Monthly Archives: July 2011

Trophy

Lately, at bedtime, I’ve been asking Tom what the best thing was to happen to him that day. There’s always something exciting when you’re at primary school. It helps me too – even the dreariest days working from home have something good in them (usually something he does or says, as it happens.) Today, for both of us, the best thing that happened was the Trophy, an award presented to Tom for having “an outstanding attitude to school life.”

“I must have done something really good to win this,” he tried to raise it above his head, “I can’t even lift it properly!”

He’s completely in awe of it.

“My head teacher says I get to keep it and polish it for a whole year,” he said.

“It is really special, I’m very proud of you,” I looked at his reflection in the silver, “It’s an ace start to the summer. You, the trophy, camping, festival time, sunshine, blue sky….”

“Alright Mum, don’t get too excited.”

There was no bag to keep it in, so he was walking along the street clutching it on the way home. We went in the corner shop and he put it on the counter.

“How much for this trophy?” he asked the shopkeeper, because he knew the shopkeeper would ask him where he got it from and what he’d done to win it.

Tom always runs ahead down our street and waits for me on the doorstep, then starts nagging me to get him a drink or look at his latest drawing while I’m still trying to lock the door behind me. He was sitting there today, his little legs out in front of him on the pavement, the shiny trophy resting on his grey school shorts. I thought about five summers ago, when I pushed his pram round the park in the same figure of eight loop every day, wishing he’d talk back. I thought about how today is one of those days he will never forget.

“Mum, will you dust the trophy while I’m in bed?”

“I doubt it.”

“Where shall we put it?”

“I don’t know.”

By the time I’d locked the front door and put down the bags, he’d rushed inside. I found him climbing on the armchair and putting the trophy on the bookshelf, nearly knocking over the dusty ornaments and sending spare change clattering to the floor.

“There!” said Tom.

“It looks good,” I said.

“Everybody will think our house is posh when they see my trophy.”

I don’t know about that. But still, an excellent end to his first year at school – and an excellent start to the summer holidays.

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A genuinely hostile place

The Government are going ahead with their plans to charge parents who need to claim child maintenance. This is despite an in-depth ‘consultation’ and letters, phone calls and emails from me and many others. They think that this will “strengthen families”, that feuding couples will be more likely to “choose” to come to an amicable agreement about the costs of raising their children.

Perhaps that is possible in some cases. Cases where the split was mutual, where there was a family home, where the absent parent has love and time for their kids. But in many cases, the parent is missing, or never took responsibility, never wanted to know. In 97% of one parent families, the absent parent is the father. David Cameron knows that these men exist, because inthis PR piece in the Telegraph on Fathers Day, he berated them. He thinks that ‘runaway dads’ should be named and shamed like drink drivers. Perhaps they could be banned from shagging for nine months too.

What ‘runaway dads’ really need to do is take responsibility for their children. Cameron and co’s logic says that if a parent needs to claim child maintenance to help them with the financial cost of raising their children, they must pay. They want to charge them because they have ‘chosen’ not to arrange it themselves, when that’s impossible. It’s a bit like saying “we’re going to fine everyone who can’t tie their legs in a double knot behind their head” – only more ridiculous and more tragic. Kids from the poorest of families will suffer. Many people who use the CSA do so because they have to, not because they want to.

It’s going to cost a hundred pounds to apply to the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission (the new CSA.) Who has that to spare when they’ve just been left holding a baby or putting an older child through school? Statutory maternity pay is little over a hundred pounds a week and there’s always going to be something, whether it’s a pram or school shoes, that that money is needed for. Are the Government looking at the reality for thousands of single parents? If the absent parent knows the system and is elusive enough, the parent with care might as well chuck that hundred quid out with the dirty nappies and save themselves a lot of stress. If CMEC do manage to collect child maintenance, they’ll knock off some commission: 7-12%. All of this is going to put an awful lot of parents whose children really need child maintenance off ever applying in the first place.

David Cameron thinks we “need to make Britain a genuinely hostile place for fathers who go AWOL.” These charges will make it a hostile place for the mothers who are raising their children. And ultimately and frighteningly, for the children themselves.

Gingerbread have joined force with Barnardos to try to get the government to drop the charging system. Click here to find out more, or write to your MP. I’m trying not to be apathetic and hoping we can really make them see sense on this.

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Rumbled

I can’t be doing with Jamie Oliver, but apparently he spearheaded some kind of school dinner revolution. I thought schools were all about healthy eating these days, but Tom’s isn’t, so I got fed up and wrote an email to his headteacher.

This is not a complaint, I wrote, it’s more like feedback, or constructive criticism.

I then went on to hammer out five hundred words about how I don’t like the fact Tom seems to eat pizza, chips and chocolate pudding for lunch at school, especially because it costs over £300 a year. And how putting a pile of salad on the side of the plate does not a healthy meal make. Yes, I know, I could send him with a packed lunch. But having to think about preparing one of those at midnight would only add to the long list of things that need doing when I should be writing.

When I went to collect Tom from school yesterday, his headteacher collared me.

“Ah! Tom’s Mum,” he said, “You’ve just saved me from having to write a very long email. Would you like to come to my office for a chat?”

Balls. I can be sanctimonious on paper, but not in real life.

It’s a long time since I’ve been in a headteacher’s office. It turns out they still have the same low down, scratchy brown chairs and the same filing cabinets and they still smell of must and being in big trouble. What if he was going to tell me that every other child in the school ate their pile of salad and it was Tom who had the problem? Or that I should put him on packed lunches if I didn’t like it? I was sure I was going to get ripped to shreds.

It turns out the headmaster agreed with everything I said, but because the school doesn’t have its own kitchen, they have to outsource their catering. The catering company say they offer two options (of which, he said, most children will pick the least healthy.)

“It’s mainly the cakes I object to,” I said. “I’m sure I read somewhere that this area has some of the worst dental health statistics in the country.”

“They’re actually the worst.” he said.

“There you go then.”

“Excuse me..” said Tom.

“Just a minute Tom,” I said, ” There’s no need for the cakes. Why not just offer them yogurt and fruit?”

“Excuse me..” said Tom, again.

“Yes?” said the headteacher, “Well done for being so polite.”

“Well,” Tom huffed, “Me and Auntie Anna made a big tray of smiley face cakes and when my Mum got back from Glastonbury, she ate loads and loads of them. There were like two or maybe three left for me.”

Oh, shush.

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Time Off

The older Tom gets, the harder I find it to leave him. Which is odd, given the fact I happily went away without him when he was younger. Time spent with a five year old is more fun than that with a baby, I suppose. In a moment of madness (I’m quite prone to those) I decided I would take him to Glastonbury. He’s long out of nappies, he loves his music and Rastamouse and Da Easy Crew were playing. It seemed a shame – a bit reckless, even – to leave him with a succession of (brilliant) babysitters while I went off to an event that he would probably really enjoy. I went to meet him from school, bursting with the news.

“Oh Mum,” he said, sounding fifteen, not five, “I thought I was going to have four sleepovers while you were at Glastonbury.”

“Well yes, but I thought you wanted to see Rastamouse.”

“I do, but I thought you said Glastonbury was a lot of walking.”

“Well, it is to be honest with you.”

“Well, can I not just have my sleepovers and watch Rastamouse on the telly?”

Sometimes he makes more sense than me. That was my ticket to go and have a weekend off. A wonderful weekend off. Glastonbury really is the best of the bunch, even in the relentless rain. If Tom was there, I would have been zipped in a tent when Bobby Gillespie slinked around beneath the lasers in his silver shirt, or when everyone was sloshing around Shangrila, or during various other very good moments that happened after dark.

Every time I saw a sopping wet screaming toddler or a little boy losing his wellies in the mud, I felt I’d made the right choice. Then on the last day, I met a lovely little girl who’d had a brilliant Glastonbury. I couldn’t bear to go and see Rastamouse and Da Easy Crew without Tom, so I asked her for her verdict.

“They were really, really good,” she said, very seriously.

She’d almost lost a wobbly tooth in the mud, but the tooth fairy didn’t know where to find her tent at Glastonbury, so we concluded that she would probably come and pay her a visit once she was home.

“Talking to you makes me wish I had brought my little boy with me,” I said.

“You’re joking aren’t you?” said her mother through gritted teeth, “I wish I’d come with friends.”

I wandered over to the kids’ field after that and bought Tom a book from the book stall.

By Monday morning, I couldn’t wait to see him. I got stuck in traffic on the way back, so it was nearly Tom’s bedtime by the time I arrived home. I dumped my rucksack in the hallway and ran round to Anna’s in my wellies, clutching the book. Tom came to the door and I braced myself for the biggest hug.

“Oh Mum,” he said, rolling his eyes, “I’m just in the middle of decorating some cakes.”

And that was my welcome home.

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