Thursday 21 March 2013

'You will never be as good as me'

Betty playing
This morning I was in the shower, happily contemplating what I was going to have for breakfast, when Betty came bounding in and said: 'Come on Mummy, hurry up, I've GOT to give you your piano lesson before school.'

'But what about breakfast?' I pleaded.  'No time,' she replied with total seriousness.

Last night Betty was appalled to learn that unlike her very talented Dad, I didn't know a single note on the piano, and apart from Chopsticks (which I distinctly remember Betty being pretty impressed with when she was two, although she will not admit to it now) I am clueless.

So she sat me down after dinner, and told me that she was going to teach me.  'Can't you just play to me while I like stuff on Instagram?' I asked.  She looked appalled.

She then whipped out a piano lesson book and told me that because of my lack of knowledge, we would have to start right from the beginning.  'I finished this book AGES ago,' she informed me.

In her teacher voice, she explained a bit of the theory, and bamboozled me with talk of minims, fermatas and mordents. I nodded in agreement at it all, but didn't have a clue what she was talking about.  I felt pretty unnerved when she told me that she would test my theory in a couple of weeks time.

Then we got started with the actual playing.  Betty told me to sit with my back straight and find Middle C.  'Middle what?'

After a slightly shaky start, and a lot of encouragement from my very determined six-year-old, we soon got going.  And within half an hour she had me proudly belting out tunes with my right hand, using C, D, E, F, and G.   I can now play Jelly On A Plate, and Mary Had A Little lamb.

She told me that even though I got stuck on some of the notes, I had been 'fantastic' and 'brilliant' in my first lesson and that soon I might be good enough to hold a little concert for Daddy and Dolly.   But she also told me that no amount of lessons or practice would ever make me as good as her.  And I don't doubt her for a second.

Friday 15 March 2013

Viva Spanish singing!

Last summer was a complete wash-out, but it didn't stop us from doing a heck of a lot of camping in Wales, in our newly acquired bell tent.

Looking back, I think we must have been completely mad.  But I clearly remember a conversation Tom and I had right at the end of the summer holidays.  It was 3 o'clock in the morning, the wind was beating our tent like a sail, the rain thrashed down and we had soggy duvets.  We decided that the next year we would definitely go further afield and find some sun.  

With Betty learning Spanish at school, and loving it, she was adamant that we must go to Spain.  And who were we to argue?  So this year we are taking our beloved bell tent and getting the overnight ferry to Santander.  This will be Dolly's first time abroad (if you don't count Wales) and Betty's second time.  There will be much excitement when our ship sets sail.

In addition to Betty learning Spanish at school, we are also lucky enough to have a friend, Caroline Nelson, who is a completely inspirational teacher specialising in teaching children Spanish between the ages of 3 and 8 - perfect for Dolly and Betty.

She has given us two books with CDs that she has written and produced - Viva, Sing Spanish!  And my girls absolutely LOVE them.  Most mornings we have Caroline and her beautiful singing voice blasting out of the stereo and my girls wholeheartedly singing along.

They have so far learnt greetings, common questions, counting, colours, animals, days of the week, months and the weather. I have found it quite astounding how much they have both picked up.  And I, someone who can't speak a word of any language (apart from counting to five in Welsh), have also become rather good.

Caroline says: 'Singing in a foreign language is a fantastic way of learning single words and whole phrases in context. The combination of custom written songs and catchy tunes means that your child will learn quickly and easily.'  And I can certainly vouch for that. Please do check out Caroline's website - she comes with a huge recommendation from us.

I am really excited about trying out my newly acquired Spanish skills in Spain this summer.  It will be so nice to actually have some basic conversation, rather than doing my usual ignorant Brit act and getting annoyed when foreigners don't speak English...

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Were you in intensive care with your baby?

My friend (who is a writer and poet) had a deeply emotional experience in an intensive care unit with her grandson Josh, and is asking other parents and grandparents to share their own experiences. She intends to publish a book so any ideas for contributions are very welcome.

Here's her story:

In September last year my son and his wife had twin boys who were born prematurely.  Both were doing fine for the first week. Then, quite suddenly, Josh - the first born - choked on his milk and arrested.  He was revived and taken into intensive care.  We took turns sitting with him – he seemed to be hanging on to life by a thread.  No fight in him.

The nurses said, “talk to him”. They said the same to the other parents and grandparents who were sitting by their incubators – but none of us knew what to say. We were all demented with worry – and the dimly lit, high-tech IC environment with its incessant ‘beeps’ and alarms, seemed to render us speechless.  When our own words dried up, we tried reading children’s books to Josh - but they seemed inappropriate. 

We practically lived in this “no-comfort” zone for several spirit-sapping weeks until, at last, Josh was well enough to be taken home.

When we’d all recovered a bit my daughter suggested that we - me and my three daughters - produce a book of stories and poems to provide comfort to parents and grandparents who have to spend time on IC wards. That’s what we are doing - and we intend to publish.  

If you have spent time with a baby in intensive care, please send us your story. Tell us what kept you sane; how you kept hope alive; what you said or read to your babies or wished you had read or said to your babies; how you managed to celebrate a life that might, slip away at any moment. 

We really want to hear from you.

Please send to - Shirley Garner :

Friday 1 March 2013

Betty's first ever sleepover

Items needed for a sleepover
Betty has been talking about going on a sleepover for as long as I can remember, and I have always nervously laughed it off, telling her that she had to wait until she was six (an age that seemed so old, when she was two).

She was six in November, and so a few weeks ago she went on her first ever sleepover. There was quite a lot of preparation involved, and Tom reckons he overheard Betty and her friend conferring about a giant midnight lollipop.

On the morning of the sleepover, Betty and I packed her little overnight bag together. I (uncharacteristically) ironed her best pyjamas, gave her flannel a good wash, and supplied her with a new toothbrush. I gave her a pep talk about manners, and reminded her to wipe her bottom properly (at which she was appalled), wash her hands with soap, and put her pyjamas on the right way round.

Betty asked if she could take some sweets for a midnight feast, and I had to give this considerable thought. Would her friend’s mum think me a bad mother, knowingly allowing my child to eat sweets in bed? Or would she think that I was fun and cool and exciting? I decided to let Betty take the sweets.

We were all set. And then Betty suddenly got a little teary and said: “I am just not sure how many kisses I should give you when we say goodbye, because I won’t be able to kiss you at bedtime.”

I welled up and swallowed hard, telling Betty that I had suddenly got something stuck in my eye and my throat. I then told her that if she wanted to come home at any point she could just ring me and I would come straight over.

Betty quickly perked up when she saw her friend, and cheerily waved me goodbye, almost forgetting to give me a kiss at all.

The house felt very strange and quiet that night. I phoned Betty at bedtime, but she was too busy watching a film to speak to me.

However, although she had a wonderful time, I learned that she had had a bit of a cry before she went to sleep. It broke my heart to think of her feeling sad and me not being there, but I was also reassured to think that she might actually have missed us.