Introducing Natty…

flowers DSUbook 004You must be sick of hearing me harp on about my new book ‘Who’s Not In School?’ so I’m going to talk about someone else’s.

‘I Love You Natty’ is a book written and produced by the family from DownsSideUp an award winning blog, raising awareness of Down’s Syndrome and bringing comfort and reassurance to many.

I’m sure their book will do the same. It’s written through the voice of Mia, Natty’s big sister, and shows something of what it’s like in a family with a Down’s Syndrome child. Not only is it a really moving text, the illustrations and book itself is utterly exquisite and I’m dead jealous!

Hayley, Natty and Mia’s mum, has done such a mammoth amount of work to increase understanding of Down’s and bring comfort to parents who may be experiencing it for the first time and feeling daunted. She’s provided many with a reassuring hand to hold and this book provides another one, especially for a sibling, helping to make those experiencing the condition less alone.

Hayley and I first met when she included a home education approach in addressing Natty’s learning needs.

Children with particular needs are often left floundering in the school system and some parents find that home schooling gives the opportunity to tailor educational approaches to their individual.

There are so many ways learning can be approached; home educating means parents are able to provide stimulating experiences, practical activities, and follow a different schedule in order to best provide for their individual child. This can mean that potential failure in a classroom setting can be turned into educational success.

I’m wishing Mia and Natty and all the family all the very best with their delightful book.

Find them at www.downsideup.com And you can order copies of their book on Amazon.

Calling all parents!

Illustration by James Robinson

I’ve come back inside from the great outdoors to think about work, excited by the prospect of my picture book being released this week.

I reckon there’ll not be a parent out there who hasn’t known an inquisitive little spark like this one, endlessly wanting to investigate and not understanding why parents just don’t seem to appreciate it!

I always found it such a comfort to know mine wasn’t the only one. I’m calling all parents to please tell me you’ve got, or had, one the same – it would be a relief to hear!

Hope you enjoy the story, the illustrations are definitely awesome and I reckon it’s okay for me to say that since I didn’t do them!

Look out for it after 27th May. And do let me know if you like it.

Bank holiday blessings

may15 004I’ll be outdoors for much of it; it’s my tonic for recent anxiety over the new book!

Having sat all winter wrapped in rugs while writing I’m off out in the sunshine. Outside can be warmer than in, apropos of old houses, whose draughts keep your feet on ice and a drip on your nose end. Over winter, to get out for my daily walk, (well – almost daily) has been a challenge sometimes described here!

Now, it’s a delight. Soft, warm breezes caress my hair – yep no woolly hat! The Spring flowers are tickled by sunshine. The virulent greens burst upon the eye and the swallows sweep over drying mud looking for nesting material. Even the dog slows down and ambles gently behind, tongue hanging, slops down in shade when we return to the garden.

Even my rusty bits feel eased with warmth.

It’s easy to get distracted. I just weed out a dandelion – we have another thousand or so, so it’s not going to be missed. I watch a massive bee bumble round the flowers. And a butterfly looking happy in the balmy air – or maybe that’s just me, but it’s all too real and marvellous to abandon for the sake of writing about the virtual at a computer.

All those long dark hours I’ve worked there desperate for warmth and the sun creates it in a single slice. I recharge my personal solar panels while I can.

For have you noticed how effective and penetrating sun warmth is compared to man-made?

Although fire does come a close second, there is nothing to beat the effect sun has on me and this old house. It generates warmth in the bricks, pockets of it under the sloping roof and radiates through the windows. I feel it has finally reached my bones where winter’s been for months.

No wonder people worshipped the sun.

And that’s what I’m going to be doing whenever I get the chance so sorry if I’m missing at times. But maybe you should be doing the same.

Apparently lack of sunshine and natural light not only creates vitamin D deficiency but also poor immunity (see this article) and they’re concerned about it with the increase in children’s allergies possibly made worse by spending far too much time indoors.

So everybody out for at least twenty minutes a day – since I’m fairly dark skinned I need longer apparently.

As if I needed an excuse – it’s what I’ll be doing this bank holiday. Vitamin D here I come!

The joy and the terror!

I thought galloping about on a massive uncontrollable horse was the most terrifying thing I’d ever do. spring15 016

Then I had children!

Becoming a parent is full of both joy and terror, when you become terrified of your sudden vulnerability through your children, especially as they begin to experience the challenges and dangers of the world beyond the safety of your nest.

But these days, as well as concern for my grown up girls, I face a new kind of terror on the cusp of releasing a new book.

Probably most people don’t realise this about writers; that the reason they write is because they love the world. They want to illustrate it, champion it, contribute to it, give support or entertainment, send out a message. My book; ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ was an attempt to do all those things.

The fear comes at the prospect of that attempt to offer some love being rejected, ridiculed, spurned, or not reaching its mark.

It’s a fear that writers face as real as leaving your child to school for the first time or the start of home educating. Although I have to admit that my fear of the former was by far the greatest; home educating seemed less scary than leaving our children in a system that for some is totally wrong.

As a writer, just like raising and educating children, you have no control of the outcome of all this, or what happens. You have to hand over to the world and wait the world’s response, either warmth or rejection of your babies or your baby book! Waiting on that response is terrifying.

So I’m a little reassured to read a couple of reviews by lovely supporters prior to its forthcoming release on 27th. You can read them here and here. But the best recommendation of all is their child wanting to read it over and over again.

I’m indebted to those children and families for putting my mind at rest. Gives me further courage.

Courage enough perhaps to leave my nest and maybe chat to some of you at forthcoming events we’re hoping to hold to celebrate it. The first is likely to be in the Peterborough area but there will be others. Date to be announced soon so sign up to this or the publisher’s website to hear when.

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll understand the fears of writers a little better and will be kind to them. Just like children and parents and home educators they too need a bit of encouragement to overcome their fears!

Born Naughty?

“Mum, there’s a programme on Channel 4 tonight you might like, I just saw a trailer,” says Charley as she comes through to where I’m working.

I look up from the keyboard and peer at her suspiciously. “Oh, yea? What’s that then?” She knows I’m not into watching telly much, especially fly-on-the-wall type programmes that turn people’s misery into dramatic telly just because it’s cheap to make!

“It’s apparently about children being naughty – whether it’s learned or genetic. Thought you’d be interested as I know how much you hate that word.” She grinned at me round the door frame. She’s heard me ranting over parenting programmes many a time, and use very bad language!

I’ve always hated the concept of ‘naughty’. It goes right back to when I worked in schools back in the dark ages when parents instructed me to not worry about ‘givin ‘im a belt round the ear, cos he’ll need it, he’s so naughty’. A parent actually said that to me on one occasion.

I couldn’t really understand it, for I never had reason to label that child, or any other, as ‘naughty’. I always took the approach; kids have reasons for what they do. I appreciate that small kids aren’t open to reason sometimes and parents could do with some guidance themselves. You get thrown in the deep end with parenting – how could we know how to deal with the more complex challenges it throws our way?

The programme, ‘Born Naughty’ was quite empathetic. But when it opened with a question; ‘Do these children need diagnosis or discipline?’ I quailed at the prospect of these kids like many others just being given pills to calm them down. And I certainly quivered at the images of frustrated, screaming and anxious kids and desperate parents in dire conflict with one another. I never had to deal with anything quite so upsetting or extreme.

But watching the parents my heart went out to them. Parents always get the blame when a child is a screaming whirlwind of tantrum, don’t they? But funny how you never seem to get the credit for when they’re beautiful little people who do all the right things!

We certainly saw some screaming whirlwinds on the programme and the parents said how sick they were of everyone pointing the finger at them when they’d tried their best to manage. But child behaviour is never, ever just the fault of parenting. It’s far more complex than that.

Everyone’s behaviour, our own included, is affected by a multitude of things; our genetic make up, personality and character, our environment and family life, even the food we eat and the opportunity for exercise and recreation to help us burn off stress, feel calm and relax. It is never just the parents’ fault in isolation.

The programme dealt very sensitively with all this and made several recommendations to help parents deal with the challenges they faced with the children’s behaviour. Interestingly it was observed how contact with animals helped one girl, which I talked about in my last blog post.

But the answers lay in a collection of influences that we as parents could not possibly know about if we hadn’t already experienced them. And when you’re parents of young children, you haven’t! It’s as simple as that.

There’s no loss of face in asking for help, asking those who’ve spent hours observing and working with different child behaviours who might have more of an insight that we do with our limited experience.

I’m not in favour of children being labelled, filled with drugs, or forcibly restrained. I never trust the so-called experts unquestioningly.

But sometimes you have to seek help and guidance in order to save the child from themselves. Youngsters cannot understand that their behaviour is what connects them to others which is one of the elements in life that make us most happy. It’s also what can destroy those connections, which benefits no one.

When children are immature they cannot control their impulses as we can. They cannot understand the awful feelings they have or how to manage them. They’re not interested in reasons.

So it’s up to us to try and understand these reasons behind their behaviour – it was extreme anxiety in one of the examples – and guide them towards overcoming it with patience and consistency, so that they can go on to enjoy connected and happy lives.

There is no such thing as ‘naughtiness’ – only reasons. That’s not an excuse. It’s a demand for greater understanding.

And to increase my understanding, I might watch the next one. For a fly-on-the-wall parenting programme, it wasn’t too bad!

Amazing shows and guinea pigs!

Well, it was amazing!20150511_122251

Their production sold all tickets which is a pretty incredible achievement for a fist venture, says she with just a teeny bit of pride. I am choked!

I am also choked because the snag with visiting loved ones is you have to leave them again! Tears threaten and throats go constricted and the journey home is beset with gloom.

I console myself that the girl I leave behind not only has the most loving partner to cuddle her now, where once only mum would do, but she also has guinea pigs!

You wouldn’t think guinea pigs would make such a difference. But there’s something in the deep emotive caring part of our being that flourishes through a connection with an animal.

There have been studies done on it apparently.

Studies or not there was something in my grown up girl that made her feel the need for an animal in her life again. She’d always had them when little when I gritted my teeth and got over my aversion to cages and we had a variety of furry things over the years. And seeing the children calm themselves with caressing a pet, put their cheeks to furry bodies as I held my cheek to infant hair, I knew it was worth it. I watched them virtually dissolve into bliss.

Ironically I’ve just seen the same sensation in my twenty four year old. Pets bring something to life that calms stress and ignites that loving side when it gets buried in the business of life.

I recently read the most beautiful book ‘The Gentle Barn’ about a special centre offering animal therapy to lost and troubled children. The connection to, looking after, and physical proximity of warm loving beings connects children to a loving core that may have been imprisoned by traumatic life experiences.

I think putting on a production for the first time ever may almost have felt like a traumatic life experience for my eldest and her partner! But afterwards I watched some of it leech away whilst holding a guinea pig!

I might try it and maybe I can heal some of the trauma a mum inevitably feels at wrenching partings from grown up girls by cuddling the cat!

Climbing out the wellies

I’m doing quite well at the not-spending I was talking about in an earlier post.

Click on the picture for tickets…or just turn up at The Purple Playhouse Fri/Sat at 7.30!

I’ve not bought several things I’ve looked at and thought; ‘that’s nice, want it, need it’, only to rethink; ‘actually, I don’t!’ Then went off and got pleasure from  other nice things always available like wild flowers, sunshine on my face, a passing butterfly, friends and loved ones.

This has helped keep a nice bit by for my trip.

I’m climbing out my wellies and going city side to visit my eldest and see her production; Decade 20, in the Brighton Fringe.

When I go away money leeches out of my purse faster than water leaks into my wellies. But it’s so nice to be able to treat the girls to coffee, cake, food, frivolities they wouldn’t normally afford – it’s the best spending of all.

Is this when we get to be proper grown-ups – when we get more delight in spending on our offspring than on ourselves? Perhaps! Seems I have no hesitation in treating them to new shoes whilst I walk about with holes in my boots.

Might have to purchase some new clothes, (new to me, anyway – they could be from a charity shop), just so I don’t feel quite so decrepit visiting in the same old rags I’ve hung onto for years. On the other hand I could just get the sewing machine out and revamp them, as I taught them to do.

Both girls have that same skill of creative recycling we used through their home educating days when budget was tight but inventiveness was rich. (There’s a funny story in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ where they paint their wellies – and their dad’s – when I couldn’t afford coloured ones)!

But when education is in your own hands you tend to get inventive. This independent way of educating requires creative thinking which spills over into all aspects of life, developing intelligence, useful skills and resourcefulness. And there’s nothing better than resourcefulness for overcoming all the challenges you face in life.

So, being resourceful, maybe I’ll just look for something to patch my wellies instead when I get back and the purse is alarmingly empty!