A Better Version Of Me

Recently, I’ve started thinking more and more about the traits that the children have inherited from me and Dan. It began with a startling realisation that Isaac’s insistence on holding everyone to impossibly high standards (himself included) is something straight out of Dan’s personal rulebook. Sophia has inherited my clumsiness as well as my love of sweet things (and tendency to overeat at times)! Eli is the first to admit fault in the case of damaged posesssions or general mischief and that’s me all over; as a teenager I told my parents the first time I drank alcohol and when the police might be callling because I was hanging out with people whose idea of a good time was to throw eggs off the top of a multi storey car park…

What’s interesting though is when you see your child in a situation you were in in childhood, anticipate how they’ll react and they then take you by surprise by how they deal with it. Case in point…when we moved, Isaac was desperate to join a local football team and to my surprise, Sophia (having shown no previous interest in the sport) decided that she wanted to try it out as well. She’s always wanted to give everything a go, not wanting to miss out on any available opportunity so I suppose it was just another example of that.

Anyway, fast forward to their first training session. They are in separate groups and Isaac gets stuck in and shows a natural aptitude for running around and kicking the ball. Sophia however, a little like me, appeared to have two left feet, little interest in the game and at times seemed more interested in dog walkers at the other end of the field than in where the ball was. As I watched her, I felt my cheeks redden as I saw her out of her depth in a team full of seasoned players. When they finished I fully anticipated embarassment, perhaps some tears and definitely a refusal to come back. She walked towards me and I merrily asked how she’d found it. Her response? ‘Great! I’m going to come again next week’. I couldn’t have been more shocked! I’m so used to seeing her as mini me that I couldn’t believe how confident she was and willing to give it another go. (She has since given up but only after realising they play all year round, whatever the weather. She liked it but not enough to play in pouring rain and freezing temps!)

A few other occasions since have made me realise that she is the lucky possessor of an unfailing confidence in her own abilities. She was mildly surprised when she couldn’t do an unaided headstand on her first ever attempt and her life ambitions are to own a bakery and be the first woman on the moon. She truly believes she can do anything she puts her hand to and is eager to give everything a go. Where she does struggle, she just ploughs on through and is an amazing example to us all!

The more I look at the kids, the more I’m able to recognise the traits they’ve inherited from both Dan and myself and how the combination they have is a new and improved version of ourselves. More often than not, the characteristics I see in them that we share are positive and whilst obviously they have their own flaws and foibles, they seem less pronounced then in myself and Dan. Maybe it’s because they’re young and haven’t had time to develop but I am starting to appreciate why some people invest so much in their children, hoping they’ll do what their parents couldn’t.

Obviously, I don’t want to put any pressure on my kids. I’m not expecting them to win Nobel Prizes, play sports at national level or discover the cure for cancer (although obviously I’d be bloody proud if they did!) I simply want them to grow up and live healthy, happy lives that have a positive impact on those around them. But it is interesting to think that perhaps they will take the best of us both and use it to go further than previous generations have.

I don’t know if any of your know ‘This Be The Verse’ by Philip Larkin but up until this point, I always thought there was a grain of truth in it. It reads…

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.
And I suppose that whilst that can be the case for some parents and children, I’m really hoping to actually achieve the exact opposite as I traverse down this rather tumultous road of parenthood. I’m sure they will inherit some of our flaws and have plenty of their own but I want to actively push against the sentiment in Larkin’s poem. I want to build them up and instead of handing on misery, I want to hand on happiness. I want to hand on an integrity of spirit, the confidence to challenge what is unfair and unjust and the belief that with hope and positive actions, we can change our path. And given the state of the world that we currently exist in, I truly believe that if we all try to do this for our children, the world will be a better place.
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The Joy of Spontaneity

Since we got back from Italy, sibling relationships have been a little, ahem, tense in our household. Whether it’s a delayed reaction to moving, a combination of pre-teen girly hormones and the testerone surge of the boys or just general grouchiness I don’t know. But it culminated in a series of unfortunate events over the weekend (which I won’t go into for the sake of privacy) that left both the older kids feeling bruised and a little downtrodden. Eli, very unhelpfully, tends to always contribute to my discussions with them about treating each other in a loving way by chiming in ‘It’s not me Mummy, I didn’t do that! I wasn’t grumpy!’. (He’s right though, he doesn’t seem to get quite as involved in the fights and is the first to relent in the hope that he can restore happiness to his big siblings who he adores). Anyway, I digress.

So this morning, I left them playing some convoluted game involving lego whilst I went for a run (Dan was working from home, obviously!) and told them they could continue playing their game whilst I was gone on the proviso they didn’t fight. I also explained that we’d get on with some work once I was back. An hour later I returned and they were all still completely engrossed in their game. I had a shower and pondered whether to interrupt their play or not. However, it had been so long since I’ve seen them playing in such a calm, cooperative and clearly enjoyable manner together that I decided to put the ‘academic work’ on hold for the day and let them keep playing. I thought that allowing them time and space to heal their somewhat fractured relationship was more important than reading and comprehension. And we had a lovely day. They played until lunch and then we headed out to Bovey Tracey for a 4 mile walk around Parke (a National Trust estate) with friends before heading home for dinner and cake with Bake Off. There were literally no fights all day, minimal whinging and it felt incredibly restorative for us all.

It got me thinking about the importance of spontaneity, of not being rigid in sticking to plans and in being able to recognise the most pressing needs in a situation. I often feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day and having recently have started to feel the tell tale symptoms of anaemia returning have realised that once again, I need to step back and take stock. Today (don’t laugh guys…I know I’m a absolute stereotype of a hippy home ed Mum!), that meant not making my own bread and hummus (my recent habit in efforts to cut down on waste) and telling Dan to buy some from the shop. And when it comes to the kids, although I certainly don’t think I’m making them too busy, I do need to be able to reevaluate what’s important. And sometimes, missing a day of our more structured learning to play and then go for a stomp in the woods is infintitely more important than sitting round the table arguing about who’s cheated in the maths game we’re trying to play or trying to juggle three different sets of work at once.

This is short today because I’m tired but basically, if you or the kids are feeling grumpy and tired, it’s OK to cancel all your plans and take a break! Go for a walk, visit the library, bake a cake, swim in the sea (with a wetsuit maybe at this time of year?!)…do whatever makes you all happy. Being in touch with what you all need for harmony and a peaceful life is so important and trumps everything else I reckon. I’m hoping that today was a turning point for us all and we can see more days of calm and less of the ridiculous fighting that has characterised the last few weeks. Wish me luck!

 

Keeping A Record

It’s been nearly three months to the day since my last post so I thought it was probably time to sit down and write an update, if only for my future-self’s sake, rather than for those of you that might be reading this (as let’s face it, how interesting is someone else’s life really?) No, my reason for blogging is two fold. Firstly, it forces me to exercise my creative muscles and to focus on something that isn’t work or the kids. The impetus to kick me out of my dry spell came from seeing a friend’s beautiful art work on instagram (Hi KT!) We briefly spoke about her illustrating a children’s book I was writing a long time ago and seeing her gorgeous work made me realise that I’ve been spending too much time working and not enough writing simply for the love of writing. So I’m going to try and make time to write for me, here and on my works-in-progress. It’s highly likely none of it will go anywhere but at least I’m giving it a go!

Secondly, I’m posting to keep a record of our life over the last few months. When I first started home educating I saw other families incredibly organised ways of recording and documenting their days. Unfortunately, commitment to seeing things through is not my strong point and this applies to all areas of life… I have so many half-filled records of what we’ve been up to, both from an ‘academic’ point of view and a general ‘making memories’ persepctive. This blog seems to be one of the longest lasting endeavours I’ve ever undertaken as an adult so I figure I’ll stick with it for now.

So…what have we been up to? Well, I guess most significantly, we moved house from Topsham to Newton Abbot at the end of August. It’s mad really, we’ve only been here 6 weeks or so but it already feels like we’ve been here forever. I think I’m used to moving after a lifetime of  not staying anywhere more than a few years so adapatability comes easily. The kids are getting there. They are loving the space that the new house offers but Isaac especially is missing Topsham and getting quite anxious about various things. But I’ve got a two-pronged approach to dealing with this. I’m trying to give him space to be sad and make sure we can still see our Topsham friends. But I’m also trying to maximise opportunities to explore our new area and highlight the things that might appeal to him as ‘being better’ than where we used to be. Today we went on an epic exploration of the estate next door and found two new play parks, a pretty cool pond and most excitingly (for me at least), a walnut tree! We brought home a bag full and that was pretty much the highlight of the week for me!

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Also significantly, me and Dan celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary just a few weeks ago. We did so in style by disappearing to Italy for three nights whilst my frankly heroic parents took on the task of keeping the kids alive and happy in our absence. Whilst Mum and Dad took them hiking in the Lake District, Dan and I explored Pompeii, visited the top of Vesuvius, swam in the Bay of Naples and ate all the carbs (because let’s face it, you can’t go to Italy and not eat pizza and gelato for the duration of the trip).

In the home ed world things have re-started for the academic year. The big two and I have embarked on a Egyptian project, a quest to learn Italian (to be practised on a family holiday there next year hopefully), have started a new awesome weekly curriculum with friends (looking at a different piece of art but then expanding it to look at the wider scope of subjects around it – geography, history, politics…etc), have started a new geographical themed project at our weekly social group and of course the normal reading, writing, maths and Forest School. Oh, and our Garden Group has finally got round to starting our fire circle mosiac and we’ve got some cool conservation stuff underway and lined up for the winter months. Phew! Isaac has started football training with the local team and Sophia is now doing two hours of dancing each week (musical theatre and hip hop…just to mix things up!). Eli is loving Kindergarten and was meant to try ‘Mini Kickers’ last week but lost his nerve at the last minute. Busy busy!

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Moving away from the kids, I’ve increased my hours with The Outdoors Group and am very much enjoying my work there. My long-term dream is to do the Forest School Leader Training but it’s just not the right time for me yet. I’m still trying to balance running and weightlifting but have now discovered an enthusiasm for calisthenics as well. I’ve got headstands down and am working on forearm stands and handstands now. I’ve seen progress in both these areas which is encouraging. Pole has taken a back step and whilst I really want to get into climbing, there just aren’t enough hours in the week. In running, my average pace has mysteriously hugely improved since getting back from holiday (maybe it was the pizza?!). I got my 5k and 10k PB in the last few weeks (23:44 and 52:45 respectively) and I’ve got the Great West Run in a fortnight so hoping to smash my 2 hour goal…we’ll see!

Dan’s absolutely smashing all calisthenic and weight lifting goals he sets himself, is starting a new job next month, has re-discovered his fondness for graphic novels and is enjoying having the space to play music a bit more in the new house. He’s also acquired a drone and has shown a natural talent for photography which is pretty bloody cool! I even managed to get him to agree to doing a Mountain Marathon with me once the kids are a bit older….given that he’s not a fan of cardio, I thought this was quite a feat. Of course, asking him after a glass of Italy’s finest bubbles might have been the key there!

And I think that’s us caught up. I’m sure I’ve forgotten loads because how can you condense the life of five people over three months into a few hundred words and pictures? But I’ve given it my darndest best shot! And now it’s off to investigate my children’s book and see if it’s worth reviving. I’ll keep you updated…

If you made it to the end of this, hats off to you. If you thought, TLDR (too long, didn’t read)…that’s totally understandable. Here’s the summary: we’ve moved house and gone on holiday, life is plodding along, everyone is well.

 

 

Ebb and Flow

(Little late this one I’m afraid but I still liked it enough to post it late!)

Even if you don’t make a conscious effort to mark or celebrate the summer solstice or equinox, you are probably aware that the longest day of the year was last week, a signal that we are almost exactly half way through the year. If you are anything like me, you are probably enjoying the light-filled evenings (although perhaps not the early starts quite as much – my youngest seems to be a little bit like a farmer, rising with the sun…which at 5am is just a bit too early for me at the moment!) My evenings have been fairly languid and lazy, I’ve been going for evening walks with friends, watering the parched plants at the allotment and generally fully embracing this time of year.

However, it has taken me a little while to fully acknowledge the natural ebb and flow effect that the seasons have on other areas of our lives. Recently I’ve been fretting that the kids haven’t been doing enough ‘sit-down’ work and that we have been spending a lot more time outside, in nature and on organised home education day trips. It took me a while to remember that this happens every year and for us, is just part of our normal academic rhythm. Each winter, when the weather is unwelcoming and hostile, I throw them outside for Forest School once a week and then we spend the rest of our time hibernating and engaged in quite a lot of project-based work and more traditional academic learning. At some point in the winter I start to worry that I’ve overloading them with information and that we might be doing too much and then usually these worries are put on pause by the Christmas holidays.

As the weather improves each Spring though, our ratio of indoor to outdoor learning seems to slowly swing the other way and by late June I am worrying about our lack of time spent indoors at the table! Remembering this has filled me with relief and also allowed me to fully enjoy spending as much time as possible outdoors whilst the weather is still fine. So we’ve been at the allotment enjoying soft fruit season this morning, we’re off to Tiverton Museum for a field trip tomorrow and our regular hall-based group on Thursday is temporarily moving to the beach to make the most of the heatwave whilst it’s still here.

This realisation has been a reminder of two things for me. Firstly that learning can take so many different forms; the kids can learn through hands-on maths whilst we’re pottering at the plot or at the beach, through discovery at Forest School of new plant or animal specimens, can develop their physical skills through outdoors sports and can work on their social skills almost constantly through the people we meet. Secondly, that there is so much to be gained from observing the seasonal changes around us and not fighting against the opportunities they present. So this week, I’d encourage you to take any opportunity you can to get outside and be in nature, soaking up the sun or perhaps relaxing in the shade, before Wimbledon brings with it the inevitable week of summer rain (although at least the gardeners will be grateful)!

Plans from the Plot

It’s been a while since I’ve bored you all senseless with my green fingered musings so I thought now that Spring is possibly, finally here it was about time to make some public plans for the 2018 growing season. I woke up rather early this morning after a long (22.5 miles) training run on Dartmoor yesterday with Dad and the first thought that popped into my head wasn’t an assessment on which part of my body hurt the most but rather a bit of a panic that it is approaching mid-April and we have nothing growing up at the plot! Or to be precise, nothing that we have planted growing at the plot…weeds however, there are plenty.

I’ve been buying seeds here and there but with the snow and various other factors, hadn’t got round to actually planting any of them! We stopped at a local garden centre this afternoon in the hopes of picking up some strawberry seedlings (cheating I know but time is of the essence!) and potatoes but were thwarted by their lack of card payment facilities. I had to make do with a vigorous weeding session this afternoon as I mentally penciled in what I was going to start planting, when and where. But now the majority of the beds are ready for planting with hops dug in, I’ve got a big bag of seed compost and half a dozen different types of seeds. So first thing tomorrow, me and the kids are going to get the seeds sown and on windowsills and hopefully before the week is out we’ll start to see the first shoots of green gradually emerging from the dark soil beneath.

In an effort to engage the children more fully with the allotment this year I told them they could choose one fruit or vegetable each to grow and be fully in charge of that. Sophia chose peas, Eli can’t seem to decide between tomatoes or our pear tree (although that’s not really something that requires any work) and Isaac pulled the wild card with watermelons. I told him firmly that they don’t grow in England before spotting some seeds in Lidl and to his delight we’re going to give them a go. I’ve supplemented these choices with cucumbers, spaghetti squash, basil and tomatoes and we’ll be getting the aforementioned potatoes, strawberries and hopefully some carrots, peppers and beans as soon as I have cash in my wallet when I’m passing Plants Galore!

I’m sure my co-worker has even more plans as well so I’m looking forward to seeing what is successful and hopefully having a gloriously abundant season of growing our own this year. We also need to sort out our pond which is still resembling a muddy pool of water rather than a haven for wildlife and we desperately need a new shed as ours is, quite literally, falling down. So lot’s to do but I’m not feeling overwhelmed; more excited by the challenge ahead and spending more time outdoors, especially with the promise of doing so in the sun!

A child’s eye view

I’m not sure exactly what the catchment area for is for Manor, the free glossy magazine for the South-West, but we receive it on a fairly regular basis. I usually flick through it and read anything of interest (most memorably an awesome article on wild swimming) before passing it on to Sophia to peruse. However, when the most recent edition fell through our letterbox a few weeks ago, Sophia nabbed it first before I had the chance to have a look. Fast forward an hour and I’m washing up in the kitchen and Sophia sweeps in demanding I read an article and that apparently we have to help! I was intrigued and a little confused and proceeded to read, under her impatient gaze, the article she was thrusting under my nose. It was about a wonderful nurse from Cornwall, Anna Norona, who set up a charity, Yezidi Emergency Support, to support Yezidi refugees and is working tirelessly to provide emergency aid for these displaced peoples, especially in regards to their medical needs.

I’ll be honest, if I had read the article first there is a chance I would have filtered it. There was mention of some of the horrendous things that have happened to the Yezidi people since the genocide of thousands of this peaceful minority at the hands of ISIS back in 2014. It’s not necessarily something I would have wanted my 8 year old to read. However, it ignited a spark in her to help these people and I have been so proud of her response to discovering this information.

She was absolutely adamant that we had to do something to support them. She said that she would hate to be separated from me and Dan and be hurt and spoke about how lucky we are to be living somewhere safe with food and our family. After a little brain-storming, she decided to raise money by being sponsored to eat just rice, beans and oats for three whole days. For a girl who likes her food, this is a pretty big deal! Anna identified a particular family currently living in a refugee camp in Kurdistan that she could support, we set up a justgiving page and she is preparing herself for her challenge which she’ll be doing on the 8th, 9th and 10th April.

I am so proud of her and her determination help those less fortunate than herself. But more than that, it has kicked me into action. We are surrounded by such a deluge of depressing and bleak news that it is easy to become numb to the horrors of the world around us. It’s easy to slip into inaction and passivity when we should be using our position of privilege to do something. So I’m resolved to do more to help those that need it. I’ll be fundraising for Yezidi Emergency Support myself and will be raising money through my (baby) ultra-marathon for them and am planning to make a conscious effort to donate regularly to the Exeter Food Bank. My time for volunteering may be stretched thin at the moment but I’m going to do what I can to raise awareness of those in need and help wherever possible. If anything, I owe it to Sophia to show her that I support her with more than just words. I want to follow the example she’s set and show love to my fellow humans with more than just platitudes.

And…breathe.

I’m not going to mince my words. Over the last few weeks, the behaviour of my children has been pretty unpleasant. They’ve been bickering constantly, there has been shouting and screaming fits (regularly) and I’ve even been hit whilst trying to help them negotiate a tricky situation. Thus far, I have been fairly successfully fostering a calm facade and have managed to avoid shouting mostly but I am so far past the end of my tether at this point that the veneer is starting to crack. What I’m most puzzled by is what is causing it. Usually I can pinpoint a reason for such a noticeable decline in temperament but this time, I am clueless. If I was going to clutch at straws I’d suggest that maybe it’s the end result of too much time inside after recurrent bouts of illness and a long wet and cold winter. I’m not convinced though. If it was just one of them I’d blame sleep or hormones but for it to be all of them (actually not so much the smallest) is a bit of a mystery.

However, I have long known the best way for me to manage through such a season of discontent. And that is with regular breaks to go somewhere, by myself, and just enjoy the peace. One such opportunity presented itself last weekend when I realised it was time to do a long training run for the upcoming mini ultra. So I laced my (new!) trainers, packed my running belt with snacks and headed out for a blissful 3 hours of running around the Exeter Green Circle. I covered 18 miles and returned with very muddy and slightly bleeding legs (I lost an argument with some brambles) but feeling much more “zen”. It’s amazing what a little bit of exercise and some time outside without the constant refrain of ‘Muuuuuuuum’ can do for your mood!

And whilst I don’t fully blame cabin fever or the upcoming full moon for their moods, it does have to be said that after a consecutive few days of getting them outside to play or walk for several hours they have been a little bit better. Granted, today in Rougemont Gardens the boys and my friend’s son drew the glances of a fair few passers by with their exuberant running, yelling and general mud covered antics. But after that and an afternoon exploring her amazing garden we returned home with everyone feeling a little happier and a little less grouchy.

I refuse to believe scare mongering of a third Beast this Easter and am living naively in the belief that it will be, if not glorious sunshine, at least not too wet or cold. I am hoping to cram in as much outside time as possible to the coming bank holiday weekend in the hopes that I can fully shake the grumps out of my kids and enjoy a few weeks off our normal routine with a little more harmony than we’ve seen of late. And if it is cold and wet, then that’s what raincoats and woolly hats are for! As long as I remember to grab my moments to breathe, then we’ll weather this rough patch and come out the other side with no hard feelings!