Sometimes when Mini and I are snuggled up watching day time TV, she says, “pretend to be Aunty Becky,” (Aunty Becky is her favourite teacher at pre-school) and what she is really saying is, be nicer, be more fun.
“Do you mind?” asks husband.
“No it’s ok,” I say. For I also love Aunty Becky and if I was half as gutsy as Mini, I would tell everyone to pretend to be Aunty Becky too.
I don’t tell husband that yesterday after Arnie punched Mini – justifiably for they were playing Mini-Punch and a yellow one had just gone by – I caught her up in a cuddle and she had mumbled into my hair: “I want my play school.”
I also don’t mention that when we made him those bat-man pictures for Halloween, she originally had insisted that hers were for Aunty Becky and I had to do a lot of work, involving smarties and milk shake, to persuade her otherwise.
To have the perfect pre-school is an honour and a privelege. It’s only now seeing how happy Mini is to go off to pre-school that I can see how lacklustre Ray and Arnie were about their own childcare settings. I see how this pre-school works so hard to fit each of its children. As another child joins, it bends and changes to incorporate them: toys are presented differently, there are new games, new dressing up clothes, new snacks. The character, personality and needs of every single child is responded to and taken seriously.
“Hows your dad?” Aunty Karen asks in the mornings. They know that Grandad has made Mini room-less. They know that although I am usually unfailingly punctual on the children’s behalf, I will be approximately seven minutes late every day now because I can’t get my head around Dad being there.
“Bit better,” I say. “He won’t go back to his flat but we’re starting to look for somewhere else now.”
“Found anywhere for your Dad yet?” Aunty Karen asks the next morning. They really, really listen.
My only complaint about pre-school is that after each session, Mini is laden with loads of papers or old cereal boxes with just a daub of paint.
“What are these then?” I ask.
“Don’t put them in the red bin!” she yells at me and I make my face says, as if I would.
Mini has been taken on a bus trip, on a train trip and one day a week the pre-school all go off to the woods. Husband and I don’t get the point at first. “Bet its full of nasty dogs,” he says. He is especially underwhelmed with the feather headdress she brings home the first week. I hear him muttering “bird disease, pestilence” as he disinfects his hands.
It isn’t until I went along to the woods a few times that I understood what it was about. I watch as the children chose their forest name. It took Mini a while to get what they were doing, but now she is proud ‘Mini bird butterfly truck, fast’ which seems like a window into her mind.
The children go through the rules which they make themselves:
Don’t stand in dog poo. Don’t pick up the dog poo. Don’t eat the dog poo.
Don’t give food to the squirrels. They don’t say thank you
Stay within the boundaries. (This might have been Aunty Becky’s rule, actually.)
Don’t go near the abandoned trolley. (Ditto)
Climb trees. Balance on the logs carefully.
And pre-school don’t call off the trips when the weather is bad. I sit by my phone, looking at the sky, “surely, not today, surely not…” but the cancellation never comes. “It’s good for them,” Aunty Karen says wisely. Aunty Karen even packs a spade for when the children ‘need to dig a hole’.
For me, every tree looks the same: I think tree blindness has been an unrecognised condition for too long and its about time they featured it on the medical section on ‘This Morning”. A suburban child of the 1970’s, I am so far out of my comfort zone in the woods I might as well be in the Himalayas. (I have always been impressed by middle class people who can name more than a duck when besides a pond.) I really can’t do the leaves thing: I don’t know the difference between a fir and a holly, a beech for me is always a beach, and an oak is a dining table. But Mini knows. Three year old Mini stalks around the woods like the park ranger. The world is her conker, she is at home in the forest. I love that she is showing me new things. We are two-way traffic!
This week, I go early to meet them, but I can’t find them of course, I can’t. I roam too far from the path and can’t get back again. I sit down on some kind of tree and one of those squirrels, that doesn’t say thank you, zips into the bushes. A kind dog walker passes and asks if I’m alright. A bit later, another dog walker says, “you look lost.” I decide that lady dog owners really are the best people in the world, (next to lovely pre-school aunties that is).
“I am a little lost,” I tell her, “but it’s ok.”