Claire has a new party trick. Take any bog-standard four-letter word (and the occasional fiver) and she can spell it. If there were a Reception Spelling Bee competition she'd be a serious contender. My best friend who's a primary school teacher has come round to help polish off leftover mince pies. I brag about my daughter's progress.
"See?", my friend tilts her head with "I told you so" cockiness. "It's a blessing you didn't end up sending the twins to private school. You've saved yourself a fortune."
A year ago my friends' pleas not to educate the children privately fell on deaf ears. It was only after I'd schlepped round to every last hefty fee-paying school within a 10-mile radius that I admitted defeat. My local state primary simply ticked more of the right boxes. Its less formal, less pressurised approach has allowed Claire to flourish.
Reading is now her favourite pastime. "Ooh, these words are good, aren't they?" she chirped this morning, annunciating "going" and "went" as she peeled their magnetic forms off the refrigerator door. And there's further reason to be smug.
"Did you see how well their school fared in the recent league tables?"
I drop a generous dollop of brandy butter into both of our bowls. My friend believes league tables are the curse of the education system, so when I tell her the school's exact placing I expect nothing more than indifference. Instead, her jaw drops.
"But you don't believe in league tables," I remind her.
"I know, but that's still bloody impressive," she says.
Meanwhile top dog Oliver is somewhat morose. His sister's superior spelling ability is getting him down because the word "second" (which Claire, incidentally, can spell) doesn't feature in his vocabulary.
I find him sucking his thumb, alone at the kitchen table.
"What's the matter darling?"
"Mummy, test me. Give me a word, any word."
He gives "pram" and "dump" a good, but slightly inaccurate stab. To distract, I pull out a plastic card from his book bag, Miss Perry's homework for the holidays. On it are nine high frequency words, which if successfully learnt by the start of term, will earn him a sticker.
He rattles through "the" and "come" and "said" and when he scores a clean sweep we slap palms in a celebratory high five. "Claire, Claire," he runs to find her with the plastic card. He points at the word "the". "What does this say?" When her phonetic breakdown fails to produce anything vaguely recognisable he swaggers alpha-male like out of the room, grinning impishly.
The twins might go to the local state primary but this Christmas they've had private length holidays to allow for their school's relocation to a brand new building. Oliver normally loves being at home, but even his moans started as far back as Boxing Day.
"Three weeks is too long," he yawned, bored already with his new dressing-up clothes. Dolled up in fairy wings with wand, Claire suddenly looked hopeful.
"Mummy, will school be open tomorrow?"
"Because I love school and I miss it."
"What do you miss most?"
I suspect it's her friends, PE, music or phonics lessons even.
"Miss Perry," she says. "I haven't seen her for such a long time and I miss her."
"That's lovely darling. I'm sure Miss Perry would be really touched."
Claire slips her feet into a pair of new, high-heeled pink Cinderella slippers.
"Mummy, do you think Miss Perry has missed me as much as I've missed her?"Reuse content