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.

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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.

E+E Column: Early Bird

Sleep is somewhat eluding me these days and I don’t care how the old saying goes, the only thing this early bird gets is an increased caffeine consumption and suitcases under the eyes. I’ve written about sleep (or rather, the lack of it) before in my column a few years ago but as Elijah is currently going through a phase of waking up for the day between 5 and 6am and the big two are going to sleep later and later due to the light evenings, sleep is somewhat preying on my mind. Last time I wrote about the competitive side of parenting, of praising a child’s ability to sleep through the night and bemoaning those that haven’t quite managed it.

The lengths that people go to to encourage their children to sleep might seem crazy from an outsiders perspective, especially when you consider that many adults don’t sleep through the night without waking for one reason or another. But when you’re in that situation, with a small person who keeps you up all hours and then needs you to care for them in the day, you’ll try a whole host of techniques if there is even a glimmer of an hours more shuteye. Three kids in and I haven’t found anything particularly works. Every child is different and they all reach the milestone of sleeping through the night in their own sweet time (Isaac at 4.5 seems to have finally got there in the last month or so, Sophia did at around 18 months and Elijah, well, he’s got a way to go).

I really don’t think we fully appreciate the effect of sleep deprivation. It affects us physically, mentally and emotionally. When I haven’t been getting enough sleep I feel sluggish and slow and I’m disinclined to exercise, I get funny aches, pains and headaches. I get confused and can’t think clearly, mixing up my words and forgetting things. But perhaps the thing I struggle most with when tired, unsurprisingly, is remaining calm and engaged with my parenting. I say all this, not in a bid for sympathy or attention. I’m hardly the only one…heck, probably 80% of the people I know are in the same position of imitating walking zombies! Rather, I thought I’d revisit this topic to reassure those in the midst of it that is normal to feel low and agitated when suffering sleep deprivation and to ask those fortunate enough to be getting a bit more sleep to be kind to those that aren’t! And to those with wee ones interrupting your beauty sleep, don’t forget…all is a state of impermanence and this too shall pass. I promise!

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Another tactic to disrupt sleep, taking up all of the bed!

E+E Column: On Being Content

It occurred to me today that although it is good to be ambitious, I’d much rather learn and succeed at simply being content. We’re on holiday in the Lake District and whilst walking through some gorgeous woodland, the kids picked ‘wishing sticks’ (dandelion clocks) and distributed them around the family. Close your eyes and make a wish, then blow. A whole host of possible wishes rushed through my mind; a thatched cottage with a spacious garden, good health for a variety of poorly loved ones, a guarantee that Donald Trump loses comes November, a winning lottery ticket… but eventually I settled on wishing that we might just be content as a family. I don’t think I’ve jinxed it by telling you all as this is a concept that I already know, just one that it helps to revisit periodically.

We’ve all heard tales of incredibly rich people tending to be very stressed, of top executives being the folk most in need of therapeutic treatments and past times. It is said that the more you have, the more there is to worry about, the more there is to lose. Many a person has wasted large chunks of their lives striving to achieve something just out of their reach, has focused so much on their goals that they’ve neglected to fully embrace and enjoy the life that they already have. Anecdotal evidence suggests that upon questioning people at the end of their lives, biggest regrets tend to almost unanimously centre on not spending enough time with loved ones, rather than missed career or financial opportunities.

Of course, there is a balance. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have aspirations, dreams and goals in life. Undeniably, great things are done by people with drive, with a spark and a willful force to keep pushing even when things are against them. But it’s about making sure you don’t become consumed by these goals. It’s about looking at what you’ve already got, at the people in your life and being able to be happy. To be able to live in the moment without always having a mind on the next step of your long term plan.

Dan and I are a good match for each other when it comes to this topic. I’m inclined to give absolutely no thought to the future. I live in a dreamworld where we need no pension, where we can just live on a boat into old age doing odd jobs to see our way and of course, we’ll not be struck down with any ailments that will hinder that way of life. Dan on the other hand, is conscious that we need to have a back up plan so we don’t end up slogging away into our 70’s and 80’s.He wants to make sure that we can look after the kids, provide them with a fun and secure childhood and then be able to look ourselves when the time comes. In our house, mostly, these two attitudes meet in the middle and we do a reasonable job of remaining content, enjoying the season that we’re currently in, without worrying too much about the future. It’s a constant work in progress but one worth pursuing, the art of contentment.

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E+E Column: The Power of Words

Recently, Sophia and Isaac have been experimenting with language and discovering the power that words can hold. As I watch them bicker and occasionally say some pretty hurtful things to each other, I can’t say that I agree with the old adage ‘sticks and bones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. Everything is amplified and absolute in their minds, we’ve had a lot of ‘I’m NEVER playing with you again!’, ‘you’re not my sister/brother anymore’ and all sorts of similar declarations in between. Generally, such exclamations are met with tears or angry shouts from the other. It’s hard not to get disheartened and weary when you hear them arguing in this manner although I’m aware their youth has a part to play in a lot of what they say.

It’s an interesting one really, children spend their first 2-3 years learning to speak and at that point, it’s just a case of pronounication and basic meaning, how to communicate needs, wants and observations. From then on, things get a bit more complicated. They slowly learn to express their feelings, how to communicate effectively with others, how you talk differently to peers and adults, familiar and unknown people, how to make people laugh, how to compliment someone, how to hurt. It’s a lot to get your head around; no wonder things often descend into dramatic statements! Luckily, they also say a heck of a lot of funny and heart warming things to even out the meaness. Most memorably recently, having put Isaac to bed 20 minutes previously, I snuck upstairs to get something only to hear a little voice call out. ‘Mummy….you’re lovely’ Aww, sweet. I thanked him. ‘And sometimes you’re a bit cheeky’. Ok, I’ll take that with a smile. ‘And also, you’re a little bit annoying’. Gee, thanks son!

Every parent has a bank of these cute mispronounciations, of phrases their children copied without knowing the meaning, of early declarations of love that they’ll remember forever. And it is these love filled memories and moments that I want to concentrate on, rather than those that seem full of anger and malice (although I know they probably don’t mean them really). I’m trying to teach them the gravity of saying such strongly worded things to each other, to help them through the maze of language so they can learn to use it carefully, considerately and kindly. Rather than the rhyme about sticks and stones, I’m going to be sticking to a quote I saw on a friend’s wall ‘Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible’.

E+E Column: Should I stay or should I go?

I tend to apply the same rule to column writing as I do to friendships, avoid talking about religion and politics. Although actually, when you think about it – that’s a rubbish rule! True friendships should be able to withstand some healthy debate and it’s certainly more interesting to have deeper conversations with people than the usual platitudes and pleasantries. Anyway, I digress. So, no politics. Except on this occasion I’m kind of breaking it as I want to talk about the upcoming referendum on the EU. But, I will preface it by stating that I am completely on the fence at the moment.

I tend to be a fairly impulsive person, that’s how we ended up shedding all our wordly posessions and moving onto a boat less than 3 months after the thought first entered our minds. Dan briefly mentioned the possibility of moving abroad earlier this week and by today I found myself about to register our ‘expression of interest’ on New Zealand’s immigration site. I tend to follow my first gut reaction when faced with a decision and actually, as things go, I haven’t found myself regretting those choices very often. When it comes to political leanings I’ve been the same. I’ve always chosen a more socialist, environmental option when it given the choice and in my personal blog, have been positively evangelical about the Green Party.

However, this time I am stumped. I have no gut instinct. I am confused by the sheer volume of propaganda being shoved down our throats and am struggling to wade through it to find out the truth. On one side, the bremain team are claiming the average family will be worse off by the tune of £1000-3000 a year if we leave and on the other, the brexit followers are claiming it would save us billions in tax and would give us more accountabiliity. I’ve just discovered fullfact.org which claims to be an impartial source of information on topics regarding the EU and our membership so am currently scouring it to try and make things clearer in my head so I can make an informed decision.

One thing is clear to me though, it is massively important that we do all utilise our democratic right and go and vote on June 23rd. We all love to moan about the state of affairs (me included!) and regardless of which way the country votes, it seems inevitable that big changes will be coming. So I would urge you not to be apathetic but to go and take the few minutes it does to vote in a few weeks time. Make a decision, put a mark to it and then whatever the outcome, at least you’ll know that you had your say, you did what you could to have your say in the future of our membership in the EU.

25.05.16

Update

I wrote this for the Express and Echo almost a month ago and since then have concluded that I am most definitely voting to remain in the EU. I’m going to take this opportunity to say please don’t get sucked into the sensationalist claims of the brexit camp and their smoke screens. I won’t ask you to vote to stay (athough let’s face it, I basically am) but if you are voting to leave, please please make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.