Tag Archive | family life

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!

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!

Who’s Not In School?

My new book on sale 27th May

Have you ever wondered what a home educating week is like?

Every wondered what a home schooling family is like and what they get up to?

Or, if you’re a home educating family, have you longed for a book that you can share with your little ones that actually has a home educated child as the star?

Later this month there’ll be one to fulfil those briefs!

‘Who’s Not at School’ is a picture book about Little Harry and his family and what they get up to in an ordinary week, from an ordinary swim to some not quite so ordinary experimentation!

Because, actually, that’s what it gets to be like when you’ve home educated for a while – ordinary! And there are so many thousands now, so many who are making such a brilliant job of educating their kids outside of mainstream school, that it’s beginning to seem an ordinary choice to be making. Especially in the light of current political events.

What’s politics got to do with it?

Exactly!

Politics should have nothing to do with our children’s learning, but I have the feeling that the education of our kids is more about political popularity and vote winning than it is about what’s good for a child. And no doubt after the next election there will be even more disruption as another wave of changes hits the system and leaves children and teachers floundering and pressured in their wake.

Home schooling gives parents the opportunity to educate their kids for education’s sake, not for politics’ sake.

You can keep politics out of it and get on with the proper job of learning. Which is probably why so many now choose to do it.

So, who’s not in school? Far more children than you probably realise!

Pop over to the publisher’s site where you can pre-order: http://birdsnestbooks.co.uk/

(And there’s also a home educating story for the grown-ups via my book; ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. It’ll change the way you view education forever!)

A couple of decades later…

Production shot from Decade 20

When you relinquish your little one to the mayhem of backstage that accompanies any children’s production you wonder whether you’re doing the right thing. It appears to be a mad disorganised crush of costumes, dropped make-up, stressed parents and performers and a half dressed chorus line looking bewildered.

I remember a strong desire to snatch Chelsea back to my suffocating bosom and cry ‘You’re not doing it’!

But I got over it, went out front and watched with amazement this perfect little pro overcome her own shyness to do what she loves; perform on stage. (You can read some of this in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’)

I’ve since found out how many actors are shy. Yet there followed from that day many a production, two or three a year, which we sat through and applauded with dripping cheeks, for the next twenty years – can you believe!

Now, all that ground work has culminated in a play that Chelsea, with her partner Rich Foyster, has written, produced, directed and everything else it takes to put on a production – an enormous amount of work, believe me, I’ve had the exhausted phone calls.

What appeared impossible has evolved into a remarkable project I could never have imagined. The play, ‘Decade 20’, is to be performed during the Brighton Fringe on 8th and 9th  of May – just a few tickets left if you’ve a mind for a grown up evening out away from your little ones. Because your lovely children will also one day be staging their own grown up lives away from you and you’ll need to acclimatise!

And even though I still hanker to snatch her back from the strife of life and say ‘you’re not doing it’ and bleed through the angst of those phone calls, it’s just as well not to. For our beautiful children need us to be as brave as them and let them be what they want to be.

I can’t wait to see it. And there’ll no doubt be tears of pride and yet still bewilderment on how a shy little girl could go so far!

Watch the trailer here.

Do children need forcing over shyness?

Charley and I had a jaunt out together the other day. She’s a lovely young adult now and we share grown up things together like art centres, charity treasure seeking or walks. And I always enjoy the opportunity to chat – and listen. How did she become so intelligent and astute? Sometimes I feel I’ve been overtaken!

Quite randomly we got to talking about shyness, particularly in children. She was painfully shy; pulling hat down over eyes rather than engaging with people. Hated crowds, hated people noisy places, and generally had a serious frowning face as a baby. It was a good job our first child was beaming as I might have thought it was me making her miserable.

Her Gran could get her giggling though and when she did crack out a smile the sun shone. But she was never one for leaving my legs and joining in.

Yet she recently managed a very difficult conversation with a boss. How did she get from being the shy little girl, shy big girl as well, to someone who could deal with situations like college, Uni, colleagues and bosses? As a home educating family, whose children don’t experience the affray of school, you’re often accused of failing to push them out into the big wide world. ‘They have to get used to it’ you’re told. Is this true?

It’s a dilemma for parents: How much do we push interaction and how much do we leave it to develop naturally?

Not being a parent who was comfortable with any kind of enforcement, and being shy myself, I felt very strongly I shouldn’t push. That in the right environment, with the right encouragement and a consistent demonstration, with exposure that a child feels comfortable with, you don’t need to push interaction it will develop naturally through developing confidence. And confidence comes from support and experience.

This is what Charley says about it; ‘I hated it when people approached me when I was little. I felt sick and like I wanted to cry. I was so grateful to have you as a shield if I needed it and I can look back and see now that you let it be alright if I didn’t want to talk to people. If you’d pushed me out before I was ready I would have thought you were ganging up on me as well, as that’s what it felt like. Instead I had the choice to interact or not and very young children need that protection’.

I knew that sick feeling well, so I was determined that she shouldn’t suffer the same. We are all different and all have different characteristics.

However, I knew that Charley did need to become confident in dealing with people. And I thought about certain strategies to pass on as she grew to help her over those difficult situations. I remember telling her that sometimes all you have to do is look people in the eye, say hello, then look away and they’re satisfied with that and leave you alone. I made sure that I approached people with confidence so she could copy my example (I was bluffing but she didn’t know that!) and told her about ice-breakers, where you talk about something that’s common between you – even the weather. And smiling always helps! Little tips like these she could put into practice and gain experience from using.

As we were chatting about this Charley went on to say; ‘As I got older I realised that being shy, and not being physically able to speak to people, wasn’t going to be help me progress and get where I wanted. So I had to get over it so I took courage and went for it as my confidence grew. I also wanted people to think I was approachable. Looking at people and smiling changes their responses to me and helps them relax’.

And now you wouldn’t know she was shy and she seems very good at putting people at their ease. Better than her mother probably! She certainly does when she’s photographing them – there’s no worse subject than me, but she managed it for my blog.

Yet this was a child who was not taken to toddler group, contrary to the advice of health visitors who think it’s a way of ‘socialising’ them. (That’s rubbish and you can read why in my book ‘Mumhood’). She was not sent to school. She was not forced into group situations before she was ready. She was not forced to party, mix, engage, unless she chose to, just came along as we did it, but whether she interacted was up to her.

And I wanted to write this here in support of all those painfully shy children who are forced to ‘get over it’. And all those parents who worry or who think they should be forcing their children to mix – you shouldn’t. Or that home education is going to compound the problem. It doesn’t.

You don’t have to push them out there – they want to get out there for themselves when the time is right. And they will do – Charley is proof.