Brilliant. Just brilliant. Dinovember has my vote

A friend sent me this blog link and I had to post it.

My daughter and I had a tooth fairy mishap a few weeks back.  

130722 iphone (12)

When she lost the tooth, I made a tiny envelope with a tiny poem on it to explain the tooth fairy’s taking of the tooth, sealed with a sticker. Two months later, as I rifled through our collection of stickers, I was startled by a triumphant, breathless shriek “It was YOU, Mummy.  I KNEW IT. I KNEW IT WAS YOU!”

Cue Mummy looking utterly confused – sorry, what darling? Yup, you guessed it, she clocked the very same tooth fairy stickers and so down came the house of cards I had flimsily built around magical and mysterious beings doing magical and mysterious things.  Father Christmas hangs on a thread, purely because the potential consequences are too dire to admit unbelief without physical proof and a capitulating parent.

But Dinovember, it’s awesome.  Truly a wondrous dedication to the magic of childhood.  And how fun it must be to create dino scenes of mischief your children couldn’t possibly believe you would actually do yourselves.

Can I take it on?  At this point I’m not sure we have dinosaurs big enough.  Santa might be able to see to that though.  Roll on Dinovember 2014…

 

 

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What is going on with our country?

In a recent OECD report, England came 22nd out of 24 western countries for literacy in 16-24 year olds (21st for numeracy).  In another OECD / EC report, we top the list of most obese nations in Europe.

What on earth is going on with our country that our basic education and self-care is failing so badly?  What sort of preparation are we giving our children to have active, healthy, productive adult lives?

I was particularly shocked by last weekend’s Sunday Times feature on literacy providing the above OECD report figures (NB link will only show the full article if you are a subscriber).  I am incredulous that some (native English-speaking) 16-24 year olds can’t answer three questions my seven year old or even four year old could (e.g. Match the image (of an ear) to one of four words: ear egg lip or jar).  How can young people be so failed by our education system, and, dare I say it, their parents?

The article talks about a new free school opening in east London, with families flocking to sign up their children.  Most were so-called immigrant families, very few were white working class.  The article comments that in the latter children are growing up contemptuous of education, an attitude instilled by their non-working parents living in areas lacking jobs.

When I read things like this in the media, I immediately caution myself to keep perspective and remember that newspapers want to sell copy, or take a politically nuanced stance that may emphasise certain facts while ignoring others.   Why are those parents not working and resenting the system so completely – did it fail them too?  How many people are we talking about here – aren’t the vast majority of families full of parents working hard to give their kids opportunities, often in very difficult economic and social environments?  Does the report factor in language fluency? Is the picture as bad as the stats paint it?

22nd out of 24 though.  Hard to explain that away.

I’m as shocked when I read that one in three of our children don’t own a single book, about 4 million of them (see thisarticle).  Given research shows a strong correlation between book ownership and literacy, this too is truly terrible for our society, now and in the future.  What chances do these illiterate young people have without basic life skills?  From society’s standpoint, what is the impact on economic growth, how much time, effort and money will need to be pumped into these individuals to try to redress this start in life or deal with its consequences?  What does it mean for the next generation?

As a person who believes passionately in education as a life-long means and end in itself for a fulfilling life, I don’t quite know what to do with this information.  I love this country and I want my children to love being British while they equally love experiencing and getting to know the wider world.  But these statistics, these quality of life indicators – is this really a healthy and positive society for them to live in?

Japan is top of the literacy table.  I don’t think our answer is tiger mothers, rote learning and cramming schools.  Finland is number two – I also can’t see the Scandinavian model of massive taxation and public services translating well here either.  I imagine it’s hard to cherry pick policies from a very different culture and expect them to work without a lot of investment and commitment.

Apparently, after a world tour of educational approaches and outcomes, top of the action list is that we need better teachers.  “Under-qualified, under-motivated teachers and sub-standard schools are at least partly to blame for England’s poor performance” said Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College and the man doing the world touring.  And yet today sees our junior school among many others across the UK closed due to the teacher’s strike against performance-related pay and other aspects of Michael Gove’s latest reforms.

Really?  I admire and respect all the teachers I know for the jobs they do: it’s a lot of work, full-on days, and often incredibly challenging. It doesn’t look to me like the pay or pay increase potential is particularly motivating and I know zero teachers who do it for the money.  But I don’t understand why performance related pay isn’t a given.  Why would we not incentivise our teachers to do their best to receive greater rewards? And make it less attractive to do a poor job of it?  Surely no teacher except a poor one wants a system that allows poor teachers to get the same rewards as teachers doing a brilliant, or even average, job.

Perhaps the gripe is about the way the performance aspect is implemented or the percentage value.  I’m sure there will always be things that could be done better and I don’t pretend to know the details. Irrespective, it seems to me that fundamental change is needed when the outcomes being delivered are so poor.

I see many examples in life of how small changes make big differences.  The big picture is important, but it’s nothing without the small steps that create it.  I feel hopeful that the changes discussed in this particular article might start to make a dent in this problem.  And I’m relieved that the UK scores better on other quality of life indices (see this helpful OECD site).

As so often when I read articles about issues that touch me, I also feel a little helpless and at sea with what to do with the strength of my feelings.  It feels wrong to read it, react to it, put it aside and go back to life as normal.  But what can I do about it?   The issues are complex, my time is limited, and the options to influence or get involved are so often not realistic, let alone choosing which of society’s issues I believe most passionately in helping address.

Spot the person well beyond the single-minded idealism of youth.

My awareness may be an important first step, choosing my politics and bringing up my own children according to my beliefs two others.  But none of those make a blind bit of different to the illiterate or obese young people in our country today.

I know this is not the England I want to live in.  The question is, what can I, will I do about it.

Random musings on 40 year old teenage angst and uncertainty

Golden_Eagle-Soaring

Some days I feel grounded in myself, my family, my friendships.  I soar, wings wide, feeling secure and confident in who I am, in knowing I have the emotional intelligence and control to handle feelings and situations as befit a nearly 40 year old adult.

Other days, I falter.  I feel like my wings don’t work.  I feel blown by the winds of emotion and uncertainty; like a teenager, unsure of myself and lacking the life experience and perspective needed to ground my behaviour and feelings in an intelligence of any sort.

Why is it that I so often find myself taken back to those teenage feelings of angst and uncertainty?  Sure, now, I recognise them for what they are; I know I can mostly control them and rationalise them and they feel far less raw or all-consuming.  But still, they are there.  Do we ever escape them?

Parenting is harder on days I falter.  Not to mention on days when the children demand more of me than I can give them; when tasks need doing that aren’t about them and that need my thoughts focused elsewhere and their presence where they don’t want to be.  I question my own judgement.  My self-control falters.  My mental energy is not sufficiently focused.

Those days need all my effort to manage.  And when I have some space, I employ the tactics I have learnt work for me to bring my feelings to the fore, analyse them and pick my way through them to the things I need to do to move past them.  I work hard to stop myself wanting to run away from the feelings and the implications – the often uncomfortable-feeling actions needed to sort things out with others, big or small as those things might be.

I have often wished I wasn’t so analytical – approaching life with more levity and less reflection.

But the reality is that I am who I am.  There is little value in wishing I were otherwise. Nor will mentally running away from hard things, small or large, solve anything.  Strength of character and self-esteem come from facing and dealing with situations, even if they don’t feel comfortable.

Just recognising the feelings, and what I need to do about them, allows my wings to spread once more, to feel the lift of the currents.

And as always, tomorrow is a new day, a new opportunity.  Parenting, more than anything else in my life, has taught me that.  We are not perfect, we will always be flawed, but each day we can strive to be the best we can be and pick ourselves up again when we don’t quite make it.

I can’t believe it’s come to negotiation with pants

spiderman pants

“I’m so disappointed in you, Littlest H. You’re not the big boy I thought you were.  Only big boys get to wear Spiderman pants, so I’m afraid they are going away until you can show me you’re a big boy who doesn’t wee in his pants because he can’t be bothered to get to the loo on time.” (Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk)

This was tactic number three million and three in managing my son’s mind-numbingly dull decision to use wee as a weapon of parental torture.  It was mildly successful – he really loves those pants – but as with all other tactics, both positive and negative, he quickly forgets and we’re back to Vanish spray and old towels as my new BFF.

Friends respond to my moaning by commiserating about his ‘accidents’.  I utterly refuse to accept there’s anything accidental about it whatsoever.  When I see his wee-signals, I often try to sunnily or breezily or cunningly bring his attention to the imminent loo visit, but however I do it, even ignoringly, he resolutely sets his mouth and refuses to go until he is so desperate he, of course, doesn’t make it.  He absolutely knows what he’s doing.  Even more irritatingly he immediately comes out with a plaintive “I’m really sorry, Mummy. I promise I won’t do it again,” repeated ad infinitum and utterly meaningless.  Oh, and then we have the battle of actually bothering to pull up pants and trousers shortly followed by the Great Hand-Washing War, both of which are often preceeded or followed by a game of Who Controls Who: “I’ll do it if you come to the stairs, Mummy; please hold my hand up the stairs, Mummy; no, Mummy, stand right there, no there.”

Honestly.  Does it really have to be this hard?  I’m so totally over his trouser drawer always being empty, the constant washing and the house and washing basket giving off Eau de Wee.

Have I vented enough?  I’m not sure.  I definitely could go on a lot, lot longer.  The worst of it is he’s not out of nappies at night yet.  He’s never been that good at sleeping through and I couldn’t bear facing up to the additional sleep-deprivation and life-shortening washing cycles of duvets, sheets, PJs and even closer companionship with Vanish, until I had to.  Which I reckon is when he’s four.  Which unfortunately looms large and close as it happens – for some reason I feel like it’s something I need to sort before he starts school (in September).  Not sure why, but that appears to be one of my personal ‘things’.  We will see.  At least spring and summer will ease the washing burden and allow Eau de Wee to waft outside more than it is circulated by central heating or results in us freezing to death.

With a six year old and three year old, I’ve tried a good number of negotiating strategies over the years, over a great many different things.  Some work, some don’t.  Some start out negative before I force myself to turn it round to a positive incentive.  Some don’t quite make it to the positive and a few even manage to start in a way I’d feel smug about when reading a parenting manual.

So far in the Battle of the Wee, we’ve used stickers, Thomas the Tank Engine books, cubes in the jar, masses of praise, putting a nappy on him with a heavy douse of parental disappointment about being a baby, ignoring it completely, leaving him in wet things, giving up and hoping the teachers sort it at nursery, and of course shouting at him in frustration. We may have tried others but it’s been so long I can’t remember.  Oh, and in case you’re wondering we have given each one a number of tries to get a tick in the ‘consistent parenting is key’ box.

I’m hoping there’s mileage in the pants angle though.  A great mate (and mother of three boys so when she advises I always listen with interest to such wise experience) suggested explaining the Spiderman pants (once returned) will be whipped off and away if they get wet.  Good idea.  And my own next step is to encourage him with the enticement of a new pair of Spiderman pants if he makes it through a whole weekend with no accidents.  I bought a pack of three so who knows how long they will last. Months I should think.

God knows what I’ll do if Spiderman goes out of favour.

PS

To my lovely followers, you may have noticed a lengthy absence of Mrs H blogs.  I’m finally back on the horse with this one, albeit a tad rusty, thanks to a nudge by a couple of people.  It’s good to be back doing something with the many observations and frustrations of parenting and stay-at-homing and everything-else-ing.  And as always to learn from and be inspired by comments and thoughts in response.  Roll on a blog-tastic 2013.

Is it the right time to jump into something new?

When I was commuting and working, work was pretty much life.  Plus as much family stuff as possible and the bare minimum to get by for everything else.  I yearned for more sleep, more exercise, more time with friends, less careering from one must do to the next, and more time to do something with all the ideas and interests that reared back up in my consciousness during holidays or the occasional ‘getting away from it’ weekend.

Last year I stepped off the corporate wheel.  Not for the reasons above, but to make sure one of us at least was able to be present in our children’s daily lives, and to keep our family (or me) from going over the edge.

But one year on, I can’t help noticing how life fills the space you give it quite stupendously well.  I find myself wondering where I will find the time to do all the things I’ve taken on – a triathlon, parent governorship, writing picture book stories, potential business opportunities, let alone the current building work at home.

And all that is to be done in the still small pockets of time when I don’t have the children – if my commitments impose on time with the kids, then what was the point of stopping working?

I’ve talked before on this blog about knowing I would return to work – stopping was for 1 – 2 years until Littlest H started big school. But I wanted, and still want, to find a way of working that fits with family life better than commuting up to London, but also doesn’t require me to do something I don’t really want to do or don’t find fulfilling.  But the reality is that working around family feels even harder than working a regular job.  

I’m looking at a new business venture.  It is a risk – we need to test it for a few months before knowing if it could go somewhere.  It will require a modest financial investment to test it, but modest matters right now.  It will also require a huge time commitment.  And I’m wondering how on earth I can manage that without giving up everything else I’m enjoying finally having some time for.

The thing is, I know I need to work – both financially and for myself. I know I have always wanted to do something more interesting than a straight corporate job.  And I know setting up anything takes risk, money and time, at the very least.  But I don’t want to end up in the same position I was when in the corporate world.  Ambition is all very well, but blind ambition obliterates all else.

What to do.  As usual, I want it all ways.

The fact is, one can’t have everything.  And anything worth doing takes effort. (Answers on a postcard: any other pithy sayings I could add?).  As always in life, it’s about priorities, positive realism and will (one of my own).

I’m sure my doubts are de rigueur for budding business-owners.  It’s a massive move to make.  But if I believe the business is viable and could be a route to fulfilling work that fits with family life and pays what I need to earn, I know I have to take the jump and suck up the whirlwind ride.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” says Neale Donald Walsch.  So is it time to live?  Hell, yeah (real answer: umm, I think so, but I’m not quite sure).  I just need to decide which comfort zones I’m going to stay in so I don’t do my usual trick of leaving too many of them all at the same time.  Or indeed missing some third way that magically keeps all the balls up in the air.  Oh, oh wait. I know, that’s called winning the lottery.  Damn.

Guest blogging for Little Puggle

Aside

A week of building work issues and Christmas panic have meant I’m off my blogging game – while I crack open a bottle and ruminate, fingers poised, I thought I’d share a couple of guest blogs I’ve written for the wonderful Little Puggle about the fun we’ve had with their fabulous children’s craft boxes.

Roaring through half-term

Ooar me hearties

Happy reading

Bad habits die hard

In July, I posted about doing my first triathlon next year, and since then I’ve been learning to swim front crawl.  Boy is it slow going.  But today I had a second swimming lesson, with a new teacher.  It was great, but it seems I have already picked up quite a few bad habits – legs, arms, breathing. Trying to correct them was hard.  And that was only the start of the journey.

Four recollections floated into my brain while ruminating on my lesson.

The first one was: Yesterday was our school parents evening (aka afternoon – in no-one’s book but a teacher’s is 3-6pm evening). I noticed the new Early Years curriculum for 0-5 year olds included being aware of and able to articulate one’s own strengths, and recognising those of others.  How much have I talked to 3.5 year old Littlest H about his strengths?

The second was a conversation with my daughter at bedtime yesterday, the eve of her 6th birthday.  I told her how much I loved her and what a good and lovely person she is.  She paused and said “Not always, Mummy.”  I wasn’t sure if she meant I don’t always love her or she’s not always good, and as we cuddled and I said I always love her, she clarified “Yes Mummy, but I’m not always good.” (No-one is, I replied)

The third was a recent occasion when I heard her refer to herself as being useless at something she was trying to do.  And the final one was another conversation we had yesterday when I asked her if her friends had noticed her ‘I’m 6’ badge at school.  She said “Yes, even XXX in Apple class. You know, Mummy, XXX isn’t very nice to me.  At lunchtime she is rude to me and laughs when I hold my knife and fork a different way round to everyone else.”

What do these have to do with either bad habits dying hard, or my swimming lesson, you may ask.  Well, as I went to bed last night, I found myself wondering if I spend enough time telling my children what amazing people they are – their characters, not just their achievements.  Do I do enough to build their self-esteem and self-worth, and to help them be strong enough to feel that being different is okay?

And following from that, am I in the habit of giving my children the best of myself, or do they more often get what’s left of myself?  Do I treat them with respect and kindness as the default, do I use language that builds their self-worth, even when managing their behaviour, and do I role-model the way to treat other people, including those you love?  I wonder.  Sometimes I feel the worst of myself comes out with those with whom I am closest.

I recently posted about ambition vs happiness, saying that striving to be a good parent is a given once you are one, not an ambition.  Yet, with an ambition I have set for myself like learning to swim front crawl, I prioritise practising, I pay for an expert to watch me and offer me ways to improve, I am patient with myself as I know it will take time and effort and I won’t be great to start with and maybe not at all.  When I have a bad session, I try not to give up, I shake myself off and say, well Annabel, you still went and you’ll just have to try again next time.

Oh to apply that process to parenting.  There is no teacher or learning environment, only real life doing, supplemented by watching others and occasional reading of parenting books, usually when things have gone seriously awry.   Parenting can’t be separated from rest of life and put in a box to pull out and ‘practise’ at certain times.  And yet, as a person who has always responded best to learning in learning environments, that is what I could do with.  Constantly evaluating and thinking about how I am parenting when I am in the thick of it is tough.  And yet responses to situations quickly become habit.   Often in fact, a bad habit that I know will die hard.  To kill it off properly will take the same, or more, mental and physical effort as I’m applying to learning to swim.

So how can I work harder at parenting and while I’m doing it, arm our kids with a thick enough hide and strong sense of self-worth so they can handle being picked on?

As with so much in life, to some extent they just have to experience it and grow in their confidence to take teasing or jibes in their stride.  But I also think as a parent I can help.  Having an open ear to hear when they are telling me something where I can help reinforce a strong sense of self. Asking questions about how they think they handle situations and helping them develop different strategies.  Gently teasing them to build their resilience. Telling them not just how much we love them, but why we do – what about them and their characters.  Not using damaging language in anger, frustration or impatience that make a specific instance of behaviour sound like a damning character flaw – “You’re so clumsy”, “You never think” “Why are you always so impatient”.  Ensuring I’m careful with how I talk about myself – not saying I’m useless at things in a typically self-deprecating English middle class way.

The past couple of days have not just included parents evening and a swimming lesson, but also a first physio session for a hip injury and a specialist dentist appointment about my gums (nothing like getting old, is there).  All have resulted in exercises that require me to learn new habits and break old ones.  Perhaps while I’m at it I should throw in a few parenting / personal bad habits, just to get my brain fully engaged.  You never know, some of it might just stick.