Not Back To School (again!)

It’s that time of year where the sun suddenly reappears in full force and the streets and parks grow eerily quiet, that’s right; it’s the start of a new school year. But for a growing number of us in Exeter (and beyond) there is no last minute mad rush to buy shoes or socks, no PE kit to unearth from some godforsaken corner of a smelly room (sorry school Mum friends!) and no ‘starting school’ photos. We’ve been home educating the kids since the word go and as the older two are already of compulsory school age, this year brings with it no special or meandering thoughts, merely a sigh of relief that all our groups are re-starting after drifting aimlessly for the last six weeks.

But I did think I might take the opportunity to chat a little about home education for those folk out there who might be intrigued but not quite sure what it’s all about! Firstly, yes it is completely legal! Under law, parents are required to ensure their child has a full time and suitable education, at school or otherwise. By home educating we’re falling into that vague ‘otherwise’ section! It is up to us as individual parents how that education looks, a scary thought at first but once you delve in, actually refreshing and remarkably accessible.

So why do we do it? After several years, I still don’t have a soundbite answer to that question and indeed, often ask myself it when the kids are being particularly trying! I suppose that the main reason for me is that I love having the freedom to follow my children’s interests and passions at their own pace. Many countries around the world do not start formal education until 7 and that really resonates with me. 4 or indeed 5 seems so little to be sat at a desk, there is so much playing to be done! And the great thing is that playing in itself, is bursting with educational value.

I also massively appreciate the freedom it gives us as a family, to take our learning to the beach if the weather demands it, to have a slow start if we’re feeling under the weather, to spend a day doing science experiments and nothing else if the kids have got the bug. At almost 8 and 6, my big two are on a par with their schooled peers so I don’t think they are lacking and for the most part, we are more than happy with the decision.

However, since increasing my freelance work, I have been craving a bit of a break from the kids so I can actually be a bit productive… Luckily, Forest School has saved the day! Sophia and Isaac are now both going to be attending one of their Home Ed groups every Friday for the full day. To say I’m a little excited is a bit of an understatement. I suspect Dan is also looking forward to less BBC Interview moments during his Friday meetings…

Perhaps you have found yourself nodding along with some of the things I’ve said and if you’re at all interested in home education or would like to find out more, why not join the Exeter Home Ed Community facebook group…a friendly group of folk who are always happy to help! Education Otherwise and the Home Education Advisory Service (HEAS) are also great organisations and provide a wealth of information. But regardless of whether you’ll be doing the school run later this week or not, I wish all the children of Exeter a great school year!

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Here We Go Again

During my marathon training I said to Dan, on more than one occasion, that I wouldn’t sign up for another marathon for a while as I felt the training was impacting on our family life too much. I knew even then that I’d run another but planned to not do it for at least a year, if not more. However, things change (sometimes quicker than we anticipate) and as it happens, I will be running my second marathon in a mere 8 weeks time. Sorry Dan!

I had some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket and my thoughts were that if I ran another marathon fairly quickly after my first, my body would already been trained and the training wouldn’t need to be quite so intense and time consuming. (Seasoned runners may be holding heads in their hands at this point in the column!) I also spotted that The Eden Project host a marathon and the part trail/part road route appealed to me. Plus we get a day out at Eden afterwards which is always a bonus in my books.

My Dad is running again with me and I’m looking forward to this one with a lot less apprehension than I did the North Devon affair. I think the reason for that is two-fold. Firstly, obviously I’ve completed one marathon so I know I can do it. Secondly, the route is a lot less hilly and includes more road running so it should be easier. Obviously we’ll be running in October rather than June so it will be chillier but given that the last one started in torrential rain, I’m not too worried about the weather.

Despite having signed up a month or so ago, my running has been somewhat sporadic. I have been doing a lot of weight training though so hopefully that’ll make up for it. However, the last two weekends I’ve gone out for a long run (last week was 10 miles) and I’ll be increasing these every week now for a bit before tapering again. In fact, we’re off to Wales on holiday in a few weeks and I spotted a trail half marathon occurring whilst we’re there so I thought I might as well incorporate that into my training as well (another sorry and thank you to Dan here for running whilst we’re on holiday!)

I’m excited about the challenge ahead though and although I really enjoy body building, I do think that running is my sport. I was chatting to a friend recently and said to her that I think that when you discover what activity is meant for you, you just know. And once you’re started, it would appear that you can’t stop! And to think that as a teenager I used to hate running…

A Close Call

Over the last 7.5 years, there have been plenty of occasions upon which my children have made careless decisions or I have turned my back for just a second at the wrong time and accidents have happened. There have also been a few times when I had the horror of watching a mishap occur without being able to do anything to stop it.

One that particularly stands out in my memory is watching a 2 year old Sophia speed down a small slope on her scooter, lose control and go flying into a nearby wall. I had a baby Isaac in a sling and somehow had to carry her, her scooter and our bags awkwardly back home where Dan was able to take us up to A+E. That time resulted in a broken finger and a minor operation to put her finger back in place as she had managed to knock it out of it’s socket. Ouch!

Of all these times though, I’ve never been seriously concerned for their lives or thought that they were at risk of serious harm. Today, however, I witnessed a near-miss that made my blood run cold. Isaac was scooting down a hill in Topsham and despite my hollerings to ‘STAY TO THE LEFT’ he careered off to the right as he scooted round a blind corner. A car suddenly appeared from around said corner and luckily, was going slow enough that when they pulled to a swift stop, they missed hitting him by mere inches.

I think me and my friend were more scared than Isaac! I grabbed him and I’m embarrassed to say that rather than pull him in for a hug, I gave him a stern talking to about listening to instructions. He looked folorn and said ‘why are you shouting at me?’ I answered ‘because you almost got hit by a car and I was scared because I love you and don’t want you to get hurt!’ I did feel bad though, that my instinct was to be cross. I guess fear does funny things to you.

This afternoon, I have been counting my blessings. I’m feeling so grateful to that car for driving at a sensible speed round a blind corner and also a little bit guilty that I didn’t stop to check the driver was ok. I’m feeling lucky that all my small folk are healthy, happy and unharmed. It struck me how close a call it was and how things could have easily turned out so differently. So apologies for the cheese but hug your little people extra tight today. I know I will be.

Mud and Mayhem

(Posting this a little late but better than never…)
The first two days of camping this week were blissful…we set up with no stress, opened a still-cold bottle of wine and relaxed as the kids played with their friends whilst we chatted and soaked up the (albeit patchy) sun. Day two saw a walk to Weymouth along the coast path, sea swimming, ice creams and a evening BBQ before marshmallows around the campfire. Perfect!
Day three however, was a different story. We were forecast rain and had done some planning as to where we could go but weren’t fully prepared for the extent of bad weather that arrived. We headed to the small but interesting Dinosaur Museum in Dorchester. Unfortunately so did everyone else in a 20 mile radius and claustrophobic tendencies sank in. Whilst there we received a sobering message from friends still on site warning us that cars weren’t allowed on site due to the mud and that tents and event shelters were being drowned and blown away left, right and centre. We headed for lunch to delay the inevitable before heading back, drenched from just dashing between buildings and cars, to assess the damage.
Luckily, all our tents were still just about standing and after a very camping dinner of bacon sandwiches and crisps, we settled in for a night of googling how much wind a bell tent can withstand, regular guy line checks and worrying whether our central pole would hold out.
This morning arrived and brought with it much welcome sun! Unfortunately, it was accompanied by more strong winds, predicted to reach 40 mph gusts this afternoon. Not quite the camping holiday weather I had envisioned! So a day on site is in order as the kids play card games in the warm dry tents and the parents drink copious amounts of tea whilst keeping an eye on the tents still being battered by the wind.
But at the end of the day, whilst I’d obviously prefer glorious sunshine and no wind, the kids are happy, we’re safe and fed, have spent good time with friends and most importantly, the tents are still standing! (For now, at least….)

Car Tetris

It’s that time of year again where Dan and I look in disbelief at a huge pile of assorted camping equipment stacked in our back garden and wonder how on earth it’s all going to fit into our relatively compact golf, along with the 5 of us. This year, it was actually not too stressful and the kids were very accepting when I said we didn’t have room for their body boards. Unfortunately, we also didn’t have room for the gazebo so hopefully it won’t rain this week…

So, as I write this, we are speeding along the A30 heading to a gorgeous campsite near Weymouth (Eweleaze, an absolute gem that I’d definitely recommend) whilst Dan ponders whether the car is meant to be this heavily loaded. The kids are bickering already and I’m trying with limited success thus far to embrace the holiday vibe!
I’ve written about camping with kids before, usually espousing the joys of it. This year though, I’m feeling a little more cynical. I do love camping and I know we’ll have a great week but it’s hardly what I’d call relaxing! Eli has been waking at 6am and I know that won’t change whilst camping. Couple that with the obligatory late nights round the campfire and it makes for a grouchy toddler by day two! Luckily, we’ve opted for the best approach to camping…go with lots of other families to share the childcare and provide instant company for the kids (meaning less sibling related tension…in theory).
So despite my reservations (which in reality, would apply to any holiday with small children) I am mostly looking forward to the week ahead. A week spent with good friends, a temporary suspension of reality as we escape the daily grind normal life and sleep under canvas for a precious few (hopefully cloudless!) nights.

End of an era

(This was conveniently in the Express and Echo on the day of my birthday but I forgot to post it here until today, it also reads as a little gloomy but that wasn’t the intention, honest!)

In years gone by when I had more time to update my blog regularly, I used to write a special post for the kids whenever they had a birthday. I’d write about how they had changed over the last year, what I loved about them, what made them tick and what it was about them that was unique and made them, them. Recently I’ve stopped this habit. A combination of just being too busy and also wanting to afford them a little more privacy I guess. But this week, as I approach my 30th birthday, I thought I’d be a little self indulgent and reflect on my last decade.

Ten years is a long time and I am testament to quite how much can change in that period. Ten years ago, in 2007 I was midway through my degree in International Relations and Politics, I played (badly!) in a band, I was a little overweight with no interest in exercise and my biggest concern was getting my assignments in on time. I didn’t know it at the time but I had not a care in the world. I was responsible for no one but myself. I had the freedom to wake up when I liked, go where I liked, eat whatever I liked. I used to stay up late having endless deep conversations about philosophy and politics. I was in the early stages of my relationship with Dan; we went on dates, played board games and had no external constraints on our time or energy. I remember cycling to his house in the middle of the night in a cocktail dress just to say hi (although to this day, I’m still not sure the reason for my strange attire).

Fast forward to present day, in 2017. I am responsible for the emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of three small, gorgeous beings. I am trying to juggle that with a dozen hours of freelance work a week as well as sharing the running of the household with Dan and trying to train for a marathon and generally keep fit. I no longer play music (although I miss it) but now love weightlifting, pole dancing and running. I have discovered my passion for writing. My interest in politics has deepened although just like my university lecturers, I have subsided into a often hopelessness at the current state of affairs. My relationship with Dan, whilst strong, is not quite as carefree and fun as it was. Far too often our conversations are dominated by the children, by money, by organisation.

Which leaves me to wonder where I’ll find myself in another ten years. Will I come full circle, re-gaining some independence as the children grow up? Maybe 40 will be my sweet spot! That is not to say that I’m not enjoying life at the moment. Life is full, it is complicated and often hard. But I am trying to consciously embrace all that I loved about life at 20. My love of music, our spontaneous attitude to plans, my passion. I figure if I can align that with the awesomeness of raising my three urchins and love of writing then I’ll have it made! So I’m looking forward to what my thirties will bring (as long as Theresa May isn’t still PM in a week!) and will keep you updated here on my comings and goings as they unfold.

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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!