“We had the best English lesson ever,” said DS1, as he greeted me when I picked him up from school.
“Oh, yes, what did you do?”
“We watched The Crown.”

Oh, that was surprising. I was under the impression that this Netflix production was a tad too risqué for the likes of an eight-year-old.

They’d watched episode 2, which was about the accession of Queen Elizabeth II.

“There was a sad bit,” he told me.
“Oh, yes, what was that?” I asked.
“I can’t remember.”

Still, it demonstrated that he was starting to recognise emotions, so some of the training in social skills was paying off.

Assuming that The Crown must be child friendly, I suggested we watched it when we got home (and once homework was done – well, you never know).

We sat down, spellings done (get in), and tuned into episode 1. Well, that was an error. Within 10 minutes the C bomb had been dropped. Luckily, he didn’t seem to notice as, realising where a limerick was heading, I managed to distract him.

How to tell him he can’t watch something he’s been allowed to watch at school?

Still, it’s a good watch and, for someone interested in history, as my boy is, it is very educational.

“He’s not very well,” I said as George VI coughed his guts up.
“Well of course he’s not very well, he’s got lung cancer,” DS1 said, with a somewhat derogatory tone.

Later, as I explained that the king had just undergone a lung removal operation, DS1 disputed the fact that this was possible.
“I know more about science than you idiots do,” he stated.

As we settled into what I thought was safer ground with episode 2, and having managed to distract him again when the Duke of Edinburgh’s arse cheeks appeared on screen, on further interrogation it transpired that his class had been shown an edited version – with just the key scenes relating to George VI’s passing and Elizabeth hearing the news that she was now Queen.

A quick Google check by the wife revealed that the rest of the series was OK for younger viewers, but series 2 was definitely not. Fortunately, he hasn’t seemed bothered about watching any more episodes – and I haven’t suggested it.

[Stop press: we have watched a couple more episodes since I wrote this – so far, so good, apart from an F word – but now, fortunately, the World Cup has taken over.]

Extra, extra, read all about it

The following day, DS1 didn’t come out of school so brightly. In fact, he was stomping, head down, seething, clutching a piece of A4 paper.

I’d been pre-warned by his teacher who had caught me before he appeared.

“He’s got a letter telling you that he will be having extra swimming lessons on Mondays,” she said. “Just thought I’d tell you in case you don’t get the letter.”

I extracted the letter from his grasp, thinking it was a miracle that it hadn’t been screwed into a ball and tossed into the wind already.

“Don’t read it,” he pleaded.

I did. The gist of it was that kids need to be able to swim 25m before they finish primary school; he can’t, so they were giving him extra lessons so he could. You may recall that he disengaged from swimming lessons at our local pool when he started barking like a dog and wouldn’t participate in the session, and subsequently refused to even go swimming with me.

I tried to placate him that this was a good thing, that he wasn’t the only one having extra lessons and that being in a smaller group would be beneficial.

“It’s not fair, I can swim,” he wailed.
“Well, you can’t swim a whole length can you?”
“I can.”
“Well, the teachers don’t think you can, so perhaps you need to show them that you can.”
“But, I did.”
“Well, they obviously didn’t see you then, so just swim 25m in the first extra lesson and you won’t have to go again.”
“They’re stupid. I’m not doing extra lessons.”
“It could be worse, you could have extra dentist visits.”
“No. I just wouldn’t go,” he replied. True.
He paused. “I just won’t go to extra swimming.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to.”
“It’s not fair, I’m the best at swimming,” he claimed, with a touch of delusion. “It’s only fair that I don’t have to go to extra swimming.”

As we continued our merry way home, he pointed to his friend Ivan, who was walking on the opposite side of the road.

“Na, na, ne, na, na,” he chanted.
“Why are you doing that to Ivan?” I asked.
“Because he has to do extra swimming.”
Hmmm, so do you. “See, you’re not the only one then are you?”

He then reeled off a list of names of his peers who were also having extra lessons. “But I’m not doing it,” he added.

Once home, the despair continued. He took himself off to the garden to sulk. I left him to it until stones started raining down on the back door window, as he tried to let his frustration out.

“We don’t throw stones,” I chastised him.

So he took off his shoes and threw them instead.

“Or shoes,” I added.

“I hate you and everyone in the world,” he said. “Or anything, or any word,” he threw in, for good measure

It’s not that bad, it’s worse

The next day, his consternation seemed to have subsided and there was no further mentions of the dreaded extra lessons… until we approached our front door on the way home from school.

“It’s not my fault the teachers are stupid,” he uttered out of nowhere. “Making me do extra swimming is idiotic. I’m not going to do it.”

On the Sunday night before the fateful extra swimming Monday, he struggled to settle. Anxiety about the following day had taken hold.

“I can’t sleep,” he cried.
“I only left your room 10 seconds ago,” I said.
“I can’t sleep.”
“Well, you won’t if you stay sitting on the landing will you. Go back to bed.”
“I can’t sleep.”

Fortunately, before I lost the plot, I realised what the underlying cause was.

“Are you worried about extra swimming lessons.”
“No.” He was.
“I tell you what, why don’t we create a ‘My great things box’ in which every night you can write down the best thing about your day and put the piece of paper into the box. Then when you are unhappy, you can look at all the good things you have done. On another piece of paper write down the worst thing about the day or something that is worrying you and then screw it up and throw it in another box. Then the worry is gone.”

He lapped it up. We tried this a couple of years ago and it flopped dismally, but this time it was accepted with open arms.

The best thing (Henry VIII’s crown – as seen at Hampton Court Palace that day) and the worst thing (extra swimming, obviously) were duly posted in their appropriate containers and he went back to bed looking happy.

“Does that make you feel happier?” I asked.
“A bit.”

Well, it was a start.

Ten minutes later, he reappeared. I took a deep breath.

“Dad.”
“Yes.” I braced myself.
“It’s like my brain, isn’t it?”
“What is?”
“The things I write down and put in the box.”
“Er, yes.” I said.

Happy, he went back to bed.

When I picked him up on Monday, I asked him how extra swimming was.

“It was good,” he enthused. “We just swam about.”
That’s the general idea, I thought. “See, it wasn’t as bad as you thought, was it?”
“No… it was worse.”

Small steps, or should that be small strokes.

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