Perspective

Two things have happened this week that have left me thinking.

The first was when we were doing a ‘Growth Mindset Journal’ with another home ed family on Monday. For those that don’t know, growth mindset is the belief that you are in control of your own ability and skills and that you can learn and improve. Our journal has covered all sorts of things from being kind and helping others to looking at the brain as a muscle that needs exercising. This week was about positivity. We spoke a little about the difference between having a positive and negative attitude towards things and both my big two piped up cheerily ‘oh, I’m negative. Yes, I have a negative attitude!’ And it made me really sad! I actually don’t think it’s true when I look at their reactions to things in life and their general interactions and disposition but it made me sad that this was their image of themselves.

I got to thinking why this might be the case and pondered whether it could be due to my attitude. They say children are your mirror and I’ve been rather more ‘glass half empty’ over the last months than I used to be. I think this has been mostly down to being ill so much this year and to some epic over-scheduling in the last academic year. But I’m determined to make an effort to be more positive and focus on the good things in a situation, rather than the bad. This used to come so easily to me so I’m not sure why it doesn’t so much anymore but I’m going to practice positivity until hopefully it becomes the natural choice in my reactions. So apologies in advance if I start being annoyingly cheery again – I’ll try to dial it down where appropriate!!

The second thing that happened was online. In a facebook group I’m on, a lady of two very young children reached out, asking if other mothers ever felt totally overwhelmed, touched out and with no sense of self or time to do things they wanted to do. I realised with a sense of surprise that after years of feeling like this, on the whole I actually don’t anymore! Having three kids so close together was tough, especially when they were all under 5, and I often felt like I was madly treading water to survive. I remember feeling like there was nothing more to me than being a mother. They needed me mentally, physically and spiritually all the time and it consumed me. I was touched out, tired and bloody irritated with the whole affair.

But now at 9, 7 and 4 this has passed. And it happened so gradually that I didn’t even realise. They have more independence, need me less and I am lucky to get a heck of a lot of time to myself, be that at the gym, out running, at work or just generally seeing friends. I’m aware that a lot of my friends don’t get this so I don’t want to take it for granted. At the same time though, I don’t think it’s a luxury but a necessity to my sanity and one that I think everyone needs and deserves. Being a parent is amazing but it’s not all I am.

So I guess both of these things made me think about perspective. I’ve had a few conversations about this over the last week. It’s easy to be so absorbed in the present that taking a step back to see what has changed can be hard. But I think it’s really important to practice doing this. Often you are able to take stock and realise that things are massively different and hopefully, in a really positive way! It’s easy to forget about the small achievements and progressions that you (and your children) have made if you’re not looking for them but important to acknowledge and celebrate them I think. It’s easy to feel stagnant and like nothing has changed when actually, micro-steps of moving forward have happened. Perspective helps us identify where things are going in our lives and using it, we can fine-tune what happens next.

I think perspective, like gratitude, is a practice and one that is worthy of regular practice.

Raising Girls Who Are Switched On, Not Scared

When I’m running on my own on trails or secluded country roads and I spot a man coming the other way, regardless of the time of day or light levels, I make a mental note of his appearance and what he’s wearing. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

When a man in a pub makes lewd comments about my appearance, I do not always respond the way I’d like to. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

When heading home by myself at night, I will choose the route that is more public and better lit, even if it’s a substantial detour. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

I’ve been having lots of conversations with the women in my life about this recently. And how about how frustrating, unfair and angering it is that in 2019, we still need to take these precautions more than our male counterparts. We’ve discussed how we first knew that we needed to take these precautions, about the undercurrent of fear that we experienced as we first started to venture into the world by ourselves as teenagers, all those years ago. About how really, by doing these things, we are perpetuating the myth of victim blaming; that if she was more careful, she would have been safe. And this is not OK. Violence against women (and obviously men) is the fault of the perpetrator. Always. End of story.

But more pressingly for me at least at the moment, is how to raise girls to be women that are switched on, smart and safe but not scared. How do we prepare them for the reality of the world once they’ve left home or are starting to be out without parental protection. You don’t want to put the fear of God into them, to leave them instantly distrustful of anyone who crosses their path. But you also want them to be sensible and have a good awareness of how to stay safe. Obviously this is something we teach all of our children. Learning how to behave in society is essential for a future world that is hopefully kinder and more productive than the one we currently exist in. But it breaks my heart that I will have to teach my daughter this with more of an emphasis on personal safety than I will my sons.

When it comes to the how though, I am so very open to receiving wisdom and suggestions from those around me raising girls, whether they be younger or older than mine or already grown up. My instinct is that it will come down to lots of honest, open conversations. It will mean answering hard questions truthfully, to philosophical discussions about why things are the way they are. We’ve already spent a long time dissecting why I’m less comfortable with her being topless in public spaces than her brothers even though she’s only 9. She wasn’t satisifed with the reasons and I don’t really blame her.

We’ve come a long way since the suffragettes in terms of representation and rights of men and women. We no longer need male guarantors to have a mortgage or a credit card. We can spend our own money in a pub (up until 1982, we could be refused service). We have the right to equal pay (although the pay gap is far from closed). We can work on the London Stock Exchange, access the contraceptive pill and obtain a court order against a violent spouse. All these examples have come from this list, a simultaneously depressing and celebratory read. But not far enough. I want my daughter to live in a world where she’s feel as safe as her male counterparts. To feel as valued and listened to as her male counterparts. To feel as powerful as her male counterparts.

And for want of knowing what else to do, I think it starts with talking. Talking to her, to her brothers, to anyone who will listen! So please join the conversation with me and let’s raise our girls to be switched on, but not scared.

An Unexpected Outcome

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how rough I was feeling. I felt embarrassed posting it and totally out of my comfort zone. Although I am quite an open person in regards to what I share, I do apply my own filter to that and don’t like sharing too much of what I perceive to be “negative” stuff. My post was met with an outpouring of love and support from a lot of people in my life. I was so incredibly grateful, overwhelmed and…yes, a little bit embarrassed! I didn’t think I should get this reaction, not when I’d only been unwell for a few months, rather than some chronic ongoing condition. But I am so thankful for my amazing friends and family for being so nice to be regardless.

Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase and catch you up. Over the summer I religiously took my iron pills, rested more, ate well, and…got worse. Towards the end of August, I was sleeping for 10 hours every night, doing the bare minimum in the day and feeling more and more exhausted, dizzy and confused.

Then one Saturday, I swapped cars with Dan and took his swanky car, leaving him with my 20 year old, somewhat cranky, vauxhall corsa. He phoned me at the end of the day and said ‘I think you car is making you ill!’ I laughed at him but he persisted. There had been ongoing issues with the exhaust and he theorised that my symptoms could be caused by chronic low-level exposure to carbon monoxide. A little research on Headway and the NHS websites confirmed my symptoms matched and when Monday rolled around I got a same-day appointment with my GP.

She was amazing, asked lots of questions and ordered a next day blood test to look at levels of carboxyhemoglobin in my blood. Results came back quickly and showed that levels were outside of the normal range. Not hugely but I hadn’t been driving the car for a week by that point so I assume they would have been higher if tested sooner.

The real test was in seeing how I was as time went on, now I was no longer in the car (that has now been scrapped for other reasons) and thankfully, I have seen a noticeable improvement in how I’m feeling. I’m still not firing on all cylinders but apparently it can take a while as the carbon monoxide binds to your red blood cells so oxygen can’t. Consequently you need to wait until all your red blood cells have been replaced with new ones for it to be completely gone. But I am gradually doing more and although getting tired after a few busy days in a row, tons better than I was.

It was pretty scary though, mostly because the kids must have been exposed as well. And as the summer progressed I noticed that they were more tired and irritable than normal. I chalked it up to the summer, being out of routines, hormones…etc but now of course I’m wondering if it was something more sinister. But because they were in the car less than me and because I was anaemic, I was more vulnerable which is why I think I was affected the most.

When you think of carbon monoxide poisoning you think of the acute exposure, the stories where a household of people never wake up after a boiler breaks in the night. I don’t think I’d really thought of long-term chronic exposure to low levels and if I had, certainly had no idea how awful it could make you feel. I am so grateful to Dan for putting 2+2 together and so thankful for my awesome GP and our continued access to the NHS.  So I guess it feels appropriate to end with a public service notice of sorts – make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors in your house and be aware of what else can cause the poisoning, the NHS have a whole section on what causes carbon monoxide to leak here so go and educate yourselves!

[Not] Back To School (again)

This September marks the third and final time that one of my children reaches school age. Eli, at 4.5 years of age, would have been starting reception this week if we’d chosen to engage with mainstream education. As we didn’t, I am now officially home educating all three of my offspring and we marked this today with a trip to the Eden Project to catch the ‘Earth Story’ exhibition on it’s last day.

As with each of the others, this is almost a non-event, we’ll simply continue as we are. I will continue to provide educational opportunities and guidance that is age and ability appropriate for them and a number on a bit of paper doesn’t make much difference to that.

Yesterday, for example, after some Mum-dictated music practice, Isaac spent a long time devising codes and writing in them, practising handwriting, spelling and a whole host of other skills (without even realising it). Elijah practised his pen control with some requested alphabet worksheets and colouring before playing with Lego for hours. And Sophia took it upon herself to work through some KS2 grammar before doing some sewing and then composing acrostic poems. We also played world twister (geography) and went on a blackberry hunt where, for reasons unknown to me, they demanded to be quizzed with mental arithmetic questions. It was nearly all child-led, challenged them and was pretty productive.

Today, as I say, we went to Eden where the focus was on the devastating effects of climate change on both British and global wildlife and on championing visitors to be part of the solution. It provoked a lot of conversations and anger from all three but overall felt positive when we were able to see examples of the work that conservation groups and dedicated people are doing to fight for our planet.

Over the last few years, as a member of the local home educating community and within my role at The Outdoors Group, I’ve seen a significant increase in the numbers of people choosing to home educate. I’ve written plenty before about why that might be. Whether it’s a case of schools not having the funding to support children with additional needs, disagreeing with the national curriculum or just that you want more freedom as a family to live and learn in your own way, the reasons are many and varied.

I won’t repeat myself in that respect but I will say that if it’s something you are considering but find overwhelming, it’s honestly not as scary or full on as you think it will be! There is a lot of support out there and the home education community in Devon is absolutely thriving. To summarise what I’ve said before, you don’t have to be able to teach to home educate your child (ren), you just need to be able to facilitate learning, to be able to go at their pace and to trust them enough to follow their interests and curiosity. I’ve learnt so much myself over the last decade (fun fact of the day: did you know that the term ‘plankton’ refers to any living creature that floats within the ocean currents, so jellyfish are technically plankton? I didn’t until earlier today!)

So whether your kids are going back to school this week or not, I wish them a very happy, healthy and adventurous academic year! I’ll leave you with these photos of when we visited the Deer Park at Dartington Estate recently and the kids got to hand feed these absolutely beautiful creatures! (Another great trip organised by a home educating parent)

If you have any questions you’ve always wanted to ask about home education, comment below or on my facebook post and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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Just Give Me a Minute

I’ve reached a wall. I am absolutely (seemingly permanently) exhausted and unable to sustain the level of activity that I was just a few months ago. Blood tests have shown I’m anaemic again and I’m duly on ridiculous amounts of daily iron but my energy levels are still firmly in my boots. Six weeks in and they seem to be making no difference so it’s back to the doctors next week. My training has been reduced from 6 days a week to barely 3 last week and none at all this week, I’ve been cancelling plans left, right and centre and having to have ‘rest breaks’ after everything I do. I’m feeling annoyed that I can’t get to the gym, guilty that I keep letting down friends and like a shitty parent that my most repeated phrase at the moment is some variation of ‘ please, just give me a minute.’ It is so frustrating!

I write this not to complain or to elicit sympathy but mostly because I just need an outlet. Me and the kids walked to town this morning (2 miles), did some shopping and walked back. And it knocked me for six. Usually, walking that distance would be completely unmentionable, a non event. But now I’m sitting in bed, writing this and feeling shattered. Luckily, the kids have been entertained with a paddling pool and up until the peace dissolved, I could hear the sounds of their shrieks of laughter through the open door. So at least they’re not being adversely affected by my pathetic-ness! I’m just hoping some rest and an early night will put me in a good place for a trip to one of our beautiful local beaches in the morning.

I’m not even sure why I’m publishing this but I guess I have two thoughts. Firstly, so friends know why I’m being so damn flakey at the moment. I’m sorry guys, bear with me and hopefully I’ll be back to normal in no time. I’m having to prioritise work and the stuff the kids really want to do and everything else (including the gym, sob!) is having to wait for now.  If you see photos of us out and about having fun in the great outdoors, chances are that I’ll be resting for the rest of the day at the moment. Secondly, I have so much admiration for people living full time with disabilities or chronic illness. Especially those with children. I have no idea how you manage to find your balance. If I’ve ever crossed paths with you and not understood/respected your limitations, please accept my sincere apologies.

I feel so grumpy and out of sync. I never get ill and this year, I don’t seem to be able to recover every time I get a bug. But such is life I guess.

Finally, I did want to publicly thank Dan for once again, being an amazing husband and father. Despite his own health challenges, he is continuing to go above and beyond in supporting my recovery. Right now he’s whisking the kids off to the beach for a few hours so I can get some uninterrupted rest. Thanks babe, I don’t know what I’d do without you!

(P.S Apologies for the Eeyore post and the cheesy ending, I wouldn’t usually publish something like this but I figured it’s good to be transparent about the not so good as well as the good (to a certain extent). )

 

 

 

Taking It Slow

As a general rule, I don’t take photos whilst I run. There are two reasons for this. The first and main reason is because I am rather competitive by nature, not with other people, but with past versions of myself. I don’t want to waste time by stopping to snap a good view, no matter how breathtaking, as I’m always trying to run as fast as possible and beat previous personal records. The second (minor) reason is just because I’m not very good at taking photos! I don’t take the time to adjust the settings or compose a good scene, as in the rest of my life, I rush to get it done and be on my way.

But this morning, I went for a run and I knew it would be slow. I’ve had a month off training due to illness and every time I’ve attempted to run in the last few weeks my lungs have felt like they’re going to give up in protest at the cheek of me making them work. I also did a rather brutal leg day yesterday and my glutes are angry with DOMS. So this morning I set off in the beautiful Spring sunshine with a brilliant blue sky above me and took my time. I just ran 4.5 miles around the country lanes nearby but it was so restorative. My lungs worked and because I wasn’t racing myself I didn’t beat myself up when I stopped to walk up some particularly steep hills (even with the knowledge that I usually run up them). I even stopped to take a picture of the rolling Devon hills with Dartmoor looming in the distance.

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People often react with a mixture of horror and bemusement when they find out how much training I do (5/6 days a week of running or in the gym) but for me, it’s my time away from the kids, just for me to re-set. It’s my medicine for mental health, my quiet headspace to think and just be me. After 50 minutes running in the gorgeous fresh air this morning, I feel ready for whatever the day throws at me, whether that be warring brothers or a particularly hefty workload. And this morning I feel like I also finally took on board everyone’s advice to slow down.

In life I am prone to trying to do everything quickly. Sometimes this is in the fitness side of things, trying to lift ridiculously heavy weights without building up to them or trying to launch into a crow pose or handstand without all the conditioning and beginner progressions necessary to lay the groundwork. Sometimes this is in the house, doing a half-assed job of washing up or other housework just to get it over with. Sometimes this is in my role as a parent, rushing bedtime or games with the kids, simply because of parenting-fatigue or an inability to be in the moment when there is a never-ending to-do list. Sometimes this is in my self-care, not taking enough time to rest because I’m anxious to get back to my busy schedule.

But after having been ill for the best part of a month, I have had to slow down. My body wouldn’t let me rush anything! And actually, I think I’ve come out the other side hopefully a little wiser for it. Which is why, when I came in from my run this morning with an urge to write, instead of putting it to one side to pack lunches, do home ed and process registration forms for work, I decided to sit down with a cup of tea and share my ramblings with whoever might be reading this instead.

Sometimes there are deadlines that have to be stuck to and sometimes you do need to hurry. But a lot of the time, it’s all in our heads. We can probably take five and slow down without any horrendous consequences. So I’d encourage you if, like me, you’re prone to rushing, to take it slow today. Even if it’s just taking a few minutes to sit in the sun and soak up the rays before getting back to the grindstone, you’ll feel better for it. (Or if time, family and work allows, do what we did yesterday and spend several hours lounging on the beach enjoying the spring sunshine and the water gently lapping the shore – bliss. See, I told you I’m learning!)

Sophia Jumping!

This photo is courtesy of the talented and most lovely Elsie

 

 

 

Guilt

At this very moment, I should be in the woods at Exeter Forest School, running my first ever session as a Forest School Leader. Instead, I am sat under our biggest, cosiest blanket with a large cup of tea feeling rather sorry for myself. I’ve been ill for close to two weeks now and feel like I might finally be on the tail end of it but certainly not well enough to run a session without coughing and spluttering over the unfortunate parents and children in attendance. I feel so cheesy saying this, but my proverbial village has, once again, leapt into action to assist. A dear friend (who I now owe so many childcare favours to it’s ridiculous) is having Eli at the group and for the afternoon and Dan has gone to deposit the big two with her as well so she can take them to the older group where they attend by themselves. I have a whole day to rest and hopefully finally recuperate after an incredibly busy two weeks where I have just kept going when perhaps I should have declared a few more movie (or to assuage my home ed conscience, documentaries) and sofa days for the kids.

However, my primary emotion today is guilt. Guilt that I’m letting down work by not being able to run the session. Guilt that my friend is helping out and looking after my kids again, especially when she’s not feeling 100% herself. Guilt that I’m probably not going to be particularly productive even though there are things that need to be done (work, cleaning…etc). Guilt (ridiculously) that once again this week, I won’t reach my step count for the day. When I sat down to write this I was thinking mainly about what some term ‘mother’s guilt’. The guilt that means you feel like you are constantly failing those around you. That you don’t have enough to give to your kids to fulfill what they need. That there isn’t enough of you to go around. That your house is a mess. That you can’t find the work-life-fun balance. That you have goals and projects left unfinished. That you shout, nag and lecture. That maybe your priorities aren’t where they should be. That sometimes you take more from your friends and family than you give.

But then I realised that guilt is not exclusive to motherhood. Guilt is something that lots of us are plagued with. Most of that list above could apply to all of us, regardless of whether we have kids or not. And we could add more. Guilt that we’re not doing more in the fight against climate change would be one for me. For someone else it might be guilt that they skipped the gym. Guilt that they let down a friend. Guilt that they pay someone to clean their home. Guilt that they don’t cook their meals from scratch. Guilt that they got a promotion over a colleague. Everyone feels guilty for a myriad of different reasons.

Clearly, guilt that we feel because of something we’ve actually done (deliberate or not) that we know has affected someone negatively (physically or mentally) is a different category. It’s right to feel remorse and to try and make amends. But I’m talking about the guilt that so many of us feel unnecessarily.  Guilt that we essentially make up for things that we don’t need to feel remorseful, shameful or sad about.

I’m struggling to think of anything positive that comes out of this kind of guilt. Acknowledging a fault or weakness and acting on it to promote positive change is one thing. But endlessly beating yourself up about stuff, valid or not, is useful to no-one. I know that if the situation was reversed, I would do the same thing for a friend or family member in need. I know that I would cover sessions for a colleague if I could. But it doesn’t stop me feeling bad about being the one needing the help right now.

I don’t know what the answer is and I realise this may come across as a somewhat woe-is-me post which is not my intention. Rather, I wanted to start a conversation about unecessary guilt. About why we feel it, about why we shouldn’t let ourselves get so caught up in such a negative feeling. It’s not something we talk about a lot I think.  A quick google produces a wealth of articles from people much more equipped to talk about this than me. And a few things stood out to me particularly as helpful ways to break the cycle of self-flagellation caused by needless guilt.

Firstly, as I mentioned above, engage in a spot of role reversal. Imagine what you’d say or do to a friend or family member saying what you’re feeling. Chances are you’d reassure them that their guilt isn’t based in anything real and advise that they need to be kinder to themselves. Which leads nicely to the second point which is to make an effort to remove yourself from the situation and actually look at what you do. Look to see if there is any evidence to back up your guilt, I bet there isn’t! Practice a little bit of self-gratitude. Make a list if you need to of all the things you accomplish. But acknowledge what you do and try and be at peace that this is enough.

Finally, practice some self-care. I know this is a bit of a buzz topic at the moment but there’s a reason for that. You can’t give from an empty glass and we live in a world where we try to do much more than is practically possible for any one person. Our villages are  broken and dispersed and people often don’t have the support they need. I’m going to drag out a parenting phrase that I have quoted many times before, bestowed on me from a very wise friend ‘your child is your mirror’. If you are overworked, stressed and brimming with negative emotions, your child(ren) will feed off this and reflect it back to you. If you take some time for yourself to do something you enjoy, just for you, you will be calmer and happier and your children will absorb this positive energy and that makes for a more peaceful household all round (if only in attitude and emotion rather than actual volume. Even when happy, my kids are loud.)

Funnily enough, as I came to the conlusion of this post, a message pinged up from the friend who has my kids today saying simply (in response to my apologies and thanks)

Don’t feel guilty! It’s lovely having a village”

And whilst I know not everyone out there is lucky enough to have a village in place like I do, I think the take home is the same. Don’t feel guilty. We don’t need to haul any extra baggage around with us if it’s not needed. And if you don’t have a village, why not try and make one? Social media is great at connecting people, find some other folk who are village-less and start building a group based on friendship, support and community. And when you’ve got it, accept offers of help when you’re struggling, gratefully and guiltlessly.