Thursday, 20 November 2014

What the Parenting Books don't tell you.

Parenting books.  The bookshops are flooded with them.  And I was an avid and naive reader of them until I realised one thing.  They weren't about my child.

Here are the things parenting books don't tell you:

1. When you have tried the controlled crying, the 'shhh pat' method (yes, it really exists and yes, I really did try it), co-sleeping, rapid return, gradual withdrawal and all sorts of other ways of making your baby sleep at night and NONE of them work, you have not failed.  

2. Sometimes ignoring a toddler's tantrum involves allowing them to follow you around the house screaming for hours on end.  Wear ear plugs.

3. You cannot force a baby to open their mouth when you are trying to feed them mushed up, snot-looking puréed broccoli.  It just goes all over their face instead and adds to the smeared bogey already on their cheek.

4. Some babies hate lying on their stomachs for 'tummy time'.  They will still be able to sit, talk, walk and do their GCSE's.  

5. I have never met a child who likes to stay still on the 'naughty step'.  Instead the battle then becomes 'stay on the naughty step or you will have to sit on the naughty step'. What?  Exactly.

6. Despite trying all the advice given to you, sometimes you will still feel like the worst mother in the world and you will want to run, screaming and flinging your arms around, out of the house.  In those moments, lock yourself in the bathroom.  If you haven't got a lock on your bathroom door for safety's sake, get one for your own safety.

7. When you leave your children to learn negotiation skills during an argument, expect to have to physically pull them apart seconds later when they are punching and kicking each other.  

8. I'm all for consequences, but make sure the consequences you give aren't more of a punishment for you.  Never, for example, ban screen time while you are making the tea.

9. Expect to be an expert on all alien body parts.  You will need to know how to answer statements such as 'Mum, my penis is keeping me awake.'

10. Spending 'quality time' with your children is very important.  But don't expect this to affect their behaviour.  They will continue to moan and cry at you, despite the fact that you have spent hours following intricate Lego instructions with them.  

11.  Some days your parenting brainwaves will work, and some days they will not.  All you can do is pick yourself up, dust off the insults hurled and the broken promises, and carry on.  

And I've only done 13 years.  After all this, the next 13 are going to be a breeze, surely? 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Christmas adverts - sneaky marketing or Christmas spirit?

Since when was Christmas about sentimental adverts?  

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas.  I enjoy spending time with family.  I love the excited squeals as my boys open their presents.  I enjoy the chocolate.  And the rest of the food, of course.

But these adverts?  They are a bizarre phenomenon to me.  Sneaking their way into Christmas tradition with their clever marketing, they somehow have become part of our modern day advent.  We all know Christmas is on the way when we see the soppy adverts populating our screens.

And do we really think that the big companies are just making these adverts so that we can enjoy Christmas more?  Are they simply to add to the excitement of Christmas?  Call me cynical, but they are out to make more money.  They make these adverts to change the way we think about their products, so that we suddenly can't have Christmas without them despite the fact that we have managed pretty well without them for the rest of our lives.  

We can all have a little smile and sigh at Monty the penguin, and we can feel nice on the inside about enemies playing football together, but I refuse to be sucked into their attempts to make themselves at home in my Christmas.  They are what they are - adverts to encourage us to spend our money.  No more, no less.  And they may be sweetly perfumed, but to me they smell of the ugly whiff of consumerism which gobbles it's greedy way through our Christmases.  

But that's just me.  

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Missing Child

Eleven years ago, around this time, we would have been meeting our very own little firework.  Anticipated with excitement, this child was given to us and then, just as a firework disappears into a thin mist, was taken away again.


A cruel word that somehow denotes failure on the part of the mother.  Did I carry the child wrongly?  Did I make a mistake?

It's not a word that can ever convey the stomach punching, gasping for air shock when the sonographer looks at you over the top of her glasses and tells you that your baby has died.  

It's not a word that explains the raw pain, like pouring vinegar on an open wound, as you come to terms with the fact that your child, safe and protected inside you is no longer safe.

It can never explain the sudden emptiness inside as you contemplate the fact that this life, once growing, has now gone.

This word cannot be weighted with the sadness that comes from knowing you will never hold your child, never rock them to sleep, never kiss the graze on their knee, never despair with their homework and never watch them grow taller than you.

It doesn't warn you of the sadness which lingers, years afterwards or of the confusion as you have other children and think of the 'what ifs'.  

It doesn't tell of the empty space in your family, and it doesn't give you permission to include in your number of children another one you've never met. 

The word doesn't alert you to the anxiety you will feel in subsequent pregnancies, obsessively checking to make sure this one is a keeper.

It doesn't allow you to grieve as you would for a child you had held, despite the fact that you already had given your heart in love to this tiny soul growing inside.  Your private grief cannot be shared because no-one else loved your child yet.

This one word, used so often and sometimes so flippantly, will never sum up the devastating anguish which rips apart your world.

And yet, as time moves on in its frenetic way, the tenderness of the pain passes, becoming a sadness and then simply a hollowness.  There is a space in our family and in my heart for this child, and I miss them.  

And so, as I watch the fireworks I remember our other child, the one who is missing, and I am grateful.  I'm thankful for all that has passed and for our boys, given to us in the here and now, for us to love, train and make happy memories with.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Dear Teenage Girl

Dear Teenage Girl,

I was you, once. 

I understand how it feels to need the world to affirm you. I know what it is to want to fit in and look the part.  I understand that the world around you sometimes dictates the way you dress and behave. And these days that pressure weighs far more heavily on your skinny shoulders than it did on mine. Everything surrounding you is screaming at you to look like a fake woman, and the screaming never stops. It reaches into your heart and twists, hard, so that eventually you give in. And you try. You try so hard. I can see that.

But, sweet girl, here's the truth. Beneath the sultry pout and the 'messed up bed hair' Facebook profile picture lies a strong, beautiful woman. Under your layers of foundation and heavy eye make-up there is a naked and raw intelligence that our world needs. Inside the body that you stare at in front of the mirror for so long, desperately trying to squeeze and tuck those gorgeous curves away, there is a confident young lady who is stretching out of her crysallis.  Under the 'I want my hair to look like I've just had sex' messy hairstyle lies a brain that is crying out to be used for good purposes.

And guess what? Young men aren't actually looking for a fake woman. 

Young men love your smile. It brings hope and warmth. They're not bothered about whether you can achieve the perfect pout.

The young men I know are searching for a girl they can cherish, just for who she is.

Young men are looking for a girl they can put the world to rights with not a poster girl.

Young men are looking for a girl who is beautiful in her vulnerability and strong in her resolution.

Young men are not looking for a girl who can't leave the house without make-up. Rather, they want to love a girl for her naked confidence.

Young men are looking for a girl who can throw her head back and laugh with abandonment, unconcerned about the whiteness of her teeth.

Young men love your curves. They're not interested in whether your bum squishes out or whether you have draped your half -naked body across a screen in an attempt to find favour.

Young men want to hold your hand and love your heart. They see beyond the mask you paint over yourself and they are in awe of who you really are.

And if they don't want all these things,  are they really the ones you want to give your heart and your body to?

So, beautiful girl, you can give up trying. Just stop.  
Breathe a sigh of relief.  

All you need to be is the courageous, clever, funny and beautiful girl you were made to be. 

And then wait. 

Wait for the one you don't have to try for.

He's worth the wait, I promise.


Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Good Samaritan?

It seems we have a 'good Samaritan' in our family.  One who simply cannot walk past injustice.  A courageous boy who has to help others, despite any dangers to himself.  A young man who, seeing the world in black and white, launches himself passionately to rescue others.

All of this is to be nurtured and celebrated.  In fact, it's exciting to know that if we do support him and help him to shape his passion for justice then he can, in his own way, be a part of the fight against injustice across the world.  Who knows what this could lead to?  I don't.

But at the moment he is 10 years old and the injustices that are in front of him are the ones on the playground.  Always impulsive, when he sees someone being hurt he intervenes.  And he intervenes physically.  He hasn't developed mentally enough yet to know that it's not always a good idea to throw someone to the ground at school but he's certainly strong enough to hurt them.  In that split-second moment of anger at the injustice in front of him, he forgets about the fact that he might get into trouble with the teachers and he doesn't care about the beating he might get from the other children.  He just throws himself in to rescue the 'victim'.

Then he finds himself in a detention for fighting, and rightly so.  Consequences are important.

And so we find ourselves walking this difficult line of encouraging his inbuilt passion for justice but helping him to find other ways of outworking it.  Of course its not acceptable for him to punch someone simply because they punched someone else.  But in his black and white world of retribution and vengeance, he is only doing the right thing.

I wonder about the good Samaritan in the story Jesus told.  This was a man who also couldn't walk past, unlike the Pharisees.  He helped someone he was supposed to hate.  Like our boy, he put aside any thoughts of danger to himself and he went out of his way to save this man's life.  But I wonder what he would have done if he'd come across the man a few hours earlier, when he was being beaten almost to death by the robbers.  Would this Samaritan man have risked his life to save someone else?  Of course, it's only a story and we don't know the answer to this hypothetical question but I do know that some people are made to fight injustice.  They can't look away.  And our boy is one of them.

So we have no choice but to continue shaping and whittling away at this boy, one of our three arrows.  Sometimes we have no idea what to do or say that will help him to learn to use his passions for good.  We will not force him to squash them down or hide them away.  We will encourage him to be the young man he was made to be.  As parents, this is our job and not to be delegated to anyone else.  But it's not an easy tightrope for us to walk across and mistakes, of which there will be plenty,   can have scary consequences.

We know this boy is most definitely a challenge but, mercifully, we love a challenge and we love him.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

When blindness is the only way forwards.

Perhaps I was a strange child (and that would explain a lot about my boys), but when I was younger I used to enjoy walking around the house with my eyes closed, pretending to be blind.  I enjoyed the feeling of not quite knowing what was coming up next.  It was vulnerable.  I knew the layout, of course.

But sometimes, in my minds eye, I would imagine that a step or a piece of furniture was closer than it was in reality.  I would move my legs and prepare myself for it only to have a surprise when I realised I hadn't quite reached it yet.  Anyone else experienced this or is it just strange old me?

The thing is, the piece of furniture was still there.  I just had a few more steps to take before I reached it.  It hadn't disappeared.

It's the same with the dreams that have been planted, some very long ago, in my heart.  

When you can't see what's in front of you and you walk by faith alone, sometimes you imagine things are closer than they really are.  They feel close enough to reach out and touch, because your heart tells you that you simply cannot continue without knowing they are finally at your fingertips.  Surely it's time to grasp hold of all that has been weighing heavy in your heart.  

And when this happens to me, I begin to prepare myself for a different movement, excited that this is the time.  

And then it isn't.  And I'm surprised and confused.

And I have to do something with the dreams and promises that refuse to be pushed down any longer. I have to stop trying to peek out of the corner of my eye and remember that walking by faith is just that. It's not by sight.  You can't see ahead, and you're not supposed to.

All I know is that there are some more steps to be taken.  I can't jump from here to there.  I have to walk it.  

And I have to keep tight hold of those dreams for a while longer.  They are still there, just like that piece of furniture, solid and waiting for me.  I haven't made a mistake or got the wrong end of the stick.  They hang there, over my days, like a banner calling me towards them.  I can't turn around and head back now.

So, I keep my eyes closed and plod ahead, tentatively sometimes, grateful that my God knows the layout and will direct my steps.  I keep learning to walk by faith, without peeking out through scrunched up eyes.  Like my childhood game, it's vulnerable but it's the only way.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Honour

This very special badge has found it's way into our family this week.

And even better is that the Deputy Headboy is his best buddy and partner in crime.  The pair of them will be a force to be reckoned with.  We are very proud.

But are we more proud of him now than we were before he had this badge pinned onto his blazer?  Absolutely not.

This boy has worked hard consistently.  He has shown leadership skills and managed responsibility well since he was very little.  It's what he's good at and so we have encouraged him to be all he was made to be.

But there are some words of warning too.

Our job is not only to encourage him in his strengths, but also to warn him of the dangers.  Power brings responsibility.  It can be used to bring great joy but also to cause enormous damage.  As parents, we need to steer him and teach him to be the best he can be, but to continue in humility and looking to serve others before himself.  This new role will be full of opportunities for him to learn these important lessons and this, more than anything else, is why I am excited he has been chosen.  A year-long learning curve for my boy.

We also need to remember that within a family, each person has their own strengths.  As the first child, Toby is not setting any standard for which the others must aim.  He is being himself.  The others will not have any expectation from us to follow in his footsteps, but simply to be all they were made to be too.  Everyone is brilliant at something.  Our job as parents is to find that 'something' in each of our children and draw it out of them so they can excel and grow.  And whilst we have one very strong leader who is gifted academically, we also have a boy who is fearless, brimming with compassion and ready to fight the injustices of the world.  The little one is more persistent than a dripping tap, curious about the world around him and full of fun.  Each one is beautifully individual.  Each one walks a different path.  Each one requires a different hand on the shoulder.

So, Headboy or not, our parenting privilege of shaping and guiding continues.  What an honour.