On being free: democracy

Some might argue that democracy in the UK is merely a shadow of the concept, with a vote to decide our government once every four years and not much of a chance to make ourselves heard in between. Some might say that the UK political scene has not facilitated real democratic choice for a long time with two dominant parties taking up all of the space and not offering much in the way of differing opinions and policies. Some would even say there is no point engaging with mainstream politics in the United Kingdom anymore. And I could agree with them all.

But. I believe that a vote every four years is better than no vote at all and we would be foolish to decide to turn our backs on our political landscape. Furthermore, I believe that the time has come when more and more people are becoming disillusioned with the status quo. Since 1935, the Prime Minister has come only from the Labour or Conservative Party. That’s 80 years of political stagnation. 80 years of the elite steadily gaining more wealth and power. 80 years of life getting increasingly tougher for the average joe. 80 years of rising tuition fees, of inflated house prices, of national debt. 80 years of our natural resources being plundered without due care, consideration or preservation.

Enough is enough.

Finally as a nation we are waking up and finding our voice. We don’t have to put up with it. There are other options. The SNP, Green Party and UKIP have received far more coverage and support in the run up to the general election than ever before. People are realising that they are valid options. The membership of the Green Party has rocketed as people are starting to embrace the possibility of real change. The possibility of having a government that cares about it’s citizens and is committed to looking after them and the world they live in.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in a fairytale world in which we’ll happily wake up with a Green government on May 8th and go skipping into the sunset. I’ve been keeping an eye on the polls. I know how unlikely Natalie Bennett becoming the Prime Minister is. But. Every Green Member of Parliament is going to be another voice for the people and for change as decisions are made. They will be a breath of fresh air, rustling leaves, cutting through 80 years of stagnation. Every Green MP elected is a step in the right direction and a two fingers up to the status quo. A Green vote is not a wasted vote. The only wasted vote is an unused one. So shake off your lethargy, your apathy and on May 7th make sure you get out and vote. Get involved with your future. Whatever you think of our democracy, engage with it. How else do you expect things to change?

On being free: childhood

I posted the other day about grasping our political freedom, about engaging with our democracy despite it’s flaws. This post is about letting go. Letting go in order to allow our children to grasp their own freedom, to engage fully in their childhood, free from helicopter parents hovering in the background, able to make their own mistakes, to learn their own lessons, abilities and limitations by themselves, unhindered by well meaning but potentially interfering parents (of which I certainly am one).

A disclaimer…Dan is great at this, I am abysmal. I write this most definitely as someone trying to implement this herself, not someone preaching to those around her.

If you’ve known me for more than a few hours, you’ll know I’m a control freak. Call it being organised, a planner, on the ball or any other polite synonym you like but what it ultimately boils down to is that I like to be in control. In fact I would hazard to say that this is the biggest lesson I have learnt since having kids. How to relax, be spontaneous and just let it go (fellow parents of Frozen fans…try not to burst into song). And man, it is hard.

I am primarily writing this post in regards to giving children the freedom to fully explore and play freely without restraints or supervision, where appropriate…although I guess that’s the doozy – how do we define these appropriate boundaries? That is what it comes down to. I’m particularly thinking about being in nature. It’s easy to let your children go off without you when you’re at home, in a friend’s home or in a contained outdoor space such as a garden or park – the boundaries are implicit, you don’t leave the building/go outside the fence/gate without telling or asking. But what about when there are no man made boundaries? When you’re at the beach or in the forest? How do we know how much freedom to give our children in order to let them push themselves and discover their own limits without letting them end up in a potentially dangerous situation? (And I’m talking both natural dangers – associated with heights and water usually and sadly, the ‘stranger danger’ aspect of things). I really don’t know the answer.

I guess that age plays a large factor in it. I certainly trust Sophia at 5 much more than I do Isaac at 3 to make sensible decisions when I’m not there. And I imagine when they are 8 and 10 I’ll trust them both even more – they’ll be so much more capable, both physically and mentally, to handle themselves. I suppose that knowing your child’s abilities helps in your decision making as well, your 7 year old might be much better at climbing or swimming than your friend’s 10 year old. And I guess that it also depends on where your limits are in terms of possible outcomes – if they fall whilst playing in the surf of the sea or in a slow, shallow river, they’ll get out easily and worst case they’ll be wet and cold. If they put themselves into a position where broken bones or serious injury are a possibility, I’m likely to be more wary – no one wants their children in pain.

The US folk punk band Antsy Pants have a song called Henry Kelly in which they sing

‘So all you kids with overprotective parents now listen here to me,
Go out and try stuff, get dirty, get hurt, don’t be so scared of everything’.

Before I had kids I loved this song. In fact I still do. But now I see it from both sides. I want my children to be fearless but I don’t want them to get hurt. But I can’t absolutely prevent the latter from happening and certainly not at the expense of the former. So maybe the real lesson is to accept that our children might get hurt and that our job isn’t to prevent that from happening but to care for them when it does. And maybe it is about risk assessing each individual situation as and when it arises, likely we’ll give a little bit more freedom each time as they get older and wiser. Having absolute rules and boundaries when children are changing by the day just doesn’t make sense.

Would we rather they lived wrapped in cotton wool, monitored constantly, prevented from doing things they’d like to do but were never or rarely hurt or would we rather they really lived, were able to explore, to play, to experiment, to get hurt but to know that we’re always there to come to when they do. Some of my best memories of my childhood are of playing in nature with my siblings and friends and I don’t remember my parents being mere feet away at every opportunity. I don’t remember the falls, the bruises and the bloodied knees but I do remember the adventures, the thrill of pushing myself to do new things, of the unknown and most of all, I remember the fun.


Keeping my distance at the beach


It’s funny to think that it wasn’t much over a year ago that I was in Sussex taking part in the Nurturing Birth doula training course. My thoughts were consumed with setting up as a doula, how we’d manage to juggle childcare when I was on call and excitement as starting down a new path, one that felt distinctly separate from my role as mother and home educator (something that I felt most grateful for). The shock at finding out I was pregnant just a few months later sent that all into a bit of a (temporary I hope) tailspin. I managed to fit in one birth before I was too heavily pregnant and that was an amazing experience and an honour to be witness to but afterwards I was left thinking, what next? Was I destined to just embrace the stay at home Mum role for the next 2 – 3 years before doing something for myself again?

Since moving to Topsham for the first time in 2013, I identified the importance of being able to carve out some time and some kind of activity or task for myself that is independent of my role at home. It’s been good to reclaim my identity away from the kids even if it has been significantly changed and moulded by their presence in my life (in a good way I hope). I started working as a bartender/waitress initially and loved it, it may not have been intellectually taxing or particularly meaningful or important work but it was good fun and great to get out for a few nights a week. I also started playing music with Dan and actually joining him in playing gigs which was great for us as a couple and me creatively. Unfortunately, both of those pursuits ended up trailing off when we moved to Thorverton last year. However, by then, I thought we were finished having babies and after a lot of thought (and encouragement from Dan) had decided to follow my passion for childbirth by becoming a doula. It seemed like the perfect fit with home educating and I was excited at the prospect of serving women in this capacity. But then I fell pregnant and so that venture is on pause for the foreseeable future.

So back to my original question…what now? I love blogging and although I haven’t got much of a following, enjoy the act of writing itself as well as creating a record of my thoughts and our activities as a family. So I will endeavour to keep this site alive, even if it is only one post a week. However, in addition to this… earlier in the year I received an email from a friend who works for the maternity clothing company Yummy Mummy Maternity. They were about to launch a standalone site, http://www.yummymummy.co.uk with pregnancy and breastfeeding diaries, celebrity gossip and general parenting news and information and she wondered if I’d be interested in writing a weekly breastfeeding diary for them. I jumped at the chance; I love to write, I am passionate about breastfeeding and I wanted something to do to replace my bar work and my taster of being a doula. Although it is still directly related to parenting, I enjoy the challenge of making our breastfeeding journey informative and (I hope!) vaguely interesting to read. So every Thursday if you pop over there, you can see how I’m getting on with breastfeeding third time round. I’ll give you a spoiler – it’s not been plain sailing. But I won’t say too much more here, go and read about it for yourself! I don’t know how long they want me to do it for but I’m enjoying the opportunity for the time being.

A friend has also, just this evening, asked me about meeting up to play together (she is a violinist) occasionally which would be brilliant. She has two small children so understands the challenges surrounding practice and playing instruments but it would be good fun and a kick up the backside for me to actually get my cello out and start playing regularly again. I just hope that I don’t embarrass myself after such a long break – must get a bit of practice in before our first session I think!!

So I guess it basically comes down to the fact that I’ve been pondering my life-work balance, as it were. And just as I wondered how I could claim something for myself, opportunities presented themselves – in the form of writing and music. Elijah is also ok taking expressed milk and with the local pool reopening next week I’m going to grasp the opportunity to do some solo evening swims with two hands. (There is also the added benefit of supporting a local community swimming pool that is in dire need of funds for some big repair work – if you’re in the area, why not take a dip at Topsham Pool and help support them!) I feel like this is a bit of a self indulgent post so apologies for that. I wrote it mostly so I could keep track of where I’m at, to share what I’m up to and have a record to reflect back on in the future. But if you’re up for sharing, I’d love to hear how other people balance the various roles in their life and what opportunities have presented themselves at key moments for them.

I find it funny that whenever we are invited to a wedding, baptism or dedication, I tend to pull out the same verse from the Bible to put into the card: Jeremiah 29:11 ‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’. Obviously this is unlikely to be of much comfort if you’re not a Christian but for me, I find it helpful to reflect on it and remember it when I’m not sure where I’m going in life. When one path turns out to be a dead end and another seemingly has too many insurmountable obstacles, I try to remember that there is a perfect path for me, I just need to find it. Right now, my doula path has ended but I’ve been offered new opportunities which I’m going to embrace and if I get to rejoin the original path in a few years, that’s great and if not, I’m sure the next part of the journey will be equally exciting, whatever it may be. So here’s to opportunities…may we take them with both hands and enjoy the ride!