My eldest child is now 6 years old. In fact, she will be 7 before I know it, but I remember seeing those two lines on that pregnancy test like it was yesterday. Despite those two lines being planned and very wanted, I was terrified. That said, I had it all figured out within days.
My child was going to be breastfed, cloth bummed, wouldn’t have a dummy, wouldn’t watch TV or eat sweets. In turn I was going to be the epitome of calm and earth-mothery awesomeness.
Over these last 6 years many of my (admittedly unrealistic) ideals have gone out the window (along with a large number of parenting books). Breastfeeding didn’t work for us, dummy’s helped with her self-soothing and our sleep deprivation, Disney Junior became a fantastic babysitter and I soon found myself eating Malteasers in the toilet because my 12 month old was a mini-chocoholic.
Equally, despite my intentions to remain calm, all my children are now fluent in road rage and my just-turned two-year old is able to shake his fist and “grrrr” angrily at anyone that annoys him. I feel I am raising tiny people that are going to be perfectly equipped to handle the real world.
One of the few things that has never changed is the fact that I wanted my children to have a confident childhood, so they could be confident adults. My husband and I listen to what they have to say (no matter how inane their conversations occasionally are) and we praise every single little one of their achievements. Repeatedly. At random and often inappropriate moments. Incidentally, why is it a child will present you with a drawing whilst you are on the toilet? I still haven’t figured that one out.
In a bid to expand their experience repertoire my two girls started going to a local performing arts school (Helen’s Angels Performing Arts Academy to be precise). Georgia (tiny human #1) has always been a bit of a diva, and we thought having some professional (but fun) guidance would channel her enthusiasm and give her a bit of focus. Charlotte (tiny human #2), unlike her slightly older sister, is quieter, shyer, softly-spoken but bursting with imagination and creativity. We wanted someone to take our little reserved caterpillar and turn her into a glittering butterfly.
We wanted to find a way to channel their natural inclinations, temper down the potentially unruly or limiting aspects of their character and ultimately give them confidence to be who they wanted to be.
14 months on and it’s doing the trick.
Today Helen launched her Saturday classes and I was allowed to bring the girls along for a bit of a giggle. I was also invited to sit in on the session to get an idea of some of the things they do in classes, when they aren’t working towards a specific performance or show. To be honest, it was fascinating!
They started off with a bit of a warm up – singing “Father Abraham” (who incidentally Georgia is still convinced is actually Farmer Abraham, so we’re just going with that for the time being). This encouraged them to jump around like lunatics (whilst following the teacher of course), physically warm up and of course let go of some of those inhibitions.
While it’s easy to dismiss such things as just part of a warm up I have to admit I found it really interesting to see the kids laughing at, and along with, the teacher. It struck me that so often kids see adults being, well adults. Doing adulty things in adulty (aka boring) ways, and taking life far too seriously. There is no harm at all in a 30-something year old prancing around, waving their arms about and giggling. Truth be told, that’s pretty much how I dance so no judgment please.
Next followed a vocal warm-up consisting of pulling funny faces to stretch those muscles, and pretending to be a buzzing fly zzzzzzz’ing up and down around the room. The kids absolutely loved it, and it served a sensible purpose in a completely fun way.
All suitably warmed up it was time for a game of stage directions. A quick reminder of where stage left, stage right and up stage etcetera were and the kids were off, running around the room trying not to bash in to each other. Incidentally, did you know that up stage is actually at the back of the stage because stages used to slope down from back to front? Something to do with creating perspective and more space … Fascinating stuff really.
But I digress. The children were then split into groups where they were given various tasks. Using their bodies to make shapes or numbers, or ordering themselves according to height, month of birth or alphabetically. Were it not for the One Direction songs on in the background you’d swear you were at a corporate team building event, and for good reason. These kids (some of them no more than 4) were learning about the importance of team work, communication and problem solving.
They quickly realised that when they didn’t talk to each other or help the little ones out who maybe didn’t know their months of the year quite as well as the older ones, that it all fell to pieces. One person gets left behind, the whole thing collapses and the team doesn’t achieve its aim. Frankly, that’s a vital life lesson there and one they might not experience for some time in a school setting.
Now the kids were all used to each other, and had burnt off quite a lot of energy it was time to do some miming. They were encouraged to pick a situation, from walking the dog, to getting up for school and then act it out, for the rest of the class to guess. It was great to see the kids take ideas on board, think out of the box, and really go for it. Children are naturally imaginative, and often they don’t get the opportunity to really explore that side of things – what with spelling tests, and times tables to learn, books to read and talk books to write in.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. We’ve all got places to be and I’ve got dinner to cook. My point really is that 14 months down the line I have never had the slightest idea what my kids get up to for 90 minutes every Thursday. I know that twice a year they put on a showcase that they sing and dance through in the most adorable costumes. I know they love it, I know they have new friends and I know they adore their teachers.
But now that I have spent 90 minutes there myself, watching what goes on during the foundation building stage of a performing arts class I am glad that I stuck to one of my pre-parenting ideals. I am glad that the girls are doing this, and loving it, and I cannot wait for next year when tiny human #3 is old enough to join in for himself.