Thursday, 22 January 2009

Friends for Tea

When your first child starts school it’s as much of a change for you as it is for them. Days are dictated by a fixed schedule and you have new challenges to face. One of these is Friends for Tea.

My son has just started asking to have friends over for tea after school. I’ve discovered that there is quite a network of children going to each other’s houses, something we’ve not been part of. This has started to make me panic about my child being left out. Why has he not been asked when he seems to be popular at school? Do the parents find me too unapproachable? Do the children not really like him at all?

Fortunately, my son doesn’t have any of these anxieties, he just wants to have some friends over for tea. But for his mother this involves a whole new area of emotional turmoil. Firstly, with three young children, “after school” is a time of utter chaos. Everyone is tired and grouchy and I barely manage to prepare tea while they sit in a trance in front of the TV, fight or whine while baby cries for attention. I feel quite anxious about exposing a relative stranger to us at our weakest time of day. What will they go home and report to their parents? I will have to be organised and in good spirits, which is not usual by that time!

Secondly, there are the logistics. What will I cook? What do other children have for tea? I will have to find space in the car for a fourth child. I will have to be prepared for the three year old to be distressed the whole time the friend is here because he will be the “little brother”, unwanted in the dynamics of big boys games.

And then there’s the anxiety of being completely responsible for a stranger’s child. Until now, friends have come to play with their mums. Pre school, the reality is that your children socialise with children whose mums you want to chat to. Inviting friends to play is as much for your enjoyment as theirs. Friends for Tea means extra work without the therapy of chat. As my son makes friends I will have to leave my clique and introduce myself to their mothers, and even in my thirties that makes me feel shy and vulnerable. Relationships in the school playground are as complicated for the parents as the children.

This morning in the playground I was supposed to have made lots of enthusiastic plans with the mothers of the children my son has selected. Instead I stood alone feeling reticent to start the process which will change the relaxed sloppiness of our after school hibernation for ever. Who should I invite first? Will I be upsetting other mums or unwittingly butting in on social groups already carefully formed – I discovered that three of my son’s friends are meeting for tea tonight, happily this doesn’t faze him! There is a hidden protocol to having a school child, a lifestyle change I’m still getting used to. Having spent the journey home worrying about it my husband has told me to just listen to our son and invite people as he requests because thankfully, five year old boys don’t seem to have the social anxieties their mothers have.

Friday, 16 January 2009

The enduring magic of Enid Blyton

Back to school, back to blog. The holidays flashed by without a moment to write. I was too busy playing Guess Who with my children. It was great fun; the old games are the best - as are the old books. A good example is The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton, one of my childhood favourites. I remember spending hours reading and loving those books so, before Christmas, I went on line to Amazon to buy new copies. I was horrified to discover, courtesy of the wonderfully scathing Amazon reader reviews, that versions published today have been edited by politically correct idiots. Jo, Bessie and Fannie are now Joe, Beth and Frannie. WHY? Many chapters have been completely removed. Its original innocence has been modified: it’s not considered appropriate for the girls to help Mother with the ironing while Jo digs the garden with Father.

As one Amazon reviewer puts it, it’s pathetic. Enid Blyton is a piece of social history, why do we have to insult our children by hiding the true style of these books from them? Even my five year old can understand they were written years ago when words and lifestyles were different. Rather than being problematic for modern children, I think the characters serve as good role models – Jo, Bessie and Fannie are helpful, respectful, able to entertain themselves and wonderfully grateful – Jo makes terribly appreciative noises when his mother promises them jacket potatoes with butter for supper!

It's very sad that publishers feel they have to tamper with these books. Many modern readers may hanker after this seemingly golden era when children had freedom – Mother doesn’t flinch when three children under 10 creep in at midnight after wandering around in a wood. And in contrast, why should we be ashamed of the “bad” characters who do things no longer socially acceptable? My son can cope with stories about Dame Slap, a rogue teacher who slaps naughty pupils and locks them in cupboards. She’s a character, in a book, why does she have to be edited as if to assuage some shame about the way things were done in the past?

I am loving watching my children enjoying these books. They are completely absorbed and, like I was, wrapped up in the stories, transported, so that they talk about the characters, wonder what might happen, discuss scenarios or what should have been done, pretend to be Saucepan Man and play at visiting different lands.

My copies have pages falling out where I’ve read them so much. In respect to Enid Blyton and her imagination, and in protest of the absurd abuse of these precious books, I will be buying my children second hand copies of original versions on Ebay.