Growing Up, Reaching Out
Tuesday 1st May
I helped out at school this morning as I often do on Tuesdays. Now I don’t have little L at home to stick and make with and do jigsaws and get messy with paint, I have been reduced to ‘volunteering’ to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in with her and her little friends in Reception. Our village school is an Infants School and currently has 25 pupils in it. It is a lovely place in which to pass the time. I pottered about filling paint pots and setting out number games. Today we were reinforcing their numeracy skills – counting in tens and units, more than, less than and all that jazz. I just love watching them all cross-legged and attentive on the mat, mainly drinking up the information but from time to time fiddling with shoes, taking their eyes off the teacher at their peril and being hastily and firmly drawn back to the matter in hand. I have flashbacks to myself at that age – just starting out on the long educational road, strewn with potholes and rusty nails on which it is all too easy to come a cropper. I remember the smell of the ‘copier’ – the heady fumes of methylated spirits reeking from the purple prints. I used to put my little nose in it and sniff deeply. What would Health and Safety have to say about that then?! I remember going up to the teacher’s big wooden desk at the front of the class and reading Janet and John. I almost remember that special moment when suddenly the words on the page become meaningful, readable. All the confusion collapses. Suddenly you can read! L reached that milestone in January and she now utters the words of her simple books with great fluency and expression. She has been given some of the most important tools of her life. I watch her mouth the phonetics when she hits an unfamiliar set of letters, then out comes the result. Part of me is nostalgic for the days when she couldn’t read, when she would lay a book on her lap like her sisters, something way beyond her years, and ‘pretend’ to read. It would always make me smile. Now a whole new world of independence has been opened up to her and there’s no stopping her. The moment she is settled in her car seat she demands her school bag so she can do her reading. The journey home is but two minutes, but she will not be dissuaded. She’s a stubborn little miss and her world grows bigger every day.
About 11 o’clock I was back at the house, catching up on the domestics – clearing away breakfast, emptying the dishwasher, putting a load in the washing machine, bringing in the sheets from the line. One of my great pleasures in life is hanging out the washing on a sunny day. Somehow it’s the combination of being engrossed in a job, out in the fresh air together with the sheer simplicity of sun and wind drying my laundry. No machines. No noise. No electricity. Just the movement of the air and the warmth of that omnipresent golden fireball. Not to mention that indescribable smell that only air-dried laundry has - sweet, full of negative ions, that’s the best I can say. I ironed while watching the lunchtime news. It was then I noticed the acidic brown stains of bird poo spattered about my lovely white sheets. I ironed over them. Country living and all that. No pretences here! Does Cath Kidston do a bird shit pattern? If she doesn’t, she should. Very authentic. Could be the next big thing.
Deciding I hadn’t spent enough time outside on this glorious day, I walked down the lane to school. If I’d taken the car I’d have been on time. As it was I was late. Again. I passed Henri on the way chatting to another neighbour, her dog cooling its heels behind her and looking bored, and gave her a rushed hello.
‘Not got the car then?’
‘No, it’s too beautiful a day’
‘The air will do you good’.
‘Yes, and the children too’
They were sitting inside the classroom, waiting patiently as they have become accustomed. I sent them out to play and had a quick meeting with the teacher about arrangements for Year 2s doing an impromptu ‘farewell and bon voyage’ to our esteemed Head. She is off to Rwanda at the beginning of June to train teachers and will miss the Leavers’ Assembly at the end of term. It has fallen, somehow, to me to be the co-ordinator of this and the joint present - as has the task of co-ordinating the fundraising barbecue later in the term. My halo is shining so brightly at the moment that you can see it from Mars.
Meeting over, I scooped up the children and led them back up the hill. L strided out in her green gingham dress, swinging her school bag and telling me how we would always walk to school when it’s sunny and only take the car when it rains. She’s always been the big outdoors girl. She was only six months old when we first saw the house but I will never forget how her eyes brightened and her little pudgy arms started twirling in their sockets the moment we stepped out into the garden to have a walk round. She even managed to sprint up the last little bit of the hill to touch the ‘winning post’ – our house name on the wall at the entrance to the drive. In bucolic mood, we dropped the school bags inside, the girls changed and we came back out to look at the new lambs in the field. Just four bouncy little bundles ragging around with their mothers who, it has to be said, seemed more interested in chewing grass than gambolling. I knew how they felt. I was gasping for a cuppa and a lie down on the sofa. Which is exactly what I went and did. I ignored the huge puff of dust that plumed out as my feet hit the cushions and instead let my gaze rest on the still dazzling light outside illuminating the hundreds of busy insects buzzing about in the atmosphere in this fecund month of May. I think then I might just have dozed off – only for a minute or two, of course…