Nothing But the Truth

In the interest of full disclosure, I figure that as well as sharing the funny or adorable ancedotes from my children with you, I should also share the downright ugly. My children have been nothing short of foul this last week. The fighting has been incessant, the whinging has been prolific, the singing annoying songs has been off the charts. Yesterday as we drove home from an afternoon on a beautiful beach near Kingsbridge (where to be fair, they had mostly put their grumpiness on hold) they were kicking off in the back of the car. Eli was shouting at me because I wouldn’t put his window down as we drove at 70mph down the A38, Sophia was grumpy about something Isaac had done and Isaac was howling because he’d been told off for purposefully annoying Sophia. We pulled in for fuel and I glanced over at the campervan next to me. In it was another family with two young children. The parents looked relaxed and happy, the children were smiling. They looked like something out of an advertisement! I was green with envy. Dan got back in the car….’why aren’t our kids like that?!’ I asked in desperation, nodding in their direction.

To be fair to my children, they are perfectly capable of being lovely. They often play long complicated make believe games, they give us lots of cuddles, they read books and build lego creations together. We have long periods of mostly harmonious living with just the odd niggle. But these periods seem to be interspersed with phases where everyone clashes, all the time. This time round, I think it is probably something to do with getting back into the swing of things after the Easter break combined with far too much sugar over the last week (we’ve finally finished the chocolate today). I’m hoping that the permanent sugar high will wear off and as their normal routine continues, they might ease back into a more peaceful state of being.

I know it’s not permanent but it’s oh so annoying when it happens. I hate nagging and chastising all the time, I can’t bear them not listening to me and I feel oh so sorry for our neighbours or anyone in the vicinity! Mostly though, I feel so sad at the thought of them being so unpleasant to each other. Sure, I wasn’t best friends with my siblings at the time growing up but mostly I remember playing with them and getting on. Maybe my parents will remember it differently but I don’t remember being quite as mean to them as mine can be to each other. It’s probably rose tinted spectacles as I reminisce and this is probably completely normal behaviour but nonetheless, I hope this phase passes quickly and we’re back to giggles being more commonly heard than screams!

Green Therapy

Just before Easter a friend of ours kindly approached me to see if we would like to share their plot at the local allotment. We enthusiastically accepted and consequently, the last few weeks have seen me nipping up whenever we can spare the time to get a bit of digging in. I had forgotten quite how much I love gardening and just how therapeutic it is. This plot has a few fairly overgrown areas that need tackling and even just the simple act of digging and weeding has brought me much joy (and peace) recently. I’ve taken to digging barefoot, mostly because it irritates me less than getting soil in your shoes but I must admit that there is something wonderful about feeling the earth between your toes as you get to grips with the task at hand.

The children have been nothing short of delighted to have a patch of ‘proper’ garden to tend to although their efforts at helping me weed have often been waylaid by the far more attractive option of exploring the site or darting off to play with other children. I will give them their dues though, they are diligent (and sometimes over enthusiastic!) water-ers and I suspect none of the plants will be going thirsty with Elijah around… I’m looking forward to the Easter holidays being over and dedicating a regular chunk of time once or twice a week to the allotment as part of their home education.

When we arrived there was an impressive strawberry patch, an asparagus bed, rhubarb and raspberry canes galore. Since then potatoes, beetroot and sweetcorn have been planted, I have tomato and brussel sprout seedlings at home ready to go up and just today, my spaghetti squash seeds arrived (I’m a bit too excited about the latter…here’s hoping they are bountiful)! It has been a real pleasure to be up there in the recent run of beautiful sunshine and I don’t see our initial enthusiasm wearing off anytime soon, even if the weather does turn.

All three of the kids seem to have inherited my love of gardening and are keen to see the process of growing your own through from the admittedly sometimes boring stages of weeding and preparing beds to the exciting time that is harvest. I sometimes think that if I achieve nothing else significant with their home education, as long as they love being outdoors and can grow food, I’ll be happy. Nothing tastes quite as good as fruit and vegetables you’ve grown yourselves and although I might sound a little kooky, the conspiracy theorist in me thinks that in this day and age, it’s probably one of the must useful skills to have. So a huge thank you to Jess for letting us share her plot, we will do our best to help keep everything green and growing!

All is a state of impermanence

All parents reading this will know that at times in your parenting journey, certain phrases become akin to mantras as you struggle through a challenging phase. Whether it be something you tell yourself or partner (this too shall pass, your child is your mirror…etc) or something that you tell your children, it’s easy to liken yourself to a broken record as you trot out the same old tired pep talks to an increasingly uninterested audience. For us, currently it is reminding the big two that Elijah hasn’t yet developed impulse control.

Having just turned two, he is doing what all toddlers do…smashing down towers newly built by older siblings, biting when rough play gets too exciting and generally trying to include himself in everything going on around him without any care or caution. When there are no older siblings, this phase is generally easier to manage. But when you have a lego mad 5 year old who keeps getting his creations kicked apart or a 7 year old suffering a tiny terror walking through the midst of her beloved card games, it can be a bit of a struggle to maintain the peace. A common shout in our house at the moment is ‘Muuuuuuuum!!! Elijah just….insert random act of destruction’ usually shortly followed by Eli bursting into tears as his older sibling reprimands or tries to stop him.

Obviously I try to stay nearby to manage situations pre-emptively but often, that is simply not practical or possible. Instead, I find myself comforting a wailing toddler whilst trying to simultaneously explain to him why his brother and sister shouted at him and to said aggrieved party that he didn’t do it maliciously but doesn’t yet have the impulse control to resist the urge to disrupt their play so physically. When Sophia was around the same age and doing a similar thing, I remember tearing my hair out wondering why my lovely little girl was behaving in such a manner. I tried all sorts of parenting techniques to curb the behaviour before someone pointed me in the direction of some well researched articles explaining that the area of our brain that manages our impulses doesn’t develop fully until we reach an older age.

It was like a lightbulb moment. This is not naughty or deliberately mean behaviour. It is age appropriate, innocent and most importantly, temporary! Of course I think it is still important to explain to the mischievous toe rag why their actions are undesirable but I’m not going to punish a 2 year old for something they can’t help. Of course this is not of much comfort to Sophia and Isaac as they endure his exuberance but we have developed strategies such as decoy towers or simply playing in a separate, enclosed space from him. Luckily, this unwanted and often trying behaviour is balanced out and more than made up for by his deep belly laughs and overflowing affection at the moment, epitome of cute he is! How about all of you parents out there, are you going through a challenging phase with your little ones at the moment? How are you managing it? I would love to hear from you!

FOMO

In Exeter at the moment, there is a veritable plethora of opportunities for home educated children. Choir, yoga, athletics, veterinary classes, theatre trips, craft sessions, nature groups, science workshops, Forest School, trampolining…the list goes on and on. Although I am obviously thrilled by the opportunities on offer for the kids, at the same time I’ve been finding myself getting a bit panicked every time a new post goes up advertising another group or activity. After talking to a friend, she suggested I may be suffering from FOMO, a Fear Of Missing Out. Not an acronym I was familiar with but when she said it, I immediately identified with the ‘syndrome’!

Without a time machine and an unlimited supply of funds, it is simply impossible to do everything. But although in my heart of hearts I know this, every time I turn down an opportunity I find myself worrying that I’m doing the kids a disservice. What if there is a future Olympic gymnast in one them and they never realise that potential because I didn’t take them to the relevant classes? What if one of them has an unrecognised passion for singing but they never actualise it? I do know that I’m being a bit ridiculous and that these are extreme examples. But still, that fear (of missing out) remains!

And it doesn’t just stop with their education. I have a tendency to try and make sure that we can accept every party invitation, that every time the sun shines we maximise the opportunity to do something exciting outside, that we fit in as much as possible as a family. However, having pondered the matter somewhat, I had a bit of an epiphany. Namely that actually, the kids (and Dan) aren’t bothered about doing everything. They are all perfectly happy having a day at home, playing board games, hanging out with the guinea pig, building lego spaceships, watching a bit of TV and generally chilling out. In fact, if it follows a busy few days, it is their activity of choice when asked what they fancy doing on a rare free day.

I realised that I’ve been focused on making happy memories for our family that I’ve been getting caught up in doing big, amazing things whereas it doesn’t really matter what the content of the memory is, what we’ll remember is how we felt whilst doing that. So dragging them all onto Dartmoor when they’re tired and just want to chill won’t be a day to treasure, it’s more likely to be something we have to endure before heading home to relax. Likewise, if I want to ensure they have a full, rounded education, that doesn’t necessarily mean dipping superficially into everything physically and financially possible but following their needs and interests to develop their knowledge and skillset to a deeper (and therefore, more useful) level. No need to fear missing out, what we’ve got is pretty good already!

What’s my name again?!

As I write this at 7 in the morning, I have a 2 year old monkey climbing on my back, attempting to strangle or cuddle me (I’m not sure which) in between taking breaks to eat his cereal. We’ve been up since 5am and he is impossibly full of beans. My bean counter is looking noticeably less full. A situation that many parents are finding themselves in this morning and for those of you will older or grown up kids, an occurrence that I’m sure you don’t miss! But with this phase of 5am waking looking more and more like a longer term arrangement on my youngest son’s part, I’ve decided to try and embrace them and get on with work and tasks. I often struggle to fit everything in and realised I could utilise these early hours to create more time. At least that was the plan last night. This morning I sat, comatose, on the sofa whilst the electronic babysitter did it’s thing before finally rousing myself at 6.30 to make a cup of tea and find my laptop. It would probably help if I went to bed a little earlier but there’s always tomorrow right?! Sleep deprivation is a funny thing, I’ve written about it before so apologies for any repetition but given that it’s still an ongoing issue, I think there’s probably more to be said.

The biggest affect it has on me is forgetfulness and irritability. Ironically, for someone who loves to talk and write, my forgetfulness manifests in a complete inability to remember the names of the children I’m talking to, to be able to finish sentences and to formulate any sort of coherent thoughts without the aid of caffeine. The irritability needs no explanation but I do feel bad that it often ends up directed at the two children who are actually sleeping. Not only are they sleeping without regularly appearing in my bed but they actually like a good lie in, often not appearing until gone 8 and then often only with some prodding on my part. But I digress.

As the New Year dawned on us earlier this year, I read an article about how ‘clean sleep’ was set to be the trend of 2017. The concept being that there should be more awareness on the importance of a good amount of decent quality sleep. I wonder if the idea was planted by health authorities as a campaign and taken on my health and fitness websites. Or whether people simply love trends and ‘clean eating’ has somewhat run it’s course. Then just a few days ago I saw a video about how lack of sleep impacts your cognitive performance and your wider bodily functions.

I understand that there probably are a lot of folk that need reminding to get a decent amount of sleep (8 hours being the holy grail) but for parents who would LOVE to get that sleep but can’t, it kind of smarts! Still, I guess in the wee hours we can always comfort ourselves with the knowledge that as teenagers we’ll never be able to get them out of bed and if we really want to exact some revenge and a little fun, we can take to waking them at regular intervals to share inane thoughts or declarations of hunger…

Enjoying The Ride

As a general rule, I don’t really subscribe to the notion of the terrible twos, the tiresome threes or the fearsome fours. I think that at any given age, a child will present certain challenges but also provide a whole heap of joy as well. That said, there is definitely a point where your baby-turned-toddler gains a certain degree of awareness and you know, as their parent, that their actions aren’t always so innocent anymore. Elijah has been heading this way for a while but this week, when he strolled into the living room with a cheeky grin on his face, purposefully concealing a foraged knife and screwdriver behind his back, I knew we were there. (Third time round and we still suck at baby proofing!)

I swear toddlers were designed to drive you to the brink of insanity with their mischievous and testing antics before drawing you back with a heart melting smile or a gigantic cuddle, little arms wrapped in a death grip tight around your neck. I think all parents of small children often have moments where they’d give anything for a brief respite. A break from re-directing small curious hands, a break from clearing up food from the floor and walls, a break from tidying up what feels like thousands of small toys that have been spread around the house over the course of a morning.

But after having several conversations with parents of teenagers this week, I’m starting to see it from the other side, to realise the benefits of toddlers and small children that I know I’ll miss when they are over (mostly). To know where they are at all times doesn’t feel like a blessing right now but I know that when they are teenagers, out with their friends and staying out past their given home time, I’ll remember these days with fondness! I don’t have to worry about who they’re with, what they’re doing and what time they’ll be home. That aspect of their safety at least is a given. And at this age, as their parents, we are still their one true love. It might be overwhelming to be loved with so much force but before long, they will no longer want to be near us 24 hours a day (or at all!), they’ll argue with us, they’ll think they know better.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know there will also be amazing aspects to having teenagers. I’m looking forward to proper conversations with them, to eating out and knowing it’ll be an easy enjoyable evening, to seeing who they are as they blossom into adults. But I suppose that’s my point. Every stage of parenting is a mixed bag, there will always be challenges and there will always be joy. So as Eli is currently evolving into an exceptionally cheeky pickle of a small person, I will not wish it away too much. As one of my favourite fellow parents says, all is a state of impermanence, so I will take the good with the bad and just try and enjoy the ride!

Love is…the absence of judgement

On two separate occasions in the last week, Eli has been rescued by a general member of the public. The first time, one of the big kids opened our front door and he darted out and down our pedestrianised road with Dan in hot pursuit. Unfortunately he didn’t stop when he got to the actual road and ran into it before being caught and brought to safety by a passing gentleman. The second time, we were at Decoy Country Park walking around the lake. He jumped off the path into a puddle/ditch but misjudged the distance and landed on his bottom, covered in muddy water. Luckily, he was in no danger and wasn’t particularly upset (just as well because I was laughing at him)! I was perhaps 100 yards away when it happened and a lady walking her dog hoisted him out as I came to his aid.

Both times, Dan and I were obviously very grateful to the people who had helped. Both times, we were met with stony silence and quite obvious judgement that we had let the situations occur. Before I rant, I’d like to clarify that the majority of people that I’ve encountered during my parenting journey have been kind, supportive and understanding of the nature of children. But, unfortunately, from time to time I have received nothing short of disdainful judgement at the behaviour of my children, silly situations they’ve got themselves into or parenting choices that I’ve made. And it drives me crazy!

Regardless of whether these people are parents or not, surely everyone realises that these tiny human beings are unpredictable, prone to immature behaviour and not always the most compliant to the demands from those looking after them. So I absolutely cannot fathom why people think the best way to react is with pointed looks, snarky comments or tutting. Parenting is HARD. A lot of the time, when these things happen, parents are doing their best to manage the situation, keep their children safe and get to where they’re going. Be it a child screaming in the supermarket because you won’t let them carry the biscuits, a toddler who has escaped his watchful but exhausted Mum or energetic children not looking where they’re going and knocking into someone….these parents do not need to be chastised. They need sympathy, understanding and to be cut a bit of slack. Parents often don’t have the kind of support from extended family that previous generations did and it can be a lonely experience at the best of times without being told you’re doing it badly from a complete stranger. I’m reminded of the old saying, if you don’t have anything nice to say…then don’t say anything at all!

Whilst looking for a title for this week’s column I stumbled across several quotes about judgement and ended up choosing this one from the Dalai Lama as it seemed particularly apt. Love is the absence of judgement. Nothing good comes from judging other people. So next time you see a child behaving in a way that is less than ideal, why not decide to act in a loving way and offer the parent a hand, an encouraging word or simply smile at them. They’re doing the best they can and having that support from a stranger might make all the difference to that moment for them.