‘I’m going to write my Christmas cards, Mummy!’
The first year a child says this, you think it’s adorable. Look at that, they can write! They want to write! How did they get so old and so grown up, that they can write their own christmas cards? It’s the cutest thing you ever heard, and watching them sit and concentrate, little tongue sticking out, pencil clutched tightly in their childish paw, is a joy beyond joys. You take pictures of them writing their cards, showing off their cards, and of the cards themselves (only the ones with the really neat writing) and post it on facebook to share the cuteness with all your long suffering friends.
Fast forward a couple of years and the phrase strikes total dread into your heart. You’d rather go to soft play – twice – than get involved in this hell. You’d rather have six children round after school AND let them bake. You’d rather play ten rounds of monopoly with your overly competitive children. You’d rather gouge out your own eyes with a spoon.
But no. You do it, because you know, she wants to do it and it’s educational and everything. And since she’s doing all this writing, you can probably skip the reading for tonight, right?
It goes like this:
Child 2 is manically enthusiastic at the prospect of writing 60 Christmas cards to the whole of her year group. She spends ages choosing the cards. She talks about it for days. She gets her many different coloured pens out.
I forbid the use of the coloured pens because then she can’t rub her mistakes out.
We have a short row about the use/ non- use of the coloured pens. I win, because she is not under any circumstances giving cards to people with misspelled names. Does she not understand these cards will be judged?
She grudgingly agrees to use a pencil. She begins with her teachers. In the first one, she writes the teacher’s name and her name beautifully. These things always start well; its to lull you into a false sense of security. I admire the card and relax enough to turn away and ask child 1 if he intends to write any Christmas cards at all this year. He looks up, vaguely, from his lego, and says no. Child 1 has no truck with Christmas cards. One year all these lovely children in his class who send him a card every single year without fail will get offended and he’ll never get one again. I tell him so. He is unbothered.
I return to child 2, feeling grateful that at least I have one child who likes to write. Perhaps she can write his too. I think of her beautiful writing in her card to her teacher, and feel proud. Maybe she’ll be an English teacher.
Child 2 has entirely defaced her card with its beautiful writing to her teacher with myriad hearts, kisses, and hugs, and an only vaguely recognisable picture of a snowman. ‘What are you DOING?’ I shriek. ‘What have you done to your beautiful card?’
‘I’ve made it more beautiful, Mummy,’ she says. In no one’s world apart from a five year old’s could this card now appear beautiful. I count to ten and remind myself that the teacher knows her. She probably does this sort of thing all the time in school. Whatever. The teacher knows she can write. She sees her writing all the time. She still has 60 cards to go.
She writes six or seven cards, rapidly, checking the spelling with me as she goes. I’m cooking the tea and only realise afterwards that she has switched to pink and purple pens, and any mistakes are now definitely permanent. I decide not to look, and try not to think of all the mothers who will be able to feel better about their own child’s spelling when they see mine. Let’s call it altruism.
She gets bored and decides to ‘experiment.’ Children’s names are now written variously in capitals, a mix of upper and lower case, different colours, and many, many different sizes. I wonder if I could somehow lose these cards on the school run. She stops writing any additional messages – ‘it takes too long.’ I suggest she stops doing it altogether and spares us all. She is outraged.
Half an hour later, I’m a limp rag, what with all the spelling, cheerleading, and stressing over the rubbish writing. I’ve given up entirely and am now letting her write, draw, and scribble whatever the hell she wants. They are her cards after all. She needs to express herself. It’s what she wants that’s important. Who cares that she’s going to look like she can barely write? She presents me with some bloody awful cards that she couldn’t be any prouder of. I’m aspiring to be one of those earth mother types who is just happy her children are happy, and couldn’t care less what other people think of their child’s handwriting. I’m zen. I’m so calm I’m practically drugged.
She has drawn ‘snowflakes’ all over the envelope of the card to the TA in her class. They are snowflakes only in the loosest possible sense of the world. I have to stop myself yelling, ‘but you’re good at art! your teacher says so! This looks like the work of a TODDLER!’
I bribe her away from the cards with some telly, shuffle them into a pile so I can’t see them, and ditch any idea of reading tonight – or in fact this side of Christmas. I may still have some way to go before cracking this whole zen earth mother thing.