Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Memory Making

I have memories from my childhood that will go down in family folk lore. You know, those kinds of memories that we still laugh about when we all get together. I remember a certain piggy back fight on a beach. I remember my sister riding her bike into a thorny bush. I remember birthday parties, well planned and executed by my creative mum. I remember family meal times with too many people squashed around the table as the teenage friends of my brother and sister joined us (and I fell in love with most of those teenage friends too). I remember water fights with my sister. I remember playing schools and estate agents. We all have childhood memories - both good and the not so good.

I want my boys to be able to remember good times we have had as a family. I don't want them to remember the way I shout at them in the mornings to "STOP FIGHTING WITH YOUR TOOTHBRUSHES AND JUST CLEAN YOUR TEETH!". I don't want them to remember the times I have made mistakes (and oh there are SO many). I want them to remember the times we laughed together and played together.

Making memories has to be intentional though. Of course, there are spontaneous times that they will remember when we have danced around the kitchen together, skidding across the floor with our air guitars and clasping a wooden spoon microphone. (No? Not in your house? Oh, just my house then...) But so often life speeds by more quickly than we could possibly imagine, and if we don't plan to make memories with our children then we could be waving them goodbye at 18 with the regrets of the things we never did because we were too busy.

One of our great family memories has been our trips camping in 'The Field'. Today at school Max had to take in a photograph of a special place and he took one of 'The Field'. He stood up in his class and told his classmates about the 'secret island', the rope swing, the treasure he collected, the trees to climb, the stream to cross and the fires he had. I realised that this is one very special memory, not just for him but for our whole family. A memory we can treasure.

Memories are like treasure to be collected along the way. We store them away in our treasure box (or if you are Jonah, a 'treasure drawer' which smells distinctly fishy at the moment - I must stop procrastinating and sort it out) and we bring them out when we want to feel good. As parents we need to be intentional about collecting and treasuring the memories that make our family who we are. Then, when we kiss our boys goodbye when they are 18 (or 19 or 20) we can be assured that they are taking their treasure box of memories with them, which will be passed on to their children too. What a privelege it is to be a parent. What treasures and simple delights we can give our children.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Saturday Sighs

Saturday, the great 'day of rest' has arrived. With one boy away on a school residential trip, the house managed to actually sleep in until 7:40am. A breakthrough of a lie in for a Saturday.

After their eyes twinkled with delight and mischief as Jared gave them sweets at breakfast (sweetie day is Friday, and they know it's naughty to eat them!), they piled out into the garden.

Frog hunting season has begun again in our garden. If you are unfamiliar with the frog hunting rituals, see my old post about it from a couple of years ago. Yesterday, a frog was caught (just the one, I think the record is nine) and so today they are busying themselves with creating a Frog Theme Park. This theme park is so far complete with waterfall and forest. The frogs are just not going to know their luck at being captured and forced into such a place of wonder and delight.

Jonah, of course, can't concentrate on the important matter of theme park building for too long so his involvement in the creation is interspersed with quick bounces on the trampoline whilst singing that well known song, extremely loudly.

"Old Macdonald had a wee. Wee, wee, wee, wee, poo.
And on that farm he had a poo. Wee, wee, wee, wee, poo.
With a poo, poo here and a poo, poo there.
Here a poo, there a poo, everywhere a wee, wee.
Old Macdonald had a wee. Wee, wee, wee, wee, poo."

I know, you can just tell why our neighbours love us so much. What a sweet little angelic boy he is.

I look out of the kitchen window to check on their progress, but discover I can't see out of it. It is soaked in water. Surely it hasn't started raining in the last ten minutes. My heart plummets as I realise that no, it hasn't begun raining. Max has the supersoaker out. And my two loads of washing were almost dry. Oh the frustration.

Anyone else out there have Saturdays like this? Or is it just me who protects my almost dry washing with all the force of a viking warrior?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Dear Cherie Blair

Dear Mrs Blair,

I wonder whether you might like to come to my house sometime soon. My house is home to 3 boys, 2 chickens, 1 cat and 2 hard working parents. If you come to my home, this is what you will find:

My home is messy. We don't have money for cleaners, instead we work together as a family, teaching our boys to clean and tidy.

My kitchen cupboards are full of ingredients. We don't have a cook. We cook our own meals. We teach our boys to cook too. Once a week, my ten year old cooks a meal for the whole family.

The times surrounding the school day are noisy and busy. We don't have a nanny to do the school run. Instead, I take them wearing sunhat or wellies, depending on the weather, and we walk. After school, we don't have a nanny to race them around to 6 after school clubs every night. Instead we pick and choose carefully what to invest our hard-earned money on for our boys. There is no nanny to deal with the demands of the children after school, instead I am the referee. I teach them to deal with conflict, to apologise and to forgive one another.

When our boys were small, I didn't go back to work like you. Instead I made sacrifices for them. It was not easy. I did not sit in Starbucks discussing baby yoga or toddler maths lessons with my fellow yummy mummies. I slogged day and night. I changed the nappies, wiped the noses, tested the temperatures, cooked the baby food, washed the poo-covered clothes, tried for 15 minutes to get out of the front door whilst being prevented by toddler tantrums and baby puking. I taught them how to get dressed, how to use a toilet, how to use a knife and fork, how to speak. I sung nursery rhymes to them. I took them to farms and taught them animal noises. I taught them how to safely cross a road. I taught them how to put their shoes on. As a family, we made financial sacrifices too. We didn't go abroad on holiday. We bought our first house based on a mortgage for one wage. We didn't have the latest technology or cars. You might wonder if this sacrifice was worth it. You might wonder where my ambition went.

If life is about ambition, which I don't believe it is, then my 'ambition' would be to raise my boys so that they are independent, loving, serving their communities, being passionate risk takers and husbands and fathers who love their wives and families. This is not 'lacking in ambition'. Far from it.

If, by staying at home with my children, I am creating children who are 'dependent' on me then without a doubt this needs to change. However, my aim is to allow my boys to be independent from me in appropriate stages. The whole of parenting is letting go of your children piece by piece and allowing them to take steps further away from us and into the big, wide world. My boys did not go to nursery all day when they were babies, however when they began school there were no tears at their separation from me. My independent ten year old does his own laundry, cooks his own food, tidies and cleans his own bedroom and walks to school and back on his own. He is independent because I have taught him to be. Creating independent children is the responsbility of the parent, not the responsibility of a day nursery or a nanny.

I am not dependent on my husband for financial provision, either. My husband and I work together as a team to bring in the money. We rely on one another. And ultimately we rely on our God to provide for us, and He does.

So, Cherie Blair, if you come to my house for the day you will find a competent, 'ambitious', creative mother who does not pander to the needs and wishes of her husband. You will find independent, strong children who do not cling on, anxiously, to their mother. Had you come to my house before making your outrageous statements about stay at home mothers, you might have realised that by judging us you are making your own judgements about yourself and your own mothering. This is not about whether mothers should go to work or not, this is about valuing every mother who works hard for her children. We are all mothers who love our children, let's support one another instead of criticising each other.

From your fellow hard working mother.


Friday, 15 June 2012

From The Mountain Top

"The steeper the mountain, the harder the climb, the better the view from the finishing line" Anon

When we first got married, someone gave us a word from God about our marriage being full of many mountains that we needed to climb (rather ironic, considering the job that Jared is now doing...). This week, I have been to school to find out about Jonah beginning reception in September and it suddenly dawned on me that I am almost at the top of this mountain.

By the time Jonah starts school, I will have spent the last 11 years with a small child or baby at home. This has been one long, hard, mountain to climb. A mountain full of rocky paths and several dips that threatened to bring me crashing back down again. Having small children at home is exhausting, exhilerating, monotonous, sacrificial and rewarding all in one go. It feels like there will never be an end to it. Plodding, with one foot in front of the other, sometimes my eyes drifted away from the goal of the top of the mountain. It was hard to stay focused. It was painful to keep going.

And now, I am rounding the last corner. The mountain top is in sight. I can almost grasp the relief and the pleasure, and I can look back down and see the road I have travelled.

My road was not an easy one. I still bear the scars, inside and out, but there was never a time when I walked on my own. My faithful, gracious God was with me every single step of my mountain climb. Every time I stumbled, he pulled me back up again. When I took a wrong turn, he directed me back onto the path. When all I could feel was pain and sorrow, he comforted me. When I wanted to give up, he gave me hope. When I was hungry and thirsty, he nourished me and quenched my thirst. When I felt utterly alone, he gave me friends to walk the journey with me. When there were days I wanted to hide away in a cave, he gently led me out and warmed my soul in the sunshine of his truth. When my eyes got fixated on the plod, plod, plodding of my feet, he lifted my eyes to show me a better view.

As I reach the summit of this particular mountain of my life, I can see the plaque with the mountain's name inscribed into it. This mountain is called "My Faithfulness". My life, for the last 11 years, has been a testimony to God's incredible faithfulness. I don't know what the next mountain will be, but one thing I have learnt on this climb is that my God journeys with me. He doesn't leave my side. He leads me gently to the summit, from where the view is an awesome picture of his faithfulness.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Thank You

Our children are growing up in a selfish society built on consumerism and a "what will I get out of it?" attitude. They are bombarded by adverts on the tv which tell them the latest waste of money plastic toy that they really need, and friends at school tell them what they need to wear to be acceptable. The basic premise of the world they live in is that they are more important than anyone else, and they always need something extra to make their lives better. Put simply, it is ugly selfishness.

To combat this, we need to work harder than our parents did with our generation to teach them to serve and to be grateful for what they have. Sometimes it feels like swimming against a tidal wave when it would be so much easier to surf along with the rest of society, enjoying the ride.

Even in their simple faith, I have noticed that my boys are consumerist. A few weeks ago during our breakfast bible reading and praying time, I asked them to think of things to say thank you to God for. It was an almost impossible task. They could think of a whole plethora of things to ask for, but they struggled to find things to say thank you for. I was astonished. Surely after all we have taught them about God and what He has done for them, they would be able to rattle off a whole list of thank yous.

I decided to work on their attitude of gratitude. We turned our big blackboard into a "Thank You Wall". Every day we each drew a brick on the wall and wrote or drew something inside, and then said thank you to God for it. It took a few days, but eventually they began to think about being grateful instead of asking all the time. Today, our wall was full and they still had more to put on it! They wanted to turn it around and start again on the other side!

Featuring on the wall are honey, marmite (this one caused an argument), the Queen's Jubilee (how did I manage to produce royalist children?!), electricity, Huw Hadden (our very cool friend who enjoys a good bundle with them), food and other more serious matters. It was a fantastic exercise on teaching them gratitude.

I don't want my children to inherit from their culture the apparently inevitable selfish "me, me, me" attitude, so we have to be intentional in passing on to them a different attitude that reflects the kingdom to which they truly belong.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Pros and Cons of Camping

We are a family who camp alot. When I talk in the playground about the fact that we are going camping, some mums look at me in horror and tell me that they could 'never' camp. I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of camping (don't tell my husband....he thinks I'm growing in my appreciation for being outdoors, but really I'm still an indoor girl at heart), but if it is a camping holiday or no holiday at all, I'll opt for the camping one! So, for those of you who have never camped before, and for those who want a giggle and can relate to my experiences, here is my rundown of the positives and negatives:

Negatives (let's do the bad news first)

1. It doesn't matter whether you are going for one night or two whole weeks, you still have to take the same amount of gear. And it's alot.

2. If you happen to have an airbed with a hole in it (like me this weekend), you won't find out until halfway through the night when you wake up and your body has sunk to the hard, lumpy floor. This is not a pleasant discovery because, unless you want to scramble out of bed and pump it back up again, you are stuck with it for the rest of the night.

3. If it rains or is very windy (as it was when we were putting up our tent last Friday) there is more potential for marital discord. And that has been described politely. I will say no more on that matter.

4. It is very cold at night, and you can't wear your usual bedtime clothes. Wrapping up like the michelin man is the best option. I had 5 layers on last Saturday night. I could not move, but I wasn't cold.

5. If someone in a tent close by happens to snore, it sounds like it is coming from right inside your own tent. Or perhaps it was.

6. The toilet facilities are not 5 steps away, so when your little boy needs a poo and leaves it until the very last minute because he is having too much fun playing, the consequences are not in any way pleasant. Especially when he tries to 'sort it out' himself and doesn't tell you until afterwards.

7. The washing created is quite mountainous. 3 loads so far this morning and more to come. But perhaps that is just my family, and possibly caused by point 6.

Positives (let's hope I can find enough to outweigh the negatives)

1. There are no screens so those of us mothers who experience the 'screen guilt' can be free of it.

2. The children can play outside and have space to run free.

3. The friends who you may go camping with see you at your worst, and still want to be your friends (hopefully).

4. You do not have to wear nice clothes, do your hair (I didn't even brush mine all weekend... Ssshhhh) or wear make up. In fact, you can be as slovenly as you like because you have a great excuse.

5. You can overhear extremely interesting conversations in the tents nearby at night when everyone is supposed to be sleeping (Now that has worried a few of you...).

6. You always become more hungry when camping, which is the perfect excuse to eat cakes, biscuits and other such foods that will fill you up.

7. When the children are off playing in the fresh air, you can sit still, chat to friends, read your book or anything else that takes your fancy. Some with smaller children are yet to experience that pleasure, but it will come, I promise. There were times over the weekend when I did not see my boys for hours.

8. The children become so exhausted from the fresh air and late nights, that they sleep better than ever before.

9. The sun and wind give you a fantastic sun tan.

10. Boys do not wee all over my toilet - they can run to the nearest bush and wee all over that instead.

There are plenty more I am sure. So, for those of you who have never camped before - don't knock it until you have tried it. You might be surprised!

Saturday, 2 June 2012


As the rest of the country celebrates the Queen's Diamond Jubille, I began to wonder why I didn't quite feel the luuurve in the same way as everyone else. Is it just because life is so busy (and it really is) that I haven't had time to think about it? Is it because I'm not of my grandparent's generation and don't hold the royal family in the same regard as them? Is it because I don't quite feel 'British', even though I am? Why is it that I feel like I am committing treason just because I haven't bought union jacks to adorn my home and children? Why is it that I am (almost) unimpressed with the pomp and ceremony when last year I loved the romance and ceremony of the royal wedding?

And as I was pondering these matters whilst driving to Halfords with Jonah to buy new inner tubes, it dawned on me. I'm not 'anti royal'. I'm not against parties and celebrations (in fact, I love them!). I think the Queen does an outstanding job, especially at her age now, and has been 'head of state' through a tumultuous and significant 60 years. I respect her, and the job she does. No, the reason I am not feeling the excitement is because I do not feel a citizen (or subject, surely if we have a Queen we are subjects still?) of the United Kingdom.

As Reepicheep, that wondefully rich and funny character in Narnia once said in "Voyage of a Dawn Treader":

"While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia."

Reepicheep's home was not Narnia. He delighted in it, fought for it and it's inhabitants and had adventures in it, but it was not his home. He longed for Aslan's Country. Everything about his life was a yearning for Aslan's Country. In the same way, whilst we can celebrate the Queen's Jubilee and the work she does, she is not our ultimate monarch. My King is in heaven, and I am His subject. Whilst we can give the Queen a thumbs up and say a "well done" to her, my longing is to hear the "well done" from my King.

My citizenship is not here on earth. Just like Reepicheep, I live here, love the people here and have adventures here, but my eyes are looking ahead to my real home. When Reepicheep saw his opportunity to enter Aslan's Country, he put down his sword and sailed into the enormous wave that would take him there. I cannot wait to put down those things I have used to fight my way through life here, sail that wave and enter the Kingdom of my God. Only then will I truly be able to celebrate, and only then will I truly feel at home.

So, whilst we are celebrating the Queen's reign of 60 years this weekend, let's think about the Kingdom that will last forever and the King who is waiting for us. Let's keep our eyes fixed on the 'unseen' things that are more real than the pomp and hype of the 'seen'. And let's remember where our citizenship lies.