Push and Pull

I’ve been struggling the last few weeks with my mental health. This isn’t a cry for help or a call for sympathy but rather just putting it out there in case others are feeling the same. This lockdown has been hard, the worst of the three (in my opinion). Which is odd in a way given the signs of hope on the horizon with a proposed date for a return to ‘normality’ and increasing numbers of people getting vaccinated. But I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Maybe it’s the weather, a wet windy winter with little light is enough to put you in a foul place, even without a global pandemic. Maybe it’s just simply an accumulation of the last year. Either way, I’m pretty much done.

I’ve been reading a book I got for Christmas called ‘The Wild Remedy’ by Emma Mitchell. It is a beautiful book but whenever I describe it, I can’t do it justice! She suffers with depression and the book is about how reconnecting with nature may offer some relief (although she herself also takes medication and acknowledges that walks in nature alone are not going to be enough for a lot of people). A lot of what she’s written resonates with me though. She describes the battle in her mind between wanting to stay at home, on the sofa but knowing somewhere deep in her mind that getting out will help ease her symptoms. This is how I’ve felt the last 6 weeks or so, not just about being in nature but also seeing friends and family. Obviously, seeing people at the moment is fairly limited but the scope is there. But the push and pull in my head is pretty much 50/50 right now and it takes a lot of effort for the going out and seeing people side of my head to win when given the choice!

It doesn’t help that I’ve suffered a calf injury and at the moment running is halted. It’s only been 10 days since I last ran properly but it feels like a lifetime! Luckily, I was reminded that a friend of ours is a Sports Physio and he’s been amazing at helping me with rehab whilst also encouraging me that of course, I will be running again before too long. (I was starting to adopt a fairly dramatic – this-is-the-end-of-my-running-journey – attitude that was not particularly helpful!) Dan also deserves a shout out here for being incredibly supportive and understanding even when the way I’m feeling is like a dark shadow descending on the entire house and (I worry) affecting all of us in it.

Anyway, not really much else to say but just absolute solidarity for anyone else feeling this way right now. If everything feels a bit too much, if getting out of bed in the mornings is a struggle, if managing your workload (be that kids, study, housework, paid employment, care work) feels like an unscalable mountain, if everything just feels a bit grey, if you’re anxious about everything, if you feel stuck in a mire without any indication for the way out, if the thought of seeing your favourite people makes you feel weary. You’re not alone, you can get through this. Talk to people, tell them how you’re feeling. I’ll leave you with a picture from a run before I hurt my leg because another thing many people I’ve spoken to recently have said is that as soon as the sun started to shine a few weeks ago, we all felt just a little bit better. The return of the light is so significant to me this year, I’ve been tracking sunrise and sunset times and each few minutes of light we gain back are a representation for me of better times ahead and a dose of serotonin to quell the anxiety and dark moods.

Play, play, play

I’d say that a common concern for those electively home educating (or at least, a concern of myself and those home educators I know) is whether we’re doing enough with and for our kids. Home education is like being blindfolded and then put on a very long rollercoaster. It’s like being told to assemble a Lego Death Star without the manual. There is no guidebook. Yes, there are plenty of books about home educating but the take home from a lot of these is ‘every child learns differently. Home education looks different for each and every family’. And whilst this is part of the reason I love it so much, it does also lend itself to a degree of second guessing and occasional guilt that you might not be doing it correctly for your children. Am I equipping them adequately for whatever they might want to do as adults? Are we doing enough structured academic learning? Am I giving them enough of a solid foundation in the three R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic)? Am I being selfish in choosing to have a paid job alongside facilitating their learning – is it negatively impacting them?  (Note, rarely do I ask if their socialising is adequate – just thought I’d get it in there that there is a vibrant home education community in Devon with no shortage of opportunities to hang out with other kids of all ages).

Over the last 12 months, unfortunately, I think it’s fair to say that most parents in the country have shared these same thoughts at some point as their children have been thrust full time into their homes and families have to adapt to learn how to work, educate and live from within the same four walls. Obviously I know that teachers and schools are doing a fantastic job in supporting these families and that ‘pandemic schooling’ or ‘crisis schooling’ in conjunction with your child’s school is very different to choosing to home educate but from talking to friends with kids in school, I know that a lot of the same worries are affecting these families. 

Last week though, I had a bit of an epiphany about the importance of play. I had sat down to write a blog post for work, feeling guilty as I did so about the fact that my three small people had been abandoned (again!) to their own devices around the house. I could hear the boys upstairs playing lego (with Bon Jovi’s greatest hits blaring out – the current soundtrack to our days) and assumed Sophia was sewing, reading or pootling about in her room in some other creative occupation. As I pulled up our content schedule, I saw that I was scheduled to write about play for Global School Play Day. What a fortunate coincidence this was! By the time I’d finished writing an hour or so later, all guilt had evaporated. 

Because, as it turns out….play is absolutely essential for our children’s happy and healthy developmentNow, in theory I already knew this. I’ve read plenty about learning through play, about why play is so important, particularly for younger children. But as I was presented with reams and reams of evidence about how it positively impacts them in more than just academic outcomes, I was a bit taken aback. I won’t recreate that post (which you can read here if you’re so inclined) but essentially – play is everything for children. It helps their social skills, their physical health, their fine and gross motor skills, their ability to reason, to resolve conflict. It’s therapeutic, it helps their ability to create and as I’ve already mentioned, it facilitates learning in a way that books, teachers and parents often can’t. I found research indicating that children allowed to play have better outcomes when it comes to employment in adulthood, in their further education and most importantly (I think) in their future happiness and mental health. 

So this is just me basically saying parents – stop feeling guilty about not doing enough with and for your kids. Stop worrying about a ‘gap’ in their knowledge or learning (although that concept makes me quite cross and is a whole other post). Stop stretching yourself beyond breaking point to try and be a super-woman or man (they don’t exist!) and give yourself a break. LET THEM PLAY. Let them play with their lego for hours if that’s what they want to, let them play outside in the garden (even if you think it’s freezing and they should be inside – kids are pretty good at knowing what they can handle), let them play with the recycling making fantastic junk models, let them play incredibly long drawn out role play games with their siblings. Just let them play. It is so so good for them. Particularly given the global pandemic, it’s probably the best way for a lot of them to process what the world looks like right now. Let them play, guilt free, knowing that you are contributing to the best possible future for them in doing so. And as for you, take a deep breath…and relax.

A snap my talented other half took from Isaac’s requested rockpooling birthday adventure 💚

Redressing The Balance

I was listening to a podcast whilst running this morning on which a newly pregnant woman had written in saying that she was terrified of motherhood. She stated that this wasn’t helped by the podcasters always referring to early years in negative terms, emphasising how hard and all encompassing it was. Those hosting the podcast obviously apologised for framing pregnancy and motherhood in what they termed ‘dark humour’ whilst reassuring her that there were a lot of positives to be found.

Later today, I was remarking to a friend that we tend to linger on hardship and negatives in our day-to-day conversations. It’s rare I think to bump into someone and spend much time remarking on the small but positives that do litter our lives. It got me to thinking about my blog. I often ponder about things that are troubling me, I suppose I use it a little like a therapist. A place to explore ideas and pontificate on why I feel a certain way; guilt filled, not good enough, like I’ve lost myself. And I do find that helpful and I do think it can be helpful to share these thoughts with people so they know that they’re not alone in thinking the same.

But….I think it’s probably equally powerful to share the good stuff. To celebrate in each others wins, no matter how small. I think I worry that it might come across like bragging, a ‘look how good my life is’ post. But I talk to the kids a lot about the power of positivity and focusing on the things that make you happy so I thought I’d better start putting that into practice. Particularly right now when we’re living in a really challenging time. So with that in mind, I’ve made a list of the things that bring me joy or have brought me joy recently…

My happy list

  • Seeing one of my oldest and dearest friends for a very stormy walk last week one evening after work when initially I just wanted to stay at home
  • The boys having a giggling fit at bedtime yesterday and resolving it by reading books together in bed
  • Getting to work out with Dan whilst the gym is closed, even if we are constantly interrupted by kids
  • Maintaining quite a few 9 minute miles on my 12 mile run this morning
  • Prepping the veg beds in the front garden with Sophia ready to attempt some growing again this year
  • My family and friends being generally healthy and well, throughout the last rather turbulent 12 months
  • Dan and I still enjoying each others company after nearly 16 years together and continuing to make each other laugh
  • Being friends with so many of the people I work with – what a treat to like your colleagues and actually want to spend time with them outside of work!
  • Spotting a particularly interesting tree, flower or rock formation
  • Finally being able to fairly consistently light fires outside
  • Working for a company that does something I really believe in
  • Going for a nighttime star gazing walk early in the lockdown in the freezing temps
  • Spotting some of the same constellations I’d been taught a week later
  • Watching TV with Sophia when the boys have gone to bed
  • Eli’s crazy dancing
  • Wild swimming
  • Isaac’s absolute loyalty and devotion to his friends and family
  • Running – the antidote to everything
  •  The children’s obsession with fail videos and jumping out on each other
  • Good food – this is not specific but good food really does bring me a lot of joy!
  • Being outdoors – pretty much anywhere but particularly on the moors, the coastline or in the Lake District
  • Becoming a member of the South West Coast Path
  • Spotting loads of rainbows on a run on monday

I think that’ll do for now…now it’s your turn! Share your happy lists with me, or even just one thing that’s brought you joy over the last week or so. Go on, do it! Spread the love!

Worry Less, Run More

Ever since I’ve started writing more content for work (couldn’t resist a plug so if you’re interested, check it out here), I’m aware that I’ve neglected my own site. Apparently my ability to write interesting, creative posts (if they ever meet that brief!) is limited to only one venture at a time. But I’m halfway through our two week festive shutdown and seeing as it’s been a fair while since I posted here, I thought I’d give it a go!

But where to start?

I’ve missed my usual writing points; advent, Sophia’s birthday, Christmas… and I’m not sure my head is quite right to revisit them or if you’re even interested in them! In the interests of record keeping though, a brief report is that our advent period was surprisingly relaxed, festive and enjoyable even with Lockdown 2.0 and then the restrictions imposed by being in Tier 2. Sophia’s birthday was lush, she was sweetly overjoyed with the love and presents she received and a good time was had by all although I still can’t quite believe she’s reached the grand old age of 11. I actually remember being 11 and it feels so old for my baby!

We’ve also been spending as much time as we can outside…our favourite family past-time!

Christmas was only two days ago so I’ll be a bit less brief with that. I’d been feeling on/off poorly in the days leading up to it and after a night of feeling very hot and a bit cough-y I booked a covid test to be on the safe side. This meant our plans were slightly amended as we had to isolate but it was only really Christmas Eve that was affected so it wasn’t much of a hardship (although we did miss our planned walk with my folks). Christmas itself was absolutely lovely. We had a low key day, opening presents, zooming our families, grazing, playing new games and snoozing on the sofa. Then we did it all again on Boxing Day whilst we waited for my test results which thankfully came back negative late in the day. I’ve just had blood tests back showing that I’m anaemic again so I’m putting down my symptoms to that for now.

I’ve been thinking about running a lot recently and so wasn’t surprised when there was a distinctive running theme to my presents. My gorgeous sister bought me an amazing runners box full of treats (including a charm with the title of this post attached), Dan bought me some fancy pants wireless, waterproof headphones and the kids got me a head torch so I can attempt some night runs (eek!). I felt very spoilt and encouraged in my favourite activity.

Just before Christmas my Dad lent me ‘The Round, in Bob Graham’s Footsteps’, a book about an infamous running challenge in the Lake District and I’ve been reading it whilst poorly. It used to be a goal of Dad’s and I think he’s trying to pass it onto me. Initially I wasn’t interested, thinking it out of my reach but after reading the first half, a seed has been planted… The Bob Graham Round is a challenge whereby you have to run roughly 62 miles, covering 42 peaks in less than 24 hours, starting and ending in Keswick. It’s divided into 5 sections, marked by road crossings and generally those attempting it have a band of pacers and support crew to run with them and provide food and kit changes as needed. The first section (depending on if you run it clockwise or anticlockwise) is from Keswick to Threkeld, passing over Latrigg, Skiddaw, Great Calva and on to Blencathra before you descend via Hall’s Fell. It’s 12.5 miles so well within my grasp and given that we often visit the Lakes and stay near Threkeld, I think it’s a goer for the next time we head up. Then I can decide whether to try more in the future…

Jazz hands running down from Hamel Tor!

For now though, I’ve been thinking about 2021 running plans. I’ve already got a 30 mile race booked in April, tackling the Southwest Coast Path between Kingswear and Shaldon which I’m excited about. But…I’d quite like a bigger challenge having managed by first 30 miler back in November. So I’ve decided to enter the Westcountry Ultra Hilly 50 miler in May. Additionally, I thought I’d better start some prep if I ever want to achieve my dream of running the Coast Path continuously in a few years time. I’ve become a member of the SWCP and my long suffering husband Dan has agreed that once a month he’ll drive me to a spot on the coast path, spend the day in the area with the kids and pick me up from my end point so I can start to run it all. I’m hoping to run around 20 miles once a month and if I keep this up, should complete the entire 630 miles in 2 years (ish).

Running isn’t for everyone, I know this. But for me, it is the key to good mental health. There’s something about running, particularly long distances that just seems to fix my head. I’ve been working through some CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) online courses via TalkWorks (a Devon based depression/anxiety service) and whilst some of the techniques are really helpful, nothing makes me less anxious and puts me on more of an even keel than running regularly.

It’s been such a horrendous year that I think more of us than ever before are struggling with our mental health. Therefore, it’s so important to identify what you can do when you’re finding life hard or a bit overwhelming. For me it’s running, for some people it’s traditional talking therapies, for other people I know it’s playing music, crafting with their hands, some other form of exercise…the list is endless. It doesn’t matter what you do but if you’re struggling with your mental health – do something that helps. And if you don’t know where to start, reach out for help. Whether it’s to your friends or family or to professionals. Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s OK to not be OK.

I can’t imagine I’ll get round to writing again in the next few days so wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Here’s hoping for a 2021 with a lot less pandemic, and a lot more joy.

Reality Check

Home Education has been the topic of many conversations this Autumn. This isn’t unusual as the start of the school term often brings our educational choices to people’s attention but it has been even more prevalent this year with the closure of schools for months and more. One consequence of this disruption to the school system is that seemingly more parents are opting to educate their children at home; either because they’re worried about their children’s safety in schools with the virus still spreading, because they’re not happy with how safety measures put in place will affect their children’s education or because having their kids at home for a prolonged period of time gave them the opportunity to realise that they can and do want to educate them at home.

Whilst answering the common questions (which I’ll get to in a bit) I’ve been able to reflect a little bit on what home education looks like in our house compared to what I thought it might look like 6 years ago when I was just starting out with two fairly undemanding and eager toddlers, no job and bags more energy. I remember reading about beautiful Steiner rhythms to shape your day (I’m not a huge fan of Steiner but I took the elements which I thought would suit us such as routine, lots of time outdoors, being creative, marking the seasons..etc) and found various ‘kinder’ curriculums focused on the natural world, creativity and gentle learning.

I fought and fought to implement these rhythms and routines to our days and weeks before finally coming to the conclusion, several years and another child later, that actually…I’m really terrible at sticking to routines. And what’s more, the effort involved in trying to stick to these routines led to a whole ton of unnecessary guilt and stress as I felt I was failing as the picture of what I thought home education should look like. When I let this idea go, it was like a weight off my shoulders. Now as it happens, as the kids have gotten older and started various scheduled activities as it were (such as dancing, latin lessons, football and forest school), I have had to stick to certain routines. But I no longer attempt to force a routine on a life where spontaneity often rules and where actually, such an approach actually produces some of our best and most productive days and moments.

Another admission I’ve had to make is that actually, whilst I’ve chosen to home educate, it doesn’t mean I always have to like it. In my ideal world, a gorgeous community based school would exist where my children could attend 2-3 days a week, spend lots of time outdoors and in small groups and I could leave them to focus on my own things (be that work or pleasure) on those days. Unfortunately, I think that the structure of the UK school system would leave one of my children permanently in trouble for his, ahem “boisterous” tendencies, one struggling with doing things not at his own pace and one who would love the academics of secondary school but wouldn’t have enough time to pursue her passions.

When I speak to friends who are teachers, I’m saddened by how the government-mandated measures prevent them from teaching how they’d like to and I think that teachers are an absolutely incredible breed for continuing to do what they do, to the best of their ability, despite the circumstances. they find themselves in. But given that I do have the privilege of choosing another option for my children, I’m going to do that. It’s just that I don’t necessarily always want to (cue more guilt for not being a happy home ed Mum who loves every minute of it…!) or know exactly that I’m doing the right thing. But I have learnt a thing or two over the last 6 years so I thought I would answer some of the common questions that myself and other established home educators, are often asked in case it was helpful to anyone out there.

Do you have to follow a curriculum?

Quite simply put, no! The Education Act of 1996 simply states that “The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable a to his age, ability and aptitude, and b to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” This is basically it. So, within a state school they will follow the national curriculum but at home, it is up to you to define what constitutes suitable, efficient and full time for your child. This will obviously change over time. For example, your 4 year old (arguably) needs no formal education, much research on learning through play shows the importance of play and many countries don’t start formal education until 6 or 7 accordingly. However, your 11 year old will probably need to be doing a little more than playing all day… (although there’s a whole other discussion about unschooling that could be had here)

How do you know what to teach them?

Again, this will depend on the age and ability of your child. For me, I spent the early years (5-8) focusing on reading, writing and mathematics alongside a whole lot of crafts, baking, outdoor adventures and play. However, now the older two are almost 9 and 11, I talk to them regularly about what they’re interested in and we do work on that. In the last 18 months we’ve done a WW2 project, work on the Victorians, a science Climate Change curriculum, started learning Italian, about the Bronze Age and the Periodic Table and Sophia has done an adult online course in Fashion History. We’ve also done a lot of creative writing, age-appropriate mathematics, art, music and physical activity. We use Twinkl and other online resources to get information and resources to aid our learning and my catch phrase tends to be that it’s not about teaching yourself, but about facilitating learning! You don’t have to know it all to help them find things out.

Do you get checked up on?

Personally, we’ve never had any contact from the LEA (Local Education Authority) or Babcock (who are contracted to stay in touch with home educators in Devon). If you deregister your child from school, they are likely to get in touch but there is no requirement for you to meet them in person (unless your child has additional needs) if you don’t want to. Some families find it helpful but others would rather be left alone to do their own thing and a lot of the home educating families I know haven’t been contacted or made contact themselves.

What about the social side of things?

Ha! This question is the one that makes home educating parents laugh the most around here. The Home Education community in Devon is vibrant and thriving. I used to say that the danger was not spending any time at home as there were so many meet ups (educational and social) and groups on offer from rock climbing on Dartmoor to science sessions in halls to Forest School and beach meets and a whole lot more. I’d argue as well that because groups are rarely segregated by age, social skills are much improved as your children will be spending time with a range of differently aged children which comes with even more skills to learn. (Just to add that unfortunately at the moment, due to covid, the community isn’t able to be as full and welcoming as it usually is but I have every hope we’ll be back to normal at some point…)

How do you cope with having your children around all the time without a break?

I don’t! I love my kids but man, they drive me crazy! Personally, mine are in Forest School once a week, my folks very kindly have them fortnightly and I like to run or go to the gym 4/5 times a week to get some headspace and quiet time! I also work 2 days a week (flexibly) which gives me some time to step out of Mum mode. All families have their own arrangements in place but I know that a lot of them make sure they carve out some child-free time to get that bit of breathing space they definitely need!

That was a little on the epic side, apologies for such a long post but hopefully it might have made interesting reading for some of you. At the very least, it’s a change from talking about the global pandemic eh?! If you have any other questions about home education that you’re dying to ask and I haven’t answered, drop it in the comments and I’ll happily answer any more!

Green Fingered Woes

We got back from a week in the Lakes yesterday and whilst there, it had been on my mind to write the entire time. Naturally I figured I’d ramble about our time away but actually, when it came to it, it was fairly non-eventful. We had a lush time; I got in nearly 30 miles of beautiful fell running (not consecutively), we went on some long (for the kids) walks around lakes, explored waterfalls and caves and I ate probably one of the best burgers I’ve ever had (hats off to The Round in Keswick and thanks again for squeezing us in!). But it was just some much needed relaxed family time, nothing particularly groundbreaking or newsworthy about that. 

Credit to Mr D for the incredible shot

So actually, as we drove down our road after 7 long hours off motorway driving yesterday (not that I should complain as the passenger the entire time!), the thing that struck me most was the state of my garden! Now, I’m not saying my abysmal gardening is newsworthy but I wanted to publicly pontificate about it.

What a mess!

When lockdown began back in March, like many around the country, I quickly identified a silver lining of this pandemic as being that I would have time to actually focus on growing this year. I was optimistic that I’d be able to adopt a productive approach and would be rewarded with a bountiful harvest! 

So I beavered away making raised beds out of discarded pallets I found on our estate and within a few weeks, had seeds sown and teetering on windowsills everywhere in the house. Things got off to a good start. Weeks of unending, glorious sunshine meant that seeds sprouted, seedlings grew and before long were planted out in beds and pots. I’d certainly been ambitious. I had prince crown squash, purple sprouting broccoli, courgettes, chard, onions, giant cauliflowers, tomatoes, raspberries and salad all vying for my attention. 

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where my good fortune ended. There were a few problems. Firstly, lack of space, I crammed far too much into each bed, hopeful that the guidelines for spacing that I read about weren’t too prescriptive. Secondly, slugs! I’ve spent all season thinking about slug repellents but not actually done anything about it. Finally though, July and August did not bring the weather my squash, courgettes and tomatoes needed to actually ripen. Eventually, I picked a bowl of big green tomatoes, I think I’ve had the grand sum of three courgettes off as many plants and my squash have swollen to the size of a grapefruit and then resolutely stopped, showing no signs thus far of turning orange. 

As they say, the best laid plans and all that… but after a decade of growing my own food I’m fairly philosophical about it. You win some, you lose some. We got plenty of chard and a decent amount of broccoli and have just been donated two rhubarb crowns which seem to be doing OK. 

So onwards and upwards! I’m thinking about what I can sow now for the winter and I need your help! I know that I know a lot of experienced gardeners and growers so what would you advise (apart from leafy winter greens!) planting now, either from seed or plug plant that I can grow over the winter? I was thinking of Brussel sprouts, garlic and some greens but is there anything else amazing I’m missing? I’d be so grateful for any input! 

Who knew slugs would eat rhubarb as well?!

Also, I’d be interested to know how your growing has been this year so please do drop me a comment and let me know. Has the time you gained allowed you to grow a bountiful harvest or have you had other issues that have foiled your growing plans? 

How do I do this again?!

After several discussions with friends, I know that I’m not alone in thinking that time has been playing silly buggers with us all this year. It feels like I blinked and suddenly it’s 1st September. Which means it’s time for my annual ‘not-back-to-school’ evangelical home education post!

Except…I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do it this year. And it’s not just because of covid. I feel a bit lost as to how to get back into the swing of things and what exactly to do! I think it’s partly because the kids are older; the easy days of teaching them to read and write are nearly over now (just Eli to help with this) and their appetite for more structured, in depth work (at least Sophia’s!) is growing. Also, their needs and approaches are so very different; it’s a bit of a juggling act to simultaneously engage, challenge and occupy all three of them. On top of that, I’m trying to work two days a week, train for a (mini) ultra in November and keep the house from looking like an absolute pit. It’s absolutely doable but it requires better time management and more careful planning and consideration than I have given it up until this point! 

IMG-20200622-WA0007

Which is why for us, the new school year will begin on the 14th, bit of a late start but Ithink it’ll give me the breathing room I need to work out what exactly to do! We’ve got some ideas, Sophia wants to do some more online courses (one in French fashion history has caught her eye) and improve her sewing (we’ll get Grandma to help with this!), they all are up for continuing our Bronze Age project, we’re going to do some work on the periodic table and continue to use an online maths programme. Sophia and Isaac will continue their music lessons with Dad and Sophia is also carrying on with Latin and hopefully restarting her LAMDA classes. And blissfully, all three of them will be returning to Exeter Forest School to give me a whole day every week for work or whatever else takes my fancy. And actually, when I look at it written down like that, it seems like maybe we’ve got enough to be getting on with after all! 

IMG_20200514_111619733What I’m really worried about this year though is the home education community itself. Covid has wreaked havoc on all areas of life but whilst most are getting back to normal, we’ve all been left floundering a little. Many organised activities, run by an outside business, are starting to resume but the core of our community; parent led activities and groups (be them academic or social) are left adrift. We often rely on village and community halls, most of which haven’t yet committed to opening for hire again. Or alternatively, the guidelines from the government are either so vague as to make us unwilling to risk organising activities or just plain non-sensical. 

It’s a real shame because I think we’re going to see a substantial rise in the numbers of people home educating. Whether this is because they’ve now had their kids at home for six months and found that not only was it manageable, but preferable. Or because they don’t agree with the approach schools are taking in the wake of covid. Or because they have vulnerable members in their households and feel safer at home. But for those of us who are established in the local home ed community, we won’t be able to offer the warm welcome we usually do. This is not to knock organised, paid for activities – they absolutely have their place but without social groups meeting in halls, it will be much more difficult to reassure new home edders, to share information, to offer support and understanding. I think there’s the potential for it to be a lonely few months for a lot of new home educated families, as they try to navigate their new approach to education but without the physical in-person support that we can usually offer. 

IMG_20200628_113526387_HDRObviously, I understand the need for caution in returning to a semblance of normal life but I fear that, being a rather small portion of the population, those that home educate will get overlooked in guidance and provision. I don’t know what the future holds for us and I’m rather wary of what happens next. But for now, me and the kids are lucky to have so many lovely connections with fellow home educators in Devon and I know that we’ll band together to support each other as we adjust to whatever home education looks like coming out the other side of these last few months. 

And if anyone reading this is interested in home education, I’d recommend checking out Education Otherwise or the Home Education Advisory Service or your local Facebook group for more information! 

 

Sun, Sea, Sand and Unending Optimism

Despite an incredibly off-putting forecast of five days of thunderstorms, high winds and a lot of rain; remarkably, I’ve just returned from a camping foray in Cornwall where we managed to bag a fair bit of the elusive three. We even achieved four consecutive beach trips with swimming at three, ice cream at two and a bit of sunshine at them all. I even dragged myself out of bed at 4.30am for a sunrise swim! Of course, this is the West Country in August and we did also have two nights with 50mph winds and some wee hour peg checks but we managed to set up and pack up in dry weather so I’m calling that a win.I’ll be honest, I was less than enthusiastic when the week began but the incredible positivity of some of our group members soon rubbed off on me and before we knew it, ‘it’ll blow over’ became the motto of the trip. It also helps that one of our amazing friends who was missing the festival scene remedied this by building a fully stocked bar, complete with pork scratchings and music in the centre of our tents! Even waking up to a rainy day and finding our event shelter had disappeared in the night was remedied when the sun came out just at the same time as said shelter was discovered, mostly unscathed, by a farmer in a nearby field and hastily retrieved before, as he put it, the cows got it.

I had the grandest plans to blog every day whilst away, thought it might kick start a more regular writing habit. But we all know what they say about the best laid plans and I was thwarted by a combination of tiredness and a desire to be fully present with my family and friends on the first day. So the phone stayed in the tent most of the week (except to check the forecast of course – an addictively futile task), email notifications were turned off and we always managed to completely switch off and create a temporary mini community in a field on the cliffs in Cornwall for 5 days.One of the main things I realised this week (apart from the fact that I should definitely not revisit rum for a while…) is that camping with kids is so much easier now they are older. In fact, this would apply to life in general. I really feel like this year, we’ve turned a corner and fully left behind that particular brand of all consuming parenting that you have with really young kids. Don’t get me wrong, I spent a good portion of my week trying to navigate disgruntled, tired kids and social dynamics but as a general rule, they’ll go off and play, they don’t need my help to get a snack or drink, to go to the loo. Even bedtime is easier. And it makes things feel so much easier in many ways. I feel like I’m slowly clawing back a bit of myself, I’m finally not defined as just Mum. And this struck me particularly whilst we were away and I spent a lot of time talking (and annoying) my friends rather than just chasing a toddler around the field!

And now? I’m home and absolutely exhausted but feeling like my cup has been refilled. Dan’s actually nipped to Wales for the weekend with our middle one so the vibe at home is odd, still feels like a holiday with two thirds of the household gone. I love having three kids but I maintain that three is a tricky number and regardless of which one temporarily leaves, it’s always easier with two. So we’re having a gentle return to normality before the working week begins on Monday and we have to get on that treadmill of life again.Have you ventured away this summer? I initially felt a bit odd about going away but am so glad we did and am now very looking forward to what is becoming our annual trip to the Lake District next month.

I took barely any photos whilst away mainly because our resident photographer was in situ for the first few days so I’ll nick a few of his to share some of our time with you. I’ve never been to this particular part of the North Cornish coast but I’ll definitely be back, if only for the sunsets!

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Who am I?

The last few months have given me a lot of time to think. As external influences from our weekly routines and interactions with the people we see disappeared, I found myself thinking a lot about identity and sense of self. This has been spurred on by the fact that the lockdown also coincided with the start of a cognitive behavioural therapy course that I’d been referred to back in January. Although no formal diagnosis, I scored highly for anxiety and moderately for depression on the tests and this was my lovely GP’s suggestion to try and get my head in a better place. And a lot of the work involves really examining yourself and your thought processes to try and change the way you think and consequently, act and feel.

Through my adolescent and adult life I have variously tried to identify and label myself as an activist, a musician, a sailor, a mother, a knitter, a doula, a writer, a runner, a weight lifter, a forest school leader, an employee… I’ve never felt I belonged in any of these categories, I didn’t feel I was accomplished enough, experienced enough, committed enough. I didn’t feel that I was good enough. During my CBT course, this theme kept emerging. Not being enough. Which has been traced back to having a really crappy sense of self esteem. I don’t know where this has come from,  I’ve been blessed (lucky?) enough to not experience any real trauma in my life and have got a blooming’ amazing support network of family and friends. 

During lockdown, I’ve particularly felt I’m failing as a mother. Work has been incredibly busy and I really felt for a while that I was living and breathing it, that I was constantly telling the kids I had an email to send, a phone call to make, a meeting to attend. My work-life balance felt totally out of sync. I’ve been beating myself up about it for weeks. However, one of the exercises on the CBT course made me take stock and actually reflect on what we’ve done over the last few months, not just take my perception of it for granted. And I realised that we’d not done too badly. We completed our WWII project, completed a science climate-change project, started a new history project and the kids have worked on their music practice and maths and English regularly. We’ve also taken a lot of day trips; to the woods, to the moors, to the beach and I’ve done a ton of running. So I guess I haven’t done as badly as I thought. 

I have realised two things though. Firstly that the why doesn’t particularly matter. It’s just one of those things I guess. What does matter is what I do about it now and how I build my sense of self to be more positive (or at least, more realistic!) The second thing is that I need to care a hell of a lot less about what other people think of me and a lot more about what I think of me (and preferably, it’d be good if I liked, or at least accepted, myself a bit more!) This also means that actually, I don’t need a label. I am not just one thing. I am multi-faceted and it doesn’t matter if I don’t fit into a box. 

I hesitated to write this blog. I don’t want to elicit any sympathy. In fact, I struggle to accept it anyway and find it incredibly embarrassing. Which is all part and parcel of the thing I’m working on I think; in lieu of being relaxed enough to really live in the moment, I want to be liked, to make people laugh, to want people to want to be with me. In fact, the realisation that I don’t laugh as much as I’d like to has been a real turning point to me and my self development. I love to laugh, those endorphins are addictive! But I’m too wrapped up in my own head and constant mental to-do list to really be present and relax. The favourite people in my life are the ones that make me fully embrace the moment and that I laugh with. 

Rather, I wrote this because I truly believe it’s important to be honest about mental health and if it helps someone else to be brave enough to reach out for help if they need it, it’s worth the vulnerability. I’ve put off getting help for many years, probably since Eli was born. I was embarrassed about it. On paper, my life is pretty damn good and I didn’t think I had any right to need help. I thought I just needed to get over it, to figure out my own way to worry less and be happier but turns out, I couldn’t do it alone. 

Recently, I’ve seen a few people in my sphere open up about their mental health and it both surprised and encouraged me. People who I thought totally had it together apparently, did not. And I realised that means that they might have needed support but same as me, not reached out for it. How can we be good friends and look after those in our ‘virtual village’ if we don’t know when people need support?

So yes, at the beginning of the year I was having a bloody hard time. On more than one occasion, I sat in my car after a run or a visit to a friend not wanting to go home. And not because anything terrible was happening at home. Just because life felt too much. I wanted to get on the road and just keep driving. I wanted to lose myself. But in the months that followed, I’ve actually found myself. Irritating at times but passionate about what I believe and care about, not hugely accomplished at any one thing but happy with doing the many things I like at an amateur level, good at getting physically lost but always happy to take the risk anyway (just last week my patient family experienced this again, proving that even a coast path walk doesn’t always go to plan), flawed but ultimately, not too bad. This doesn’t mean I’m ‘fixed’. Just the last few weeks I’ve felt everything getting too much again. But I know now that I don’t have to run away or hide, that I have the tools and support to get through this rough patch, just like I did before. 

And if you’re struggling as well, I’d encourage you to reach out and ask for help. From your friends and family, from your doctor. If you’re in Devon, you can self refer to TalkWorks, a depression and anxiety service funded by the NHS. It might not be enough for you, but it’s a start. 

And a massive thanks to a few people in particular that have endured listening to me waffle on over the last few months and supported me through it all, you know who you are and I love you guys.

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Writer’s Block and the Bigger Picture

It’s been a good few weeks since my last offering to this blog, when I was rudely attacked by a buzzard whilst running! The weeks since have been busy, work has been pretty all-consuming, we’ve had two birthdays and fathers day and I’ve been working on trying to cure or manage my apparent new-found ornithophobia, trying to nip it in the bud (turns out there are birds bloody everywhere if you just look up!) Also though, I haven’t quite known what to write about. I mentioned this to Dan who suggested writing a post about writer’s block, apparently that would be ‘meta’.  I decided against this suggestion. I suspect it would be a disaster before I even began.

However, upon logging in to my wordpress and seeing that I’ve now been writing here since 2012, I realised that if only for the sake of my future self, it’s nice to try and post regularly so I can look back when I’m old, grey and forgetful at what we got up to in years gone by.  And let’s face, 2020 is turning out to be an absolute corker of a year, although in very few positive ways. By march we had already almost had World War Three, there were the horrendous Australian bushfires, Brexit was looming, (on a personal note) I had fairly major jaw surgery and then the global pandemic hit. It’ll be a year that goes down in history for sure…

So now we’re in July, over half the year is gone and to be honest, I’m not really sure where we’re at. The restrictions to try and slow/prevent the slow of covid-19 have been loosened over the last few weeks but arguably, they shouldn’t have been. This leaves some of us in the strange situation of being pleased to have more of our freedoms back whilst simultaneously fearing that it was a mistake (whether it was deliberate or not is another discussion) by our government. There’s talk of a second wave this Autumn, the guidance from the government is consistently inconsistent and contradictory and I’ve been second guessing every decision we make as a family.

This week coming is the first week since March that resembles a ‘normal’ week for us. We’ve got a few outdoor play-dates lined up with friends, we’re off to my folks for a music lesson inside (now it’s allowed) and then to the woods on Friday for a work thing. And I’m torn between looking forward to experiencing a bit more normality and feeling overwhelmed already and having multiple ‘things’ in the diary!

The last few months have been strange. In some ways they’ve been so challenging, and in others, they’ve simplified life in a glorious way. But of course, I realise that it’s not even really important at all how I’ve felt in the face of the big picture. It feels selfish and close minded to ramble on about what me and my family have been up to in our little patch, more or less safe from what so many people are enduring around the world.

Thousands of people have lost their loved ones, without being able to say goodbye, and I can’t imagine how they are feeling. Then just as we were all still reeling from that, the death of George Floyd has woken many of us to the horrific systemic racism that still pervades our society both here and over the pond and the many innocent lives that have been taken and are being taken on a daily basis as a result.  Like a lot of white people, I was guilty of knowing a little that it still existed (but not quite of the extent) but not doing anything. And that’s not good enough.

So I’m trying to educate myself, educate the children and find out things I can do to help protest this and bring about real meaningful change. There are numerous resources with ways we can help, real things we can do to not just say the right thing but actually act. But to name a few that are on my list for the next few weeks, I’ve just been lent ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge and am planning to watch 13th which is a documentary on Netflix which explores the ‘”intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States;”.  I’ll let you know how I get on with them.  My friend also shared this article which I found really practically helpful.  I realise I’m late to this and that the protests were a few weeks ago but black lives still matter, even if they’re not on your own personal feed anymore. The problem hasn’t gone away. I’ll leave you (a bit abruptly I know – sorry!) with two quotes, one from Perrie Edwards and one from Michelle Obama because they sum up how I’m feeling and they are both much more eloquent than I could hope to be.

“As a white person living in the UK, it’s very easy to look at the #BlackLivesMatter movement and believe it doesn’t affect you. Feel that it’s not your place to comment or get involved… What’s not so easy is to scroll past an innocent man being pinned to the floor, struggling and begging for his last breath… How can any human being, no matter your race, age, gender, not be deeply affected by that? I have been deeply affected by it… I acknowledge my white privilege and instead of allowing it to put a muzzle on me, I will use it to speak up for what is right and what is wrong.” Perrie Edwards

“Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of colour to deal with it. It’s up to all of us – Black, white, everyone – no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.” Michelle Obama