"What are we doing today, little one?" I asked Jamie as he fitted the last of the shapes into his shape sorter. "Can you remember?"
Jamie screwed up his face in concentration. "Mummy… is… um… showing…" he hesitated. "Little baby!" he finished with satisfaction as it came to him.
"That’s right!" (Well… close enough, anyway.) "I’m going to go to the birthing centre so that the midwife can listen to the little baby in my tummy, and check it’s OK."
"Yes. And… do you remember where we’re going after that?"
More concentration. "It’s… um… um…" I got ready to step into the breach, as this level of hesitation normally translates into a "don’t know" – not a phrase Jamie has mastered, as he is unflagging in his optimism that if he can just hang on long enough the word he seeks will magically come to him. Thus, we get quite a few sentences that stall half-way through, never to be resumed (as well as some others that are continued in unarguably non-specific ways: "It’s a somesing!" "I sink it’s a sing that is like… um…") But on this occasion, waiting paid off; Jamie’s face lit up. "Nursery!" he announced.
Yes, indeed. Jamie has now reached the exalted age of almost-three, and that means he’s eligible for a place at our local nursery school. I’d booked him in for one session a week, and that was the morning of his first one. For the previous week, I had been taking every opportunity to work in comments on the many toys and books that would be available to him there, as well as clarifying such issues as the fact that Daddy and Mummy would leave him there with the teachers but return to pick him up in the fullness of time, and the requirement for sitting on the floor with the other children when it came time for the teacher to read a story (something I suspected would be more likely to present a difficulty than any separation anxiety).
I had, a little sadly, resigned myself to missing the experience of dropping him off and collecting him on his first day; as much as I liked the idea of being there for it, taking a half-day off purely for that reason seemed excessive. Fortunately, it turned out that by
sheer luck superbly impeccable forward planning I had conceived my second child at precisely the right time for one of my infrequent routine antenatal appointments to fall due that same week; I asked for one on that morning, and got it. There were, of course, limits to how far I could stretch that in terms of time off work, but I could quite feasibly fit in the drop-off before having to head back to work and thus be there for half the experience, at least.
So, I got him into his lovely new nursery T-shirt and filled his special nursery cup (with a button you can pop to make the lid spring up, and ‘Jamie’ in fat yellow letters on the side against a background of colourful squiggles and stars) with diluted apple juice, and we headed off to our first stop of the day. I’d planned to use our visit to the birthing centre as an opportunity to talk to Jamie about the fact that this was where Mummy would be staying overnight after the baby was born, but I’m not sure how much of this he took in – he was far more interested in the Wordsearch book he’d found in the pile of magazines. Letters! And a number at the top of each puzzle! And a number on the front of the book to say it was Book 2!
"Book Three!" he sang out. (He’s a huge fan of the whole concept of counting. Give him a number, any number, and he’ll start counting either forwards or backwards from there. Or, alternatively, tell you which Mr Men book corresponds to that number.)
"Well, no. This is Book Two."
"Book One! Book Zero!"
The appointment itself, when I was called through, was the standard-issue blood-pressure-urine-dip-check-heartbeat routine, with a minor counterpoint of Jamieness in the background.
"So… how many weeks are you now?"
"Twenty-eight, I think."
"Number 28 Mr C’yumsy!"
"So, how are you feeling?"
"Absolutely fine, thanks."
"Mummy got a S’yinky!"
(Mummy would, while we’re on the subject, totally and unequivocally recommend the Slinky as a keep-children-quiet-in-boring-situations toy. Preferably one of the plastic ones, as I suspect the metal ones would not be great for teeth if chewed. I bought this one for £1.25 in a souvenir shop while staying with the in-laws over the Bank Holiday on the basis that it might keep Jamie occupied for at least a smidgen of the long car journey home, and it succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, keeping him fascinated for all the time not accounted for by "Baked potatoes!" I’d recommend keeping the box it came in, as well – putting it back in the box and taking it out again turns out to be a minor but important part of the distraction. I had passed it to Jamie to distract him from any thoughts of wrecking the joint during my appointment, and it was once again working well.)
"Have you brought a urine sample?"
"Yes, I’ve got it here."
"Nursery! Nursery! Nursery! Nursery!" (Hmmm. You think he might have been looking forward to the nursery session somewhat?)
Despite his obvious impatience to move on to the good part of the day, he was actually very well-behaved during the appointment. He busied himself commenting on life in general as above, swinging the Slinky, and bouncing round the room, and responded quite well to being pulled away from exploring the bins or jumping on the scale. He was very interested indeed in the process of blood pressure checking and blood-taking (I’d forgotten that I was due for a blood count check at that session), leaning against me and demanding "What’s dat!" (and joggling my arm somewhat, which did not make it easier for the midwife taking the blood).
The midwife and I both agreed that everything appeared to be going fine, and I packed the S’yinky back into the box, and was informed indignantly that Jamie wanta do (by the way, did you know that it matters which way up a Slinky is put back in its box? No, neither did I, but apparently it does – "Wrong way up!" Jamie informed me, extracting the Slinky and righting matters), and we got everything together and made it to nursery to discover that in spite of reading the bumf half a dozen times I had somehow managed to completely misread 9.00 a.m. as 9.30 a.m. and thus bring him in half an hour late. Fortunately, Jamie is young enough to be completely oblivious to such maternal howlers. I have two years to get my act together before he starts big school.
Jamie headed straight in to check out all the toys, pleased that we’d finally gotten to the point of the day, while Barry and I had a quick chat with Zoe, Jamie’s key worker. I explained his predilection for reciting large chunks of Mr Men books while engaged in doing other things (I thought it might be useful to her to know the likely source on those occasions when he’s muttering something to himself that appears to bear no relation whatsoever to what’s actually going on). She gave us a two-page form to fill in on the subject of Jamie’s likes, anxieties, family situation, and other pertinent information, and an invitation to a "Learning to Learn" evening in two weeks’ time where we apparently get to find out a bit more about how the nursery are doing things (or rather, I do, having called dibs on attending the evening while Barry gets lumbered with the babysitting again – hey, he gets to do all the dropping off/picking up and get any associated regular low-down from Jamie’s teachers, so I figure it’s only fair if I get some of the nursery-related fun). Another staff member managed to distract Jamie from playing for just long enough to identify the sticker with his name on to stick on a drawer for his stuff, and Barry got him to pick out another sticker with his name on to stick on the flower on the wall to show his belated presence here – a system they have at this nursery to let the children register themselves, with help from a parent, as they come in. Jamie had by now found the paper and felt-tips, the toy oven, and a little toy cup that he could practice drinking out of, and was going great guns.
On the off-chance of him actually stopping playing long enough to notice at any point that we were gone or to mind about it, I crouched down beside him to let him know that the scheduled parental departure was now about to happen and that, as previously stated, Daddy would be back at lunchtime to pick him up. It is possible that he may have devoted a nanosecond’s worth of time to taking in information about such irrelevant-to-the-playing-situation parental vagaries, although he gave no outward sign of it. And then Barry and I headed off, looking proudly back at our wonderful big little boy so happily and confidently exploring this new stage in his life.
As you can imagine, I was longing to hear every detail of Jamie’s nursery experience. Unfortunately, I knew this wasn’t likely to be an option; Jamie doesn’t really do narrative. I did try (and I realise that when I type all this out it does sound a bit shine-a-bright-light-in-your-face, but I promise I was gentle and tactful about it):
"What did you do at nursery today, little one?"
"What toys did you play with at nursery?"
"Did you have a story?"
"Did you get to play on the slide?"
"Did you show Mummy your painting, little one?" Barry asked, coming in at this point.
He hadn’t, of course. The painting, which was propped up on his storage unit at the side of the room, was an impressive study in blues, pinks, and purples (My Son’s First Painting! Hooray!). I inquired eagerly as to whether the staff had made any comment about Jamie’s day when Barry picked him up, but it appears not – just the painting in his folder. So I resigned myself to never getting to know anything more about the subject. But, rather to my surprise, when I talked to Jamie again about it that night as I put him to bed he was rather more forthcoming.
"So, today you went to… nursery! What did you do there?"
"Washed your hands and had a snack." (He still hasn’t got the hang of pronouns – he uses ‘you’ to mean ‘me’ and vice versa.)
"What did you have for your snack?"
Concentration. "Sticks an’… apple an’ ‘nana." Which did indeed correspond reasonably well to what I remembered of the menu from the day I took Jamie along to check the place out (‘sticks’ being breadsticks).
"And what else did you do?"
"Painting. And Play-doh."
"Really?! What did you do with the Play-doh?"
"Made a s’eep. An’ a pig."
I was elated. This has got to be more information than Jamie’s ever given us about any previous experiences. The Big Snowball didn’t get this level of detailed recounting.
On top of that, we have one further detail from an unexpected source. Apparently, when Jamie got in from nursery, he declared that Tinky Winky and Po wanted to look at the picture, and arranged them in front of it accordingly. Then he squatted down and thrust his face between theirs for a few seconds, looking at it himself. When he straightened up, he declared to Barry "Tinky Winky says maybe you painted dat with your hands."
Barry also thinks maybe he painted dat with his hands, based on the state of his hands when Barry picked him up; but it’s good to have it confirmed by such an august source. Maybe I’ll hear a bit more about Jamie’s adventures when I go to this Parents’ Evening in two weeks. In the meantime, I look forward to any further dispatches that Jamie or Tinky Winky might choose to share with us.