Every morning, the boys and girls in your class write their names on the lunch lists. There are dozens of names, with mismatched letters, curling around the edges of the paper. The letters are uneven. Some are huge, some small. ‘D’s and ‘B’s are back to front. Lower case and capitals dance on the page, hand in hand – but they are all there, the names. They loop and crawl underneath the food chosen – fish and chips or vegetable bake or soup and baguette.
I try not to pay too much attention, while I wait to put your name by your choice. Sometimes I catch a child as they write their own name. I watch the concentration on their faces, the way they grip their pencil and and press down hard. It is a serious business, writing your name. It is a little piece of magic.
Sometimes, I write out the letter ‘E’ in dots and you will trace over the shape, making the start of your name. But often that task will change you. The happy boy who went straight to an activity with bright eyes is replaced by someone subdued, brow furrowed. You twitch and shout when I replace the pencil in your hand, making you grasp it like a tripod, instead of using your fist. You press too lightly and scream when the mark you make is too faint. Sometimes, tracing over the letter E is too much. It is not worth risking a day of happiness, a day of learning. And so we pick our battles and go oh so slowly.
I clear my mind and suck in my unease as I watch the other children write their names. I supress that stab of doubt, that flutter of worry. We will pick our battles. We will go oh so slowly.
Once a month, the boys and girls in your class have toast for a breaktime snack. It is the highlight of the Reception calendar. Twenty pence for a hot, buttery slice of deliciousness. You are excited when you know that today is a toast day.
“Mummy! It is toast stop! We must remember the money! We must remember to put my name on the list!”
I promise you that we will and we walk to school in the drizzle, huddling together under my umbrella.
As we arrive, there are the lunch lists, just the same. There is the list for those who want toast, childish script already looping all over the white space. Toast is popular. I search for a space to set out the shape of an ‘E’, dots for you to follow, but you have already picked up the pencil. I remind you to hold it between your three fingers and you take a little while to change your grip. It does not come easily. Just like learning to take off your socks, you struggle to know how to move things in the right way, to make them do what your mind sees so clearly.
And then you begin to write your name. I do not speak. I barely breath. I watch as you form each letter, one after the other. As you approach the last one, finally, I shake myself.
“Ohhhh just one more left, sweetheart! What is the last letter? Your whole name! That is amazing.”
You grin and grimace and flap with delight.
“D! D! I just have to write the letter D and I have written my whole name!”
You finish off your work, delighted with yourself, delighted to be having toast. You have signed your name, gorgeous boy. You have signed your name to signify your desire, to testify your will. You have signed your name and I did not know that you could.
A little piece of magic.
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