E+E Column: A virtual world

I was going to write about the summer holidays this week, the six weeks that stretch languidly ahead of every family as the schools break up and children everywhere celebrate the start of a well deserved break. I was going to write about how I mourn the temporary pausing of our weekly groups, especially Forest School, and the loss of structure. I was going to sneakily plug Exeter Forest School (absolutely no shame there though, they are incredible and deserve all the good mentions they get, I’d highly recommend their holiday clubs!). But then I thought that actually the summer holidays aren’t something to be dissected or moaned about. Children (and our hard working teachers) need these weeks in order to relax, reflect on the last academic year of learning and to have fun. Kids need the freedom and space to be kids, free of desks, phonics and bells. 

But this train of thought did leave me pondering about just how different the childhood of my children is to mine and to what a vastly different world they’re living in. Thankfully the summer holidays remain a constant but a lot else has changed. When a toddler can navigate their way around an xbox and a 6 year old can request to go out to hunt imaginary creatures in a game using the latest AR technology, the technological advances that we’ve made over the last few decades are highlighted even more strongly. Those that know me in real life know that I’ve got a bit of a bugbear about kids and ‘screen time’. I strongly feel that we all spend too much time in front of screens and that this is having a negative impact on the younger generations. Ironic given that I’m married to someone who works in (and loves) IT, that the main home ed curriculum we use is online-based and that recently I myself, have found some freelance work doing social media management. 

Not surprisingingly, I’ve had to make my peace with it. I do recognise that technology can and does have many incredibly positive and creative uses and that the connections it allows us can help mobilise people and bring about change. I also recognise that we all need a bit of a down time with our favourite show or video game. And I promise that I’m definitely not criticising Pokemon Go…anything that gets us outside is a plus in my book! But I guess I feel nervous about how this increased use of technology will affect people in the future. We can’t turn back now but the future is unknown and being a control freak, that scares me! I’ve come to the conclusion that all I can do is try and help teach my children how to use technology positively and in moderation, how to switch off and to show them the value of being outside and looking up, not down. I probably shouldn’t worry too much though…of her own accord, Sophia spent this morning successfully learning to knit – no screens needed! 

Fun at Forest School!

E+E Column: ​Embracing the Tooth Fairy

Sophia, finally, has two wobbly teeth. At six and a half she’s been waiting for some time as she’s gradually been seeing more and more friends appearing with gaps in their teeth, prouding clutching their spoils from the fairy. Neither of the two in question were actually particularly wobbly but a rather vigorous crunching on ice this afternoon resulted in the lower tooth getting much looser in a rather bloody fashion. As I type this, she’s sat next to me, absent mindedly wobbling it back and forwards, pondering how much money she might receive when she does manage to extract it. From what she’s surmised, there must be more than one tooth fairy as some award 50p, some £1 and some particularly extravagant varieties (and I suspect this kind will not be visiting our house!) award upwards of £2. Now I remember receiving 20p a tooth but I suppose this is a good example of inflation in action and I should be grateful that it’s not worse! 
It’s at times like this that I love the innocence of children. And whilst some might argue that kids these days are growing up too fast, that they are dressing and acting beyond their years, when it comes to these age old legends, their youth returns to take centre stage as they fully embrace the fantasy world of fairies and the like. I may be biased but I’d say Sophia is a pretty switched on kid but she genuinely seems to believe, 100%, that the tooth fairy exists. And I love that! 

It’s also a good reminder to me of how young she really is. She’s so eloquent, helpful and argumentative (not at the same time obviously!) that often I treat her in a more adult way than I should. I expect her to help me with her brothers, to behave in a way that she probably can’t actually manage and get frustrated with clumsiness that is just the result of being young and impulsive, not intentionally careless. I need to remember that at 6, she is a still a child and needs to act like a child. Whilst it’s good to teach a certain amount of responsibility I don’t want her to have more to bear than she needs to at this age. I want her (and her brothers) childhood to be full of playing, of having fun and of being free. So I’m joining Sophia in her excitement at the impending arrival of the tooth fairy and embracing all that she represents! 

E+E Column: ​’Just try it, you might like it…’

This evening I managed to sneak a whole head of cabbage into our tomato and lentil soup without the kids noticing, or more importantly, complaining. It got me thinking though…why are kids universally so weird when it comes to food? With a few exceptions and the odd very specific dislike, most adults I know are very open minded when it comes to trying new foods and are amenable to a wide variety of foods. Every child I know, in contrast, is either very limited in what foods they will eat, are adverse to trying new foods or have gone through a fussy period that has now passed. 
It’s been the subject of countless books, articles and discussions on parenting forums and seems to be an issue that has plagued parents for generations; for once, not a new phenomena. But why? I can understand a certain reluctance to eat when they’ve been interrupted mid-play or when they have friends around. For a small person, there are a lot of things that must seem a lot more exciting than eating. But then when they are hungry, why is there often such resistance? 

At first I thought it might be a throwback from evolution, perhaps their gut instinct is to stick with what works. If they know what foods they like, what makes them feel full up, what helps them grow, perhaps they don’t want to deviate and try something unknown that might make them feel ill or not nourish them? But then perhaps (probably!) I’m reading too much into it. Perhaps it merely comes down to issues of maturity and control. So much of a child’s life is controlled and organised by their parents, food is possibly the one area where they feel that they can claw back some control. No matter how much cajoling, admonshing and bribing a parent delivers…ultimately, the child is the only one who can choose what they let pass their lips. As adults, we are able to choose what we prepare for our meals but rarely do we let children choose for themselves with the exception of sandwich filling or cereals. It must be pretty frustrating to have to eat what you are given, even if you don’t fancy it and to not be able to choose what you want to eat. Even worse when your parent presents you with something you’ve never eaten before that looks a bit odd…

I love getting a weekly veg box but it does sometimes present problems as I struggle to creatively serve some rather obscure veggies in a manner that the kids will accept. For the record, Sophia does not like kohlrabi fritters, neither of them particularly like chard pie and everyone (myself included) struggled with roast oca’s (a small knobbly tuber)! I’ve finally concluded that the best approach is to prepare a mix of familiar and unfamiliar meals over the course of a week, to try and always have something on the plate that I know they’ll like and most importantly, just to relax. At the end of the day, they’re not going to starve and if they don’t like takeaway curries or roast lamb quite yet, I’m sure they’ll grow to like them one day and for now that just means more for me! 

​E+E Column: Occupation: On being Mum

Ever since having kids, whenever I have to fill out an official form, I always hesitate over the ‘occupation’ box. When I wasn’t working I didn’t want to write unemployed but I didn’t really like labelling myself as a ‘housewife’ or ‘stay at home Mum’ either. Since starting work as a freelance writer last year, I’ve been oddly relieved that I have something else legitimate that I can put on forms. It’s got me thinking though, why am I so uncomfortable with labelling myself as a stay at home parent? Is it perceived judgement from society? I think partly it is. Although there are many many parents (mostly mothers) that choose to stay at home, I think a lot of us still feel a bit awkward about it. I hate meeting up with people I knew from before kids and answering questions about what I’m doing with ‘I’m staying at home with the kids’. I can’t put my finger on why but it feels really embarassing. 

It’s ridiculous really because there is so much worth to be placed with staying at home with your children in their formative years. A lot of research points to children doing better when they’ve had a parent at home and besides, the cost of childcare is such that often there is no financial incentive to return to work before they reach school age anyway! On top of these reasons, you gain so much yourself as a person by staying at home. My time keeping, organisational, creative and diplomacy skills are much improved from the last 7 years of full time parenting. 

However, that put aside and even if the stigma is all in my head, I still want to be able to put more in that box. For me, I don’t want my identity to be defined purely by the fact that I’ve had children. I want there to be more to me than simply being a mother. Being Mum is just one facet of who I am, I am also a wife, a friend, a writer, a doula… None of these are more important than the other, rather they all make up who I am as a whole. Although the mothering portion of my life is somewhat consuming currently due to the smallness of my kids, I look forward to letting other parts come to the fore as the kids get older and less dependent on me. I’m all too aware that if I let motherhood envelop me now, when the intensity of it fades, I might not have much left to get stuck into. I am proud to be a mother…and simultaneously, more than just a mother. 

Enjoying a night off from being Mum!

E+E Column: Ready, Steady…Go!

Over the last few weeks, Elijah has morphed from baby into fully fledged toddler. Funny how it seems to happen in the blink of an eye. He’s started saying his first few words and along with the obligatory Daddy, more and ‘Annah! (in place of Mummy apparently), he’s also mastered the phrase ‘ready, steady…..go!’ As well as being unbelievably cute, it has turned out to be quite useful as it gives you a 30 second warning that you’re about to have a marble, cup or book lobbed at your head. His big brother and sister find the whole thing hilarious and actually, I have to say I agree with them. 

I’ve said it many times now over the last 7 years but I firmly believe that toddlers are designed in such a way to possess exactly equal amounts of cuteness and behaviours that are, to put it blunty, pretty tiresome! It turns out that Eli actually has quite a temper on him and this has been emerging over the last week or so. Yesterday Sophia peeled a banana for him and as she did, it broke. He reacted by grabbing it, throwing it at her and running screaming into the other room where he flung himself dramatically onto the floor. Sophia mostly looked puzzled as I tried to reason with a being not quite au fait with the art of reason yet. 

Luckily, third time round, I’ve finally grasped that this is entirely normal behaviour for a person of his size. A lot of his ‘tantrums’ are due to frustration with his inability to communicate with us. He understands us perfectly and has a very definite idea of what he wants but isn’t able to communicate it to us yet. Understandable then, that he might get a little cross from time to time (that might be putting it a bit lightly!) Other not so desirable behaviours such as trying to play with the dials on the oven and plug sockets, climbing on the fireguard, trying to draw on everything except paper and destroy boardgames are not done with any malice. Rather he is just exploring the world and discovering what he is capable of. 

And at the end of the day, for every finger poked in eyes there are arms flung round my neck for a delicious cuddle, for every cup of juice tipped on the carpet there is a cute wave at every dog in a mile vicinity and for every time the fruit bowl is emptied and distributed around the house there is a ready, steady… goooo! (Though preferably followed by a balloon rather than one of the aforementioned missiles of choice!)

E+E Column: The Big Picture

I’m lucky enough to have been given a fairly free reign in this column but sometimes choosing what to write about can be tricky, I don’t want to be too serious or evangelical but at the same time, I feel there should be a point to what I’ve written. I’m not a fan of aimless writing and although I’m aware that an anecdote about unintentionally teaching my toddler to swear is quite amusing with your cup of tea on a Monday morning, I feel obliged to try and provide some more substance. Over the last few weeks, the news has been consumed with the increasingly bitter EU Referendum debate, interspersed with tales of tragedy and human loss, the mass shooting in Florida, the horrifying death of a toddler at Disney World, the unbelievably heartbreaking death of MP Jo Cox.

In the face of such sadness, anger and loss, I am reminded just how important it is to think about the bigger picture in our day to day lives. It is far too easy to get consumed in our own spheres, to focus on small, trivial issues that really will have no lasting impact on ourselves or anyone else. We can spend hours agonising over the most insignificant of things and forget about the things that matter more. We need to step back and remember what’s important. Being kind to each other, fostering good relationships in our wider community, looking after the environment that we live in, standing up for the downtrodden and mistreated. It can feel overwhelming at first though, how do we start to tackle so many big problems? How can one person make any difference at all?

But they key is to start small and build up. And if every person spent just a few minutes each week focusing their attention outwards, soon all the small things would build up to something bigger. Today I was at an African drumming workshop organised by the local home education community and felt really blessed by the network of friends and acquaintances there. Whilst taking a break from drumming, I momentarily lost sight of Eli pottering on the grass in front of the hall. There’s a fairly busy road through the trees, he can move at a surprisingly fast pace for someone so small and I started to panic. Several other parents instantly started to help me look and within a few seconds (though it felt like much longer) a friend called that she’d found him just inside the edge of the woods. It’s a small example of people helping in a situation that doesn’t affect them but it stuck with me. If there were more moments like this, perhaps there would be less tales on the news that make your blood run cold. Perhaps instead, we’d be seeing stories of people joining together to do incredible things, of people affecting change, of a more peaceful world.

Thoughts On Unity

After months of bitter campaigning from both sides, I woke up this morning, smugly confident that the vote on whether we should leave or stay in the European Union would have gone the way I voted. I rolled over, asked Dan to pass my phone to check and loaded up BBC News. Shit. I was actually rendered momentarily speechless. Although I knew there were a lot of folk wanting to leave, I didn’t think they’d actually get a majority (though 1% is such a measly majority, it doesn’t quite seem to count in my head). It seems like a lot of the Remain campaigners had felt the same, I think we became complacent in our confidence that people would see through the lies and propaganda and make the best decision for our country. (Or at least, the decision that we think is the best for the country, can’t ignore the fact that 17 million people thought different although, after today, I have seen many saying they regret their choice).

Fast forward a couple of hours, Cameron has resigned and Farage (git) is on breakfast TV backtracking already on campaign promises, namely, that the NHS would get £350 million a week if we left the EU. A mistake he claimed, can’t be helped I’m sure. I won’t bother list the rest of the initial fallout, no doubt you’ve read about it over and over again on the news and your facebook feed. I’ve read more stories than I’d like to about people who will be losing their jobs, about families who future here is looking uncertain. A friend summed it up perfectly this morning when she said she kept getting hit by waves of sadness. I think that’s my overwhelming feeling surrounding the whole affair, sadness. Sadness that this issue has so bitterly divided the country, sadness that people chose to believe lies from the far right rather than do their own research and find out the truth, sadness that so many people don’t know what to expect regarding their residency or businesses in the coming months and years, sadness that far right groups around Europe are congratulating us and calling for the same, sadness (and straight up fear) that we might end up with Boris Johnson as our PM in October, sadness that this decision seemed to be fuelled by misplaced fear and ignorance.

All day I’ve been pondering on whether to add my two cents to the fray. Words seem meaningless at this point and besides, I’d just be preaching to the converted. The fact that everyone I speak to is so angry and dismayed goes to show they’re all on the same page as me already. (Although I do feel blessed to be surrounded by such a group of sensible, compassionate people). But I did want to say something. Because as several wise folk have said, the challenge now is to pick ourselves up and make the best of what we’re left with.  Much as I’d love to go and hide somewhere pretending none of this has happened, that would achieve nothing. Now, more than ever, we need to be united. United against fascists, against hate and fear and discrimination. We need to be united in our thoughts and actions, in challenging those that do not have our best interests in mind.

We will not be downtrodden or ignored. We will not accept this culture of anger and prejudice that has swept over England. We will not let the fat cats in Whitehall control our lives. We will continue to show empathy, love and understanding to all. We will promote multiculturalism, inclusivity and tolerance. We will fight, for what is right, and just, and fair. We will not let them take our country and break it.