Attitude Adjustment

As seasoned home educators, the thing I’ve heard a lot over the last few days is ‘Oh, you guys are used to this – won’t be too much of a change eh?’ (or words to that effect). But no, just like the rest of the country, our world has been turned upside down. Not going to our regular groups and classes, not seeing friends and family, not going freely outside, is just as discombulating for us as for everyone else.

Yesterday we attempted a “normal” day of home ed, we did work in the morning (Sophia had her Latin lesson over Skype, they all did music practice, maths/reading eggs and we played some board games), had a break after lunch whilst they did a treasure hunt for each other and then we went on a rainbow-spotting walk through the ghost town of our estate before dinner. This morning, we started with a Joe Wicks PE workout on youtube and then did some cosmic kids yoga. And then I was so overcome with anxiety and fatigue that I offered them a day off work which was eagerly received.

After some teething issues (translation: fighting, sobbing siblings), the boys are now happily building a theme park out of lego and Sophia is baking. I’m working through a backlog of covid-19 related Forest School admin (or was before I wrote this) whilst trying to wrestle with the constant stream of worries circulating round my head. Last week my anxiety was work-based, it consumed my thoughts. This week, it’s about my jaw! I accidentally tried to chew something without thinking on Friday and Eli then hit me in the same spot over the weekend which has resulted in pain, swelling and restricted movement where there wasn’t any previously. Last week my surgeon said to contact him if any such things happened as I’m only 4 weeks out from surgery. So I spoke to an on-call doctor yesterday over the phone who said give it a few days and of course, now I can’t stop thinking about it! It’s probably just my body’s response to protect itself after the new trauma but worst case scenario, I’ve caused damage to my jaw and the plates which would need repair. I think deep down I know it’s the former but now I am obsessively looking at my face and comparing it with pictures of last week to assess the extent of the new swelling.

To be honest, at the moment, as a natural born worrier, I think I’m prone to just grabbing any little thing to obsessively stress about. But that doesn’t have to be the case, I can own it but I don’t have to succumb to it. Because, as I said to the kids, we can make this lockdown much easier or much harder based on our behaviour and attitude. So it’s time to adjust my mindset!

Misery loves company as they say. So if we all mope around the house, feeling sorry for ourselves and bickering endlessly, it’s going to be a really long few weeks stuck at home. But if we try and focus on the positives, devising new ways to have fun, work on keeping our cool and communicating effectively then things are going to be a heck of a lost better! (When I say ‘we’ I am mostly just referring to my rabble, not casting aspersions as to what the rest of you lot are up to!)

So here are my positives, if you’d like to share yours in the comments below that’d be AMAZING:

  • We are healthy and safe
  • The sun is shining and the sky is blue (and for the third day running no less!)
  • We have a roof over our heads, food in our cupboards and clothes on our backs
  • We’ve put a tent up in the garden and the kids are into their second hour of moving all their wordly posessions out there and showing no sign of stopping!
  • My family and friends are all healthy and safe
  • Whilst I can’t eat much for another 3-4 weeks, I can still drink tea and eat ice cream
  • Due to the wonders of technology, we can stay in touch with those we love
  • I have an endlessly cheery yellow hoody, new enough to still make me happy whenever I wear it
  • This crisis has brought out countless stories of the goodness of humanity, helping those that need it and generally being lovely and kind to each other
  • Local communities are going to great lengths to safely share useful information and provide entertainment for kids (rainbow walk anyone?!)
  • Dan and I already both work from home so we can still work
  • I’ve got loads of free time to write
  • We’re still allowed outside to exercise – moorland runs, here I come!
  • We’ve got a whole backlog of home ed work that we were planning on doing that’ll keep us busy for a while
  • I’m married to an absolute joker, who is absolutely keeping our spirits up
  • Dan has an awesome server (his contribution to this list!)
  • No one appears to be panic buying the chocolate ice cream

A short story (of simple pleasures)

Music coursed through her veins as she shed her jacket and slipped off her shoes. The sun was streaming through the bay windows and as she surveyed the scene in front of her, she basked in it’s warmth. The smell of jasmine tea brewing permeated every corner of the flat and she gathered her easel and paints and moved them into the sunlight. The beat of the music was rhythmic, infectious, and fast; she turned it up louder.

She took a few minutes to look at the view outside and then started to paint what she saw. The council gardeners had done a beautiful job on the communal green space opposite. Luscious green lawn was punctuated by bursts of colour as flowers bloomed joyously in their beds. Beyond the green, she could just see the sea, waves gently lapping at the shore, beach almost non existent, submerged by the spring high tide. It was mid-morning now and people were starting to migrate outdoors; runners moving steadily along the promenade, mothers and children playing in the park, teenagers and students lounging in strategically placed groups.

She painted until her hands ached, until she was happy with the result. She stopped to get some food from her small galley kitchen and ate it with the windows wide open, summer air streaming in, full of glorious scents and snatches of music played by the students on the grass. She spotted the time and realised she was going to be late; grabbing her towel and costume, she locked the door and walked quickly across the green.

The tide was starting to recede and on a patch of newly dry sand, a welcoming smile met her. Not wanting to waste a minute of the day, they changed and before long, were dancing in the surf, acclimatising to the chill of the water before finally diving in to start swimming beyond the shallows. The friends swam further than expected, along the shore until they reached the edge of the bay. Exhilirated, they clambered out and onto the rocks to soak up the summer sun. The friends talked, simulatenously about everything and nothing, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. Time slowly sped by and soon they dove back in, swimming back to their spot on the beach. There, they resumed their chat, from the comfort of their towels.

They spent the rest of the afternoon sharing; their thoughts, their feelings, their food. As the sun dipped lower on the horizon, they parted ways and she strolled towards home, salty hair blowing gently on the evening breeze. She stopped and sat for a while on the green, enjoying the quiet and the mild summer’s evening. Eventually, she let herself back into her small home and put on some music. She tidied away her things from the day accompanied to a different music than that which started her day. It was mellow, soulful, relaxed. To start and end a day with music, filled her with joy.

Eventually, she climbed into bed, still smelling of the ocean. That these days happen are not a certainty she thought, but when they come around, the happiness is sublime.

A day of simple pleasures.

End Of An Era

Eli, my youngest child, is turning five today. He has been an absolute joy in the run up to it, such pure excitement and so utterly undemanding. All he wanted was to go to the ‘dinosaur soft play’ with his best friend and to have a hammock and lock up note book like his big brother got just a month ago for his birthday.

His birthday marks an end of an era, the end of babies and toddlers. And boy, I’m glad to say goodbye to that stage of our life! Obviously there were lots of amazing things about them being small. The other day, a friend reminsced about the indescribable feeling you get when a teeny tiny baby is asleep on your chest and that is hard to beat. All the firsts are exciting in a way you haven’t experienced before; smiles, foods, movements, words. And toddlers can be so very cute, so full of laughter, love and arms-flung-tight-round-your-neck cuddles.

But it’s also physically exhausting. It is an all consuming time; a whirlwind of nappies, feeding, crying, carrying, holding and caring. Your body is not your own (especially if you breastfeed) and sometimes it’s hard to remember who you are, or at least who you were and how that fits in your new life. I wouldn’t change it for the world but having had three children five and under changed me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I feel harder and more cyncial than I used to be. I think my temper is shorter and I’m less sympathetic than I once was.

But it’s also shown me how much I can cope with, albeit not always successfully. And ultimately (and most importantly), when I look at our kids, on the whole, I think they are amazing. They are loving, easy-going (mostly), thoughtful, interesting, articulate,  funny, kind, considerate and stark raving mad! And it’s pretty bloody cool knowing that, at least in part, that is due to the way we’ve raised them and interacted with them over the last decade. That’s a kind of proud I didn’t know I could experience.

Now Eli is 5 (and the others 8 and 10), I’m looking forward so much to the next five years and seeing where we are once he hits double figures. I love seeing their personalities develop and independence grow and I would be lying if I don’t admit how much this makes my life easier in a lot of ways as well. Going for a run, out for a meal with friends or to work is so much simpler than it was just a few years ago. It also makes family outings and life in general much less stressful, not having to factor in how to keep a baby happy for a long drive, calculating naps, nappies and feeding times.  It was an amazing part of our life but I’m so ready for the next chapter! Of course, I’m not naive and I am expecting it to be difficult at times but it will also be full of even more laughter and fun. Besides, nothing worth having comes easy right?!

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Five years ago today

 

Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raising Girls Who Are Switched On, Not Scared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unexpected Outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Not] Back To School (again)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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