By the Grace of God

Whilst at our Christian home education group a few months ago, I found myself talking to a lady with six (six!) children. She seemed together, happy and not at all like she was losing it, something I struggle with just half the number of children! I asked her how she managed it. Her reply really hit a chord with me and has stuck me ever since. She simply said ‘only by the grace of God’. So simple, so powerful but yet, such an overlooked and forgotten concept. The idea that actually we don’t have to be responsible for everything, that the weight of our lives is not solely on our shoulders alone.

Even if you’re not a Christian I believe there is a message to be taken here that is applicable for all of us. We don’t have to do everything by ourselves and more importantly, we shouldn’t be trying to. It’s just not possible. Asking for and accepting help is an absolute necessity if we want to live a life not consumed by anxiety and stress. Many an article has been written about the concept of the lost village. The assertion that a lot of society’s problems are created by the dispersal of family units, by the isolation and insular nature of our modern lives. And I think that it’s so true. In this village set up, there would always be someone to talk to, someone free to help out when it’s needed. Child raising would be shared, mothers would join together for solidarity in the endlessly long overwhelming days of looking after small people, there would always be a willing person ready to take the little ones off for a bit to enable the parents a break to get on with some other work or even just sleep.

Of course, ‘back in the day’ people’s lives would have been simpler with a slower pace to them. As technology increasingly creeps into every facet of our lives and the media are constantly bombarding us with suggestions as to what we should have and what we should be doing, our lives are getting more and more busy. Diaries are booked for months in advance and being able to drop everything at a moment’s notice to help someone in need is often easier said than done. But I really believe that we should try and channel the ethos of this village a little bit more in our day-to-day lives.

So if you’re struggling, try to remember to ask for help and more importantly, to accept it when it’s offered. And if you see someone else having a hard time, see if you can somehow ease their load a little. It might only take an hour or two of your time but you could make a huge difference to their life that day. After all, it takes a village…

Praise where it’s due

One of the best bits of parenting advice that I’ve ever read was to remember to acknowledge your children’s achievements. This might sound fairly obvious but I’m not talking about swimming 25m, reaching free reader status or winning a dance competition. No, I’m thinking on a much more everyday level. Children are constantly striving to master some new skill, whether that be a toddler potty training, an older child remembering to take their dishes to the kitchen after dinner or any other manner of life skill, necessary in life as they grow older but not usually deemed particularly praise worthy. It can be so easy to focus on the present and on what you perceive your child to be not quite succeeding at that sometimes we forget how far they’ve come and what they’ve achieved.

For example, Sophia, like all children, recently went through a phase of striding into a room, interrupting whatever conversation was taking place and demanding immediate attention. We would chastise and remind her not to interrupt, to wait for a break in a conversation or at the very least to say ‘excuse me’. And whilst she still sometimes interrupts Dan and I, I realised the other day just how often she actually waits for us to stop talking or politely makes it known that she wants to ask us something. But at no point have we acknowledged this change and whilst I’m not one for lavishing praise unnecessarily on children, I do think it’s important to make a point of telling them that you’ve noticed the skill they’ve gained.

The process of reflection, acknowledgement and praise (where due) is not a bad one to practice. In a world which can have a rather overwhelming negative bias at times, I think it’s important to try and focus on the positive where possible. This doesn’t just have to apply to children either. Obviously you probably aren’t going to congratulate your partner for putting their dirty laundry in the wash basket (or maybe you will?!) but you could definitely take the time to comment on some small positive thing in their life, whatever it may be. So next time we see our friends and family, rather than moan about the latest titbit of bad news (and let’s face it, there’s been a lot this year!) perhaps we should ask about what’s happening in their lives and celebrate all the good things that are happening. Because positive things are all around us and I believe that if we look a bit closer, we’ll see that the good outweighs the bad.

Making plans for…Christmas?!

Call me a grinch but I firmly believe that Christmas and all it’s associated trappings belongs firmly in December. I’m not adverse to a bit of present buying in preparation throughout the year but that is where I draw the line. I cannot stand the appearance of mince pies in our shops in September, carols in October and trees decorated as soon as Guy Fawkes is over. So no one is more surprised than me that this year, in the middle of November, I am writing a column about Christmas.

Really, I blame the Royal Mail. If your child is planning to send a letter to Father Christmas and wants a reply, then it must be be sent in time to arrive with him by the 9th December. Realistically, that means it needs to be written and in the post by the 7th December. Although I could wait until we’re into December before getting the kids started, I know if I do that a week will pass, distractions will arise and we’ll be too late. So, in the week commencing 21st November, I have found myself telling the kids that we’ll be writing our letters to the big man in red. Of course there is the added benefit of knowing what they’re hoping to receive but still, it’s a bit early…isn’t it?

The problem is that now we’re thinking about this, the floodgates have opened and I’m starting to consider what I’ll be cooking (I’m hosting Christmas dinner this year for my parents and sisters), whether I need to order the meat, where I’ll fit everyone, whether we should have a real tree or drag out the fake again, when we should put up the decs…. the list is endless. I think it doesn’t help that I’m absolutely exhausted of late. The boys have been tag teaming in the wee hours and if I’m lucky, I’ll know what’s on the cards for the next 48 hours but beyond that, I’ve got no chance! The idea of tackling all of this at the moment is a little, overwhelming, to say the least.

But despite my grinch-like protestations, I do absolutely adore Christmas when I’m in the midst of it so I’ve got a plan. We’ve started night weaning Eli (a little late but better now than never!) so I’m feeling confident that in a week or two I might be feeling a little more rested. Plus, the children’s enthusiasm is contagious and at the end of the day, I know that once we are in December and I have my first mince pie and put on the Christmas tunes I’ll be positively oozing festive cheer, ready to embrace the busiest season of the year. So my advice is to continue to ignore the impending arrival of Christmas for another 10-14 days and then you can let loose with the tinsel and mulled wine, safe in the knowledge that you haven’t started too early and won’t suffer holiday burnout!

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An Entrepreneurial Spirit

For nearly three years now, Sophia has been obsessed with the idea of selling things and making money. It started with her sweetie shop, for which we tested several recipes of things she could make to sell and moved onto wanting to sell paper masks, various assorted crafted items made out of pipe cleaners and pom poms before finally, this week entering the world of selling handmade jewellery. Which is why, on Monday, she was found sat at our gate in the freezing cold with some brightly coloured bracelets and necklaces on a little table for sale as part of her ‘Fabulous Jewellery*’ shop (*10% of all proceeds go to charity). Impressively (largely thanks to kindly neighbours), she actually made £2.50 for herself, £1.20 for charity and 50p went to Isaac for fetching her a blanket, drink and other assorted things that she deemed necessary.

I have to admire her tenacity. She has no fear of rejection and complete confidence that people will want to buy the items that she has made. I on the other hand, am slightly more nervous about the whole business. But I’ve decided the best thing I can do is to support her in her endeavours and just offer realistic advice about it. If she had her way she’d be out there on a daily basis but we’ve suggested maybe once every few weeks instead. I’ve never felt particularly ambitious when it comes to making money. I do a little part time work to supplement our income and have a tendency to undercharge.

But Sophia is a whole different kettle of fish, she’s driven, motivated and obsessed with the idea of having a business. I think the reasons are twofold. Firstly is the obvious advantage of having money to spend on trinkets and magazines and other things that I tend to say no to. But I also think she likes the feeling of independence and maturity it gives her. Recently she’s started referring to the boys as ‘the kids’ and is acting in a very grown up manner. She is reflective about her mistakes, helpful and considered in her actions. My little girl is growing up! So I will help her to foster her entrepreneurial spirit and let her run with it for as long as she wants to. Who knows what the future holds for her? If she’s this ambitious at 6, I look forward to seeing what she gets up to at 16. I forsee success in her future, the next (female) Alan Sugar perhaps?!

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An alternative reality…

As I woke up this morning, I suffered a horrible case of dejavu as I asked Dan to pass my phone so I could see the outcome of the US election. An ominous feeling, almost a physical manifestation of dread, sat in the pit of my stomach, like a twisted gleeful troll. The unthinkable (to most of us) had happened, the absolute joke that is Donald Trump has been elected to be the next President of the United States of America. For the third time in two years, politics has taken a surprising and wholly unwanted turn. 

Of course, it’s not actually unwanted by everyone or even the majority. A flawed democratic system it might be but it is still a democracy, the votes were cast that led to this result. If anything though, I find this even more depressing. That a significant proportion of the American electorate chose to back a sexist, racist, homophobic, inexperienced thug of a man over a woman who, whilst admittedly has many flaws of her own, is at least experienced with some semblance of moderation and equality. Misogyny is alive and well it seems.
Comparisons to the rise of Nazi Germany are rife, social media is (as it was post Brexit and after our general election last year) saturated with bewilderment, satirical memes, general despair and fear at what might happen next. I won’t add to the fray with my similar thoughts. I’m taking it as a given that many of us are outraged by these results and feeling even more stirred to action than we already were. But, will we follow through? Will our rage and desire for change grow and incite us to action? Or will it simply dissipate, returning us back to our lives as they were before in a matter of weeks? 

I will ashamedly put my hand up to the latter. Since last May I have done nothing more than sign petitions, go to the odd demo and complain loudly about the state of affairs. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what else I can do. I alternate between burying my head in the sand and focusing on trivial, personal matters and being your typical disillusioned middle class hippy who simply complains a lot. My ability to actually do anything more than that is somewhat hampered by the three small beings I seem to have almost permanently in tow but I’m sure there is something I could do. I just don’t know what.

So for now I’m sticking to my theory that you’ve got to start small and that doing something (anything!) is better than nothing. I am committing to building up the culture of love and inclusivity that already exists in our society at a grass roots level. We need to carry out acts of kindness and wherever possible, promote equality and acceptance. We need to teach the next generation to be better, to make better choices. We need to talk to our children about politics, about being brave and standing up to hatred. We can turn this result into something positive and I think it’s imperative that we do. 

The Here and Now

A real pet hate of mine is when, usually in response to me trying to calm down my somewhat ‘boisterous’ children, someone says sagely to me ‘you’ll miss this stage when they’re older’ or worse, ‘it only gets harder’. It’s not that I doubt the truth in these words and I do appreciate that they are trying to be helpful but mostly, it bothers me when people express these sentiments because it just doesn’t help how I’m feeling in that moment. If anything, it only adds the extra emotion of guilt to the mix as I feel bad for not appreciating every single urine soaked minute of early parenthood.
After a day like today when, for no discernible reason, bedtime just couldn’t come fast enough, being essentially told that I’m probably in the ‘best’ stage of parenting stings a little. Both the boys have been rather…challenging the last few days and after a rainy day stuck inside providing activities, playing peacemaker to warring siblings and dealing with the constant refrain of ‘Mummy!’ that seems to follow me everywhere, I’d just had enough. Today I found parenting exhausting. Now that they’ve all been asleep for a few hours, I can step back and process that it was just a bad day and that tomorrow is likely to be much better but if you approached me at 4.30pm when both boys were crying incessently and told me that, well, more fool you. 

It’s a funny thing perspective. On one hand, I do realise that these first years of parenting will be over in the blink of an eye and then other more complicated challenges will face us; hormonal teenagers, first boyfriends and girlfriends, financial issues and so on… And I do completely agree in my calmer moments that it is likely that I will really miss certain aspects of life with kids under 5 (and one just above). But I maintain that I won’t miss toilet accidents, the nought to sixty reactions, the crying, the absolute exhausting physicality of it all. And I think that is OK. I think it’s perfectly fine to be able to say yes, I love my kids and they can be heart meltingly cute and side splittingly funny but only a second later, they can drive me up the wall. It’s OK to be annoyed, to be tired, to want to pull a sicky (chance would be a fine thing!), to want a break. 

I guess a little like we forget the pain of childbirth, age must give us rose tinted spectacles when it comes to our children. After all, why would we want to remember all the things that we found so hard? So, having mulled it over, I guess I shouldn’t be so annoyed when people make those comments. Perhaps they miss their children being gorgeous toddlers, perhaps they remember the best bits and have forgotten about day to day life with small ones. But I still maintain that the folks who sympathise, offer a hug and are able to let me know that it’s OK to be stressed are still the interactions I prefer on a bad day. Parenting, like life in general, isn’t all sunshine and roses. So don’t feel bad for wishing bedtime on them occasionally, it’s more than likely that tomorrow will be a better day. Hang on in there fellow parents of Exeter (and beyond), we’re doing great!

One of the moments I WILL be remembering!

Going To Ground

Darker mornings and evenings have been steadily creeping up on us over the last few weeks and as they do, I am becoming increasingly jealous of those creatures able to hibernate until warmer days return. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about Autumn and Winter that I love; the gorgeous changing colours of the leaves, bonfire night, all of my children’s birthdays(!), having a good excuse to spend wet chilly days inside with a fire roaring in the hearth and endless mugs of hot chocolate to warm the insides. But, in my heart of hearts, I am a summer enthusiast. I love being outside, I love not needing to pack jumpers and coats when we go out, I love not having to wear shoes, I love salads and ice creams and summery cocktails… In the summer I have more energy, more enthusiasm and more motivation.

As October has unfolded I’m finding my energy levels dwindling as I become more tired, I don’t feel like working out and I just want to eat all the comfort food. Although I think a gentle slowing down is natural (especially as my intense half-marathon training is over now) I’m aware that if I give into these hibernation-esque tendencies, I might get into a slump that it’s hard to dig myself out of come Spring! Both in terms of my body and mind, I’ve been working hard all year to keep myself healthy and I don’t want to undo all that work with a few months of duvet-days and one too many mince pies. So I’m guessing the answer, for me at least, is to try and adjust my routine to the seasons outside.

Back in the day, we would have risen with the sun and gone to bed with the sun so I’m guessing going to bed a little earlier, now we’ve lost our long light evenings, would help. I’ll probably do a little less running over the coming months and a little more weight lifting , choosing to exercise in the warmth of my home rather than on the dark damp roads outside.  And as time outside with the kids will be limited by the weather and temperature (Forest School continues all year round but I’m less inclined to wile away 6 hours at the beach when we’re in single digits), I’m going to try and be inventive with things we can do inside that don’t revolve around a screen and that will entertain all three children. So yes, I might partake in a going to ground of sorts but I will aim to make it a healthy, happy hibernation this winter.

Enjoying Autumn at Killerton