By the Grace of God

Whilst at our Christian home education group a few months ago, I found myself talking to a lady with six (six!) children. She seemed together, happy and not at all like she was losing it, something I struggle with just half the number of children! I asked her how she managed it. Her reply really hit a chord with me and has stuck me ever since. She simply said ‘only by the grace of God’. So simple, so powerful but yet, such an overlooked and forgotten concept. The idea that actually we don’t have to be responsible for everything, that the weight of our lives is not solely on our shoulders alone.

Even if you’re not a Christian I believe there is a message to be taken here that is applicable for all of us. We don’t have to do everything by ourselves and more importantly, we shouldn’t be trying to. It’s just not possible. Asking for and accepting help is an absolute necessity if we want to live a life not consumed by anxiety and stress. Many an article has been written about the concept of the lost village. The assertion that a lot of society’s problems are created by the dispersal of family units, by the isolation and insular nature of our modern lives. And I think that it’s so true. In this village set up, there would always be someone to talk to, someone free to help out when it’s needed. Child raising would be shared, mothers would join together for solidarity in the endlessly long overwhelming days of looking after small people, there would always be a willing person ready to take the little ones off for a bit to enable the parents a break to get on with some other work or even just sleep.

Of course, ‘back in the day’ people’s lives would have been simpler with a slower pace to them. As technology increasingly creeps into every facet of our lives and the media are constantly bombarding us with suggestions as to what we should have and what we should be doing, our lives are getting more and more busy. Diaries are booked for months in advance and being able to drop everything at a moment’s notice to help someone in need is often easier said than done. But I really believe that we should try and channel the ethos of this village a little bit more in our day-to-day lives.

So if you’re struggling, try to remember to ask for help and more importantly, to accept it when it’s offered. And if you see someone else having a hard time, see if you can somehow ease their load a little. It might only take an hour or two of your time but you could make a huge difference to their life that day. After all, it takes a village…

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And so it goes…

I was reminded today by the wonders of technology that I have published a post on this date on facebook for the past two years. Although that in itself was enough of a reason to write a post(!), one of them got me thinking as well. Last year I wrote about sleep deprivation and added my humble contribution to the discourse on solidarity in parenthood, on building each other up and supporting each other, on celebrating diversity rather than letting it divide us. But two years ago I wrote rather more of a mundane ramble about our goings on and rereading it made me feel a bit je ne sais quoi as I could have written it this year and it would pretty much all still be valid.

I wrote about Dan’s ME being bad after a period of wellness and it taking us by surprise, of having amazing home ed days and feeling like a high achiever and of having awful days where everyone is grumpy and the TV is on a lot. I also wrote about preparing for a solo trip to Brighton with the kids to visit old friends and for a very special young man’s birthday, something I’ll be doing again this weekend (hurray!) The only difference two years on are a different house and an extra child in the picture.

Life seems to continue in cycles and rhythms over time, things change but not often in huge earth shattering ways. And I guess this realisation has me wondering that if we’re experiencing the same feelings, events and occurrences season after season, what’s the point? A spiritual answer for me would be to point to Jesus. I believe he has a plan for my life and even if I can’t see how the mundane ins and outs affect the bigger picture, there is a bigger picture. One day I might see what it is, or maybe I won’t. But nonetheless, it is there and I just have to trust in Him and keep living in a way that I think would honour him.

Alongside this is a reminder that I think everyone, regardless of faith, can take on board. That the point isn’t to necessarily keep blindly striving towards some end point or goal without looking at the scenery but to enjoy life day by day as it comes. The finish line might hold some incredible reward or it might not. But the race itself should be fully embraced and entered into just for the sake of taking part. It’s easy to get bogged down into the routine that your life entails, whether that is your job, parenthood or hobbies and to start finding it all a drag. I am prone to occasionally stopping, taking stock and concluding that my life consists of nothing more but washing dishes, doing laundry, ferrying small people around and preparing food. And in those moments, I can get quite grumpy! But if I shake off the ‘woe is me’ feeling and dig a bit deeper, I can also remember a baby waking me up with a heart melting smile, a sister and brother holding hands as they walk down the road, a delicious meal, an evening spent laughing with my husband and friends, some work accomplished that I’m particularly proud of or a new weightlifting goal reached.

I know I’ve written about taking pleasure in the small things before and I really don’t want to be repetitive, boring or start to sound like a motivational speaker but I do think it is so important. If you’re feeling a bit stuck right now, why not stop what you’re doing and think of three things that happened today that made you smile. I bet you’ll feel much better for it! Mine are: Sophia and her friend putting on a ‘show’ with the help of her friends Dad, cooking a new recipe that we all liked(!) and the look of pride on Elijah’s face as he stood unaided for one of the first times. It’s the little things that make the journey worthwhile, it really is.

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Opportunities

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!

Christmas: Less me, more them

Usually by this point in the year I’ve got Christmas and Sophia’s birthday sorted. This year I haven’t and I’m feeling it. I’m struggling to shift a perpetual dark mood and am stressed by how much there is to buy, organise and prepare in a very short space of time. Last year I had bought everything by the end of October, worked on handmade items in November and had December to do Christmassy activities with the kids, relax and enjoy the festive build up. This year I kind of just want to fast forward to January…

Don’t get me wrong, I am very much looking forward to the Christmas week itself and spending time with family and dear friends. It’s just the getting there that I’m dreading. There are homemade gifts to be made, Christmas crafts to be done (and baked!), presents to be bought, a party to plan, a Christmas dinner that needs planning (and necessary foods ordered), a newly moved into house that still needs sorting and all this on top of the normal demands of daily life and performed at less than 100% of my maximum capacity due to a small man that has started waking at night again…

I feel like a scrooge just typing this. Sorry for killing the festive buzz guys! I think I just needed to get it out there, to use this as a dumping ground so I can get organised, get over it and not stamp out the Christmas cheer before it has even arrived in our house. It’s also good to have a ‘written’ record so I don’t make the same mistake next year! Next year I’m putting aside a little bit of money each month and starting early.

And actually, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve come to realise how my head is really in the wrong space. Christmas isn’t about the gifts we make, buy and give, it’s not about the gingerbread or the wreath, it’s not about a meal that’ll be eaten in a fraction of the time it took to make. For us, for our family, it’s about remembering the birth of a very special baby, long ago, whose arrival changed everything. As the old saying goes ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’! And if you’re not that way inclined, I’m assuming it’s still not about any of the stuff I mentioned just now. I’m guessing it’s about spending time with your family and friends, it’s about love. We probably won’t remember the calibre of the roasties or gifts given and received in ten years time, but we’ll remember what matters. We’ll remember the smiles, the comfortable ease of being with folk we love, the laughter that brought us all to tears (though probably not what sparked it), the joy of spending quality time with quality people.

And I reckon that as long as I keep that my focus for the next month, I should be able to lighten up, get everything I need to get done finished and have a bloody brilliant December and Christmas. But Christmas for many people and families around the world  this year is going to fall far short of brilliant. So this week my task is to seek out ways of practically making Christmas a little cheerier for those less  fortunate than me and with far bigger worries than me. Our Church works to help support homeless people in Exeter and are collecting small gifts for them and we helped our home ed group with five family Christmas boxes for refugees in Syria so that’s a good place to start. But there must be more I can do than that. If you know of any opportunities please comment and let me know. If not, I will endeavour to find out and update you next week with my plans.

Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter those without homes. If I truly believe he’s the reason for celebrating this festive season then I need to think much less about my own (minor) woes and how I can enjoy the next month and start thinking much more about others. If I achieve nothing else but this, I’ll be content. I’m going to think beyond myself this Christmas, I want to help make it better for those that desperately need and deserve it to be.

Our first week

Our first week of officially home educating (in that Sophia is now of school age) is over. And I think we got off to a really good start;  if every week is like it I’ll be pretty darn happy!

I didn’t take any photos so I’m afraid this post won’t be accompanied by pictures of happy smiling children diligently doing activities (!!) but for posterity’s sake I wanted to record what we’ve been up to. As I mentioned several times before we’re following the Wee Folk Art Harvest Time ‘curriculum’ and it really is the perfect fit for us. The term started by focusing on vegetables. We had two books to read throughout the week, a field trip and a few activities to do. The books were ‘Tops and Bottoms’ by Janet Stevens and ‘The Vegetables We Eat’ by Gail Gibbons. Both were really lovely books, a good story and beautiful illustrations in the former and precise and understandable information laid out in an attractive way in the latter. The latter identifies 8 different vegetable groups according to what part of the plant we eat (seed, stem, leaf, flower bud, tuber, root, fruit and bulb) and the theme of identifying vegetables then ran throughout our week. We started by reading the book, then identifying the vegetables we were growing outside, Sophia spoke to Dan about them over dinner and we culminated it all in a ‘Field Trip’ to the Farm shop where I think we managed to spot one from each category. Sophia spoke to one of the staff about where some of the vegetables came from (Cheriton Bishop and Silverton – neighbouring villages) and then Isaac and Sophia chose some vegetables to have with the delicious local sausages for dinner. They chose a teeny tiny pumpkin, cauliflower, carrots and we supplemented with our abundant runner beans. I was reminded of how overrated I think pumpkin is, such a bland vegetable! Maybe I just need to keep trying new recipes but at the moment all I’m convinced they are good for is carving.

At the end of the week Sophia narrated back to me the plot of Tops and Bottoms and copied down her narration onto a journal sheet and accompanied it with a picture. We also learnt ‘Little Boy Blue’, read a different Flower Fairy poem every day and made saltdough pumpkins and carrots. We painted them as suggested but I wish we hadn’t as I keep catching Isaac sucking them and getting wet (possibly not edible!) paint everywhere. You live and learn I guess!

Alongside the curriculum guide, Sophia wanted to maths and reading so she practiced reading the Biff and Chip book that she’d chosen at the library to me (and impressed me with how much she could read unaided, although she does have a habit of trying to make up the story from the picture without reading the words!) and I printed her out a few maths worksheets which she absolutely whizzed through. I need to find her some harder ones to give her a bit of a challenge I think. During the week she also spent a bit of time on the BBC KS1 bitesize site playing some of the science and maths games and wrote a letter to her Nanny and Papi, bizarrely mentioning her birthday party (which isn’t really booked or planned yet….given that her birthday is in December!) We also baked bread, went berry picking and made blackberry crumble, went to the Not Back to School home ed picnic, went to our first home ed group meet of the term, her first dance class of the term and trialled a home ed forest school group at Exeter Forest School which they both loved and we will definitely be signing up to.

What I also (mostly) love is the numerous conversations that we have that they are learning so much from. A conversation about buying local vegetables leads to talking about pollution to how electricity is made to why environmentally friendly options like solar panels and wind turbines are better for our world. A brief mention of the plan for next week’s home ed group leads to a questioning on the Romans, everything they invented and other era’s in history. I remember one of the first books on home education I read (Educating Your Child at Home by Alan Lowe) spoke a lot about how much is learnt informally through conversation and with a very inquisitive almost 5 year old, I am really seeing how true that is! The challenge for me though is to answer all though questions and remain engaged and present when sometimes I just want a cuppa and a sit down with my kitting!

All in all though, a good week. Reading back, it sounds like we were quite busy but with tuesday and wednesday entirely at home it didn’t feel that way. It was nice to be active, to have a plan and to have a good balance of structured learning at home, getting out and about and just doing normal family activities together.

I’m hoping I can hold onto all the positivity and momentum I’m feeling to keep this rhythm going as it seems to really suit us. Not to say it prevented all sibling fighting….I don’t know if the super moon is to blame, the start of term, the change in weather or nothing at all but there is a real love/hate thing going on with them at the moment. Hopefully they’ll settle down soon, I’m not the best at being a calm and just mediator, especially when I’m tired. In fact I was listening to a worship song this morning with the lyrics ‘You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger’ and although it is obviously talking about God it struck me. That is what I want to try and emulate in my attitude towards the kids; rich in love and slow to anger. It’s true that when I’m more angry, they’re more angry and when I’m more patient and calm, they tend to be also. So I’m going to try and follow a regular rhythm, be more loving and hopefully it’ll have a positive effect on all of us.

Have your kids started school? Or has your home ed term re-started? Would love to hear how the start in term and change in seasons is going for you all out there!

Musings

The sun has appeared and our annual migration from inside to outdoors has occurred.  And not a moment too soon!

This week has been pleasantly filled with a few days in the garden; sewing, digging, planning a pea den, painting the floor and playing with water and friends, a trip to Dawlish beach, lunch at friends followed by the park and garden center (for more seeds!) and the most amazing easter egg hunt at our friends place during a  gorgeous afternoon which also featured feeding lambs, lots of cake and Sophia getting a chance to ride her friend’s Shetland pony-something I think she’s still buzzing from!
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(Our increasingly cocky – geddit! – neighbours)

We’re currently in Dartmouth for Easter with my family and judging from the weather, an indoor egg hunt after church. All in all, it’s been a thoroughly delightful week!

It’s been refreshing and somewhat restorative as I’ve been in a funny mood these last few weeks as I think about how life in the country, home education, doula work and Dan’s work fit together-or indeed if they do at all. I’ve felt a bit overwhlemed as we’re trying to meet the needs of all 4 of us and make the best decisions for all of us.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Sophia has asked for a timetable and to do a ‘lesson’ everyday at home. That’s absolutely fine but after 4 years of no structure and a lot of emphasis on seeing friends and going places I think it’ll take a bit of time for both of us to get used to having a bit more of a rhythm to our days (despite me trying several times previously)! I love the idea of routine but actually often struggle to stick to it so it’ll be a learning curve for both of us. I think it’s funny that for us, a child led education will actually be quite structured!

I think part of my odd mood is also slightly due to feeling that the future is a bit of an unknown. I’ve no idea how long we’ll home educate for, if we’ll ever manage to buy our own home, if I’ll be able to get enough work as a doula. So many unknowns. It’s becoming a bit of a joke that a lot of my posts end by pondering the importance of living in the moment but it’s obviously something I struggle with! I remember my Dad saying when I was younger that I live from one big event to the next and spent my life looking forward to things rather than just enjoying life day by day. I think I’m better than I used to be but still struggle with the big unknowns. But I’ll get there, slowly and surely, step by step.

But rather than leave you on such a glum note I’ll finish by wishing you all a very happy Easter. Whether you’re celebrating that Jesus died for you and is now alive (hurrah!) or whether you’re just enjoying the long weekend and chocolate I hope you’ve had a great day.
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The Bright Side

Today I am mostly angry and quickly realising how easy it is to ‘do’ parenting right when things are going well. When every other area of my life is going swimmingly I am excellent at spending quality time indulging the kids at play, diffusing tantrums and quarrels without snapping and being fully engaged in my job of educating and raising them to the best of my ability. But if something else is veering off course, my patience quickly disappears and I just want to shut myself in the bathroom.

Today I am angry at our landlady. I’m angry that we are being rushed into moving by a fairly arbitrary and unnecessary eviction notice (she could have just chosen not to renew our contract as the dates for that and her notice coincide). I’m angry because although we were going to move this year anyway it wasn’t going to be now when our resources (both financial and time) are so limited. I’m angry at myself for being so disappointed that our application wasn’t chosen for what would have been (we thought) the perfect house for us. I’m angry that the right house that fits all our specifications doesn’t seem to exist. I’m angry that my bad mood has seeped out and is affecting the kids. Sigh.

But they say that a problem shared is a problem halved and as I tap away I’m feeling less angry and more just weary. I’m also realising how self indulgent my anger today has been. At the end of the day, we will always have a roof over our heads and food in our kitchen regardless of what house we live in. We have money coming in, freedom of expression and have good health. Most importantly we have each other. I know it’s all relative but usually I err on the side of seizing the positive and think that’s definitely what I need to do to pull myself out of this funk. A verse I keep coming back to is from Jeremiah 29:11 ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare, not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ I find it so comforting to remember and links in nicely with the age old ‘what will be, will be.’

We were just getting the kids into the bath when Sophia announced ‘no accidents today! Hurrah!’ Might not sound like much but an achievement for my forgetful, easily distractable girl. A moment to share her jubilation, one I could have easily missed but that brings her a sense of pride. The key is definitely (for me anyway) to keep rejoicing in those little moments. Those moments occur in their droves when around children and on their own might not seem like much but accumulated are enough to beat the blues.

I haven’t read many parenting books and Dan and I tend to just parent by instinct and roll with the punches. But one of the few things I have read that stuck with me was a guy talking about working out the motivation behind less than desirable behaviour. He posited that it usually came down to childish immaturity or wilful disobedience. The latter might require correction or discipline (positive and gentle in our household) but the former needs our patience, grace, love and maybe an occasional quiet kind word or reminder.

They aren’t trying to annoy us when they spill their drink for the third time that day, they aren’t being vindictive when they traipse mud through the house and they’re not trying to tire us out when they wake screaming from a nightmare and can’t calm down. They are just being kids. This is something I need to remind myself of daily, sometimes hourly! If I snap every time they inconvenience me I’m going to squash their bright, loving spirits. I need to gently guide them, encourage them and build them up. They are so eager to please and desperate to join in. I don’t want that fire stamped out by my grumpy adult impatience and particularities.

So having morphed from angry and ranting to being annoyingly optimistic in the space of 1000 words (give or take), I might as well end with the lyrics immortalised in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, altogether now…

Always look on the bright side of life …

(You’ll be humming it all day now!)