, forgetting their posture.

I just hope they can do their best and perform when in the exam. One girl is very anxious. Her face is so sweet and so serious as she concentrates on getting it right. She gets upset if she makes a mistake. The others seem to be taking it in their stride. I asked P how she felt after today's practice and she said she was jealous of how well the other girls are dancing; she feels she is not as good. You feel for them when they get caught up in what everyone else is doing and compare themselves unfavourably. There is an air of competitiveness from time to time.

The results could be stressful. Fortunately P was not too disappointed with her Merit and silver medal when she did her primary exam. Indeed it was a good result, but she was near the bottom of the class despite her potential and perhaps didn't do herself justice. This year she will be far more aware of how the others do and if nerves get the better of her it will end in tears. I think she likes performing so she should be OK. Probably I'll be more nervous than her! Anyway, she is far more grown up than last year with much better concentration so that will help her.

The last week of term is also an opportunity for parents to sit in and watch the classes. It was a disappointment, then, on Tuesday when S completely refused to participate in her lesson. I had been looking forward to seeing her. Really I think she is exceptionally good (as far as you can tell for a three year old). She copies and picks up what the older ones are doing. Her legs are turned out, feet pointed, body poised.

And she loves it. Such a shame that she had got the blinkers on - "I'm shy" - and she wouldn't budge. All the tactics were used to try and coax her, but she cried sorrowfully when coerced into joining in. I gave in. I didn't want to be so cruel as to force her.

It's a dilemma many parents must go through. How much to encourage, how much to push and how much to give way and let them be. You want them to feel confident and happy, but how can you best help them achieve that if they are finding a situation stressful. They need to feel secure that you love them no matter what, but sometimes they need a nudge, not a bolt hole. Then if they have a go and succeed, they will have that extra buzz from overcoming their anxieties. It will stand them in good stead for next time.

Fortunately, S will not have her first exam for a couple of years, so there is plenty of time for her to overcome her shyness. In the meantime she's seen how her sister has applied herself. Fingers crossed she will then see fruits of that effort. Either way, P will be a grade 2 pupil next term and I'll be proud of her.

Roll on tomorrow. Break a leg, girls!

This photo was taken after the exam - a bottle of hairspray to keep the curls down!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Cakes, cards and cash!

The night before the fundraising party I was ready apart from: 1. creating butterfly cakes from cakes which had been cooked and icing which had been made, 2. tidying then cleaning the sitting room, 3. tidying then cleaning other parts of the house, but not the hall and shower room which had miraculously been tackled already, 3. making all the rest of the cakes I had planned, 4. setting up the kitchen ready for an invasion of kids and mums ready for juice, tea and cake after school. And I had to get a mothers' day gift in the post for mum.

Not ready at all then.

Inviting people round is a good excuse to get some housework done. I'm pretty rubbish at getting anywhere near on top of it, but yesterday saw me with the dyson vacuuming under the sofa cushions and the like. I even dusted. A little. The rooms still looked somewhat cluttered, but I consoled myself with the fact that people were coming to socialise and help raise some money for Macmillan. They weren't coming to inspect the house.

Onto the baking. I'm getting better even if I do say so myself - a long way off the professionalism shown by other mums in the region, but better - and I am now aided by the Great British Book of Baking which was a birthday gift this year. The butterfly cakes were assembled while the heart-shaped shortbreads were in the oven. A quick trip to the post office and then the chocolate fairy cakes were next. By the time I got onto the lemon drizzle, Jackie was there to set up the Phoenix cards.

It nearly went horribly wrong. My first guest arrived (early by arrangement) while I was still decorating the chocolate cakes. I was doing and chatting and serving tea, generally creating a little whirlwind of chaos. I had forgotten to put the timer on the lemon cake and for a while even forgot it was in the oven.  Fortunately I remembered in time and it even had a little while to finish. Second guest arrived as the drizzle was being drizzled. I was still in scruffy clothes and pinny and that's the way it was for the rest of the afternoon.

The invasion hit at about ten past three. About three mums and forty-five children. OK, not quite that ratio, but once the kids had demolished the chocolate cakes and downed some ribena it didn't take long for them to go off into the girls' bedroom to shout at each other and throw things to make their presence known. Occasionally one of them would reappear to let us know who was being mean to who. The pre-schoolers changed into ballet leotards.

All in all it was a success. More people came. Cards were bought and order forms taken away for further purchases. Donations went into the Macmillan pyramid collecting box. Half way through I realised the washing was still hanging on the pulley in the kitchen, but no-one held it against me! The event has raised about 45 pounds so far, but there are a number of order forms to come in which will boost the commission back from Phoenix.

I was pleased but absolutely shattered. What joy, then, as I was just thinking about going to bed when we could hear that the girls had got out of bed. Evening wanderings are not a common occurrence, but when we got to the top of the stairs it quickly became apparent what was going on. Susannah had been sick on the landing. Too much cake?

Well, it probably wasn't too much cake as she continued to be poorly through the night. Not the best ending to what had otherwise been a very fruitful day.

I have a new role now too. I am a 'Phoenix Phairy' which means I can carry on raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support by selling Phoenix cards and stationery. So, if you like the products, order them from me next time I see you (I'll pass the orders onto our local trader) and some money will go back to the charity. I'll probably carry on until the end of my fundraising year ( Cool, eh?!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Thinking about friendship

This evening I was all set to do a book review of 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett, which I loved and found difficult to put down. However, having received some sad news today I feel distracted and so conscious of passing years.

A friend died yesterday. Perhaps I should say, someone I was friends with a few years ago died. How to describe it? Well, sitting here now with tears in my eyes I would say I was fond of her. But I haven't actually seen her for probably more than a decade and we have not been part of each other's lives. We once mixed in the same circles and then we moved on. However, we had many mutual friends and my sympathies are with those friends, her husband and family who must feel her loss so keenly.

Time marches on so quickly. Even though we were never very close friends, I was really looking forward to seeing Annie this summer at a friend's hen do. Our paths would have crossed again and it would have been one of those easy resumptions of friendship. You know those times? When you haven't seen someone for ages but within minutes you are laughing together as if it was only last week? I think of her as someone whose smile and laughter would light up a room.

Sadly, that opportunity to catch up is not to be. No swapping stories of having two young daughters, and living through cancer treatment. Her cancer returned and I can only imagine the pain that must have brought.

Could we do things differently? I am usually pragmatic about friendships lapsing. Life takes you in different directions, you can't expect to be in touch with everyone all the time. But those friends from your youth shared an important part of your past. Do you make an assumption that they will be a part of your future without actually committing to making that happen?

So, the book review will wait and I'll think of my friends instead. Friends I have now and the friends who although I am no longer in touch with, I have great fondness for. If you are a friend from my past, I do so hope you will be a friend in my future.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Double party weekend - again

It is all go for younger daughter S. It's a double party weekend, hot on the heels of a double party weekend last week. And once again I had the pleasure of a Saturday morning in Tumblers (soft play venue) in Buckingham, while B took P to her extra ballet lesson.

We are most definitely in that phase where the kids (especially the 3-year-old) have a better social life than the parents and our role is simply as unpaid taxi service.

I'm actually happy that S has been invited to so many parties this month as it is a reflection of the friendships she is developing at nursery. It is hard for P though who forgets that she is usually the one with the invitations and S who is left behind. I am getting very tired of hearing "I wish I could be going... It's not fair S gets all the sweets and cake..." She doesn't yet know that S came back from today's party with a whole Cadbury's buttons easter egg!

But we've reached the end of the day intact and appropriately enough they are playing ballet class together, taking it in turns to be teacher. Sounds idyllic doesn't it? Don't be fooled. It could quickly descend into a "She did this, she did that.... MUUUUUUMMMMM!"

Oh dear. And now we're having an argument about it being bath time. Better go and lend B some moral support....

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A musical night out

Waves crashing over rugged cliffs, flaming yellow gorse, purple heather adding to the beauty of the mountains. Ah, Wales!

Now imagine a soundtrack to go with it. A cymbal roll crescendo with fiddle and accordion. The bass kicks in and from soaring over the landscape, you are transported into a wild jig. It's a seated gig, but your feet have to tap, your hands have to clap.

YES! We had a night out and enjoyed the celtic sounds of Jamie Smith's Mabon, playing the Stables in Wavendon. An accomplished group of musicians - worth seeing whatever your musical tastes.

It is a rare treat to get out to listen to original, live music. And what a treat it was. Jamie Smith is a seriously talented accordion player. Such agility over the keys and what a sound. Fiddle player Oli also shone. The whole band were great and we knew we'd love the enthusiasm of our friend Iolo Whelan on drums.

Music is good for the soul. And (especially when you have small kids) so are nights out with your spouse! Roll on next time.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Putting on a performance

The term 'ballet mum' can conjure up images of an unbearably pushy parent. I hope I am not she. For me 'ballet mum' is not just about giving our girls the opportunity to get involved in ballet if they want to - which they do. Phew! - it is also a reflection of the fact I am still doing ballet myself.

In fact, it has been a real tonic for me recovering from major surgery: building up fitness, getting out of the house, feeling the satisfaction of nailing a double pirouette, feeling alive.

When I announced I was doing a year of fundraising ( in support of Macmillan Cancer Support, the principal of the dance school (and teacher to P and myself), said to let her know if there was anything the school could get involved in as they'd be happy to support my efforts.

She didn't need to say it twice! My original thought had been a day of open workshops with people paying to come and try something different - opening it up to the public. However, it was soon clear that Miss R would prefer a fundraising show. She is keen on giving students more performing opportunities.

It is not proving easy. Finding a date has been tough and a suitable venue equally so. The venue where her ballet show usually takes place is booked up a long way in advance and another venue we went to see is gorgeous but just not suitable for the number of dancers we'd want to include. We went to see a relatively new, imaginatively named venue yesterday: The Venue. It is in a school but extremely well-equipped and has ample space for a dance production with several performers.

The drawback is the price, but the capacity is good. Could it work? If we sell 300 tickets at a tenner each per show it could just about make some money for Macmillan. But how much and how risky would it be?

We keep going from trying to keep it modest and low-stress to a big all-singing, all-dancing (forget the the all-singing) affair. How about making it for the older students only? Perhaps Grade 2 up and not in the pricey venue but somewhere more low key.

Hang on a minute, that would mean darling daughter number two would be left out as she is only in the nursery class. But we can't possibly put on a show without giving her a chance to be in it.

Oops! I seem to have reverted to type. Ballet mum of the most tedious order.

Anyway, we have a plan. Enquire about availability of The Venue for the weekend after October half term. Give ourselves a bit more time to plan and prepare. It will fall outside of my original year target for fundraising but is likely to be far more successful. One way or another, the show must go on!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

World Book Day

OK. First post to this blog and may as well start with whatever comes to mind. Today we have experienced excellent recycling of costume from last year's ballet show.

It is World Book Day and there was a buzz of excitement dropping off at school this morning. Teachers were witches surrounded by princesses, Buzz Light Years, fairies, Harry Potters and other book characters (and film and cartoon characters which no doubt appear in spin off books).

I was rather proud of elder daughter P. A couple of years ago it would have been a Disney princess. Easy (there's a drawer full of such outfits), but lacking in imagination. Now she is a more sophisticated Year 2 and she decided she'd like to go as a dog. She loves dogs and the current book that fits the bill is 'Jake in Danger' which I believe Santa may have brought her this Christmas.

In the ballet show, for her tap dance, she was a cat with white leotard, tail and ears. The cost of getting a kid through a ballet show can be substantial - new tights (two pairs because two dances), leotard, tutu, tiara and other bits and bobs all paid for by parents. But, this is where you can see it as an investment. One white leotard and cat tail refashioned around a piece of white fur (2.99 from Oxfam) cut into a tunic and floppy ears, eyeliner on the nose and lo and behold, you have a dog outfit.

The nursery class joined in the fun too. S was the more traditional princess. Well, to begin with she was, but then 'I need wings, Mummy'. So she went from Cinderella to fairy Godmother in the blink of an eye. Her book was that Osborne classic 'That's not my fairy...'

Now. I just wonder if I can get that brown eyeliner off P's nose in time for this afternoon's Grade 1 lesson.

The original cool cat costume - P is on the right