On children’s writing

Mini can now write the ‘M’ for Mini. She scrawls M’s across pages and trails them around the house. She calls them dragons teeth. They look like mountain ranges. They are strong and in control like her. Me and husband make impressed faces at each other. This is great but it’s also unfortunate, because Arnie, who is 16 months older, can’t write yet. Well, his ‘A’s’ are like, Um, I dunno what they are like. They are not like A’s that’s for sure.  At 12, Ray has no problems with his writing and never did.  It’s all, “how long does it have to be?” with him.  His French teacher marks him down for poor presentation and he is outraged. “You should see his writing!”

Arnie is left-handed too. Grandad didn’t realise, and the other day, even after he had realised, he still tried to get him to use his right hand. I told him, “Dad, we don’t do it like that anymore.” But neither of Arnie’s hands works well yet. It’s odd to have a left-hander in the family. It’s like a little cuckoo in our nest. We don’t understand the genetics. I remember how he came out of me, one arm aloft, like superman. Perhaps that’s what did it after all.

When I watch him trying, I think how frustrating writing is. I too am struggling – makes no difference which hand I use – everything I write comes out wrong. What I imagine is so very different from the final result.

I am writing a children’s story for the Mumsnet Walker Bedtime stories competition. I think of all the children’s books I have dismissed over the years and think, hmm, this is much harder than it looks. The first time I started to read my story to Mini she slid off the sofa and said “Boring, I want to watch telly.” She wouldn’t come back and I thought holding her down to read it would probably go against the spirit of the thing. The problem is, it’s about a little boy called Arnie. Who wouldn’t be annoyed if the eponymous hero was your brother? Sibling rivalry will have clouded her judgement. Next time, I decide to tell her the same story but with her name instead. She sits through it, correcting the name-change when I forget, and sneaking envious glances at her toys.

I think, I hope the judges are more discerning than you, Mini, which yes, also spectacularly misses the point. Husband says kindly, it’s because there aren’t any pictures. Hmm.

Sweet Arnie listens all the way through, of course he does. He is definitely awake too: I watch his greeny, brown eyes blinking at the screen. He says, “That was nice, mummy.” The boy can’t write to save his life but he has empathy in spades.