Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Changing of the Clocks

This is the time of year that all parents with young children dread. As if we are going to have an extra hour in bed?! All it really means is that when they are supposed to wake up at 7am, they will wake at 6am instead. What a lovely start to the day!

Last night whilst putting Max to bed, I realised he was probably old enough to have this whole strange notion explained to him. The conversation went a little like this....

Me: "Now, Max, tonight the clocks are going to go backwards so when you wake up in the morning it will be a different time. I want you to stay quietly in bed until we tell you it's ok to get up."

Max (complete with thinking face): "What do you mean the clocks are going back?"

Me: "It means the clocks go backwards so when it is 7 'o' clock, it will really be 6 'o' clock."

Max: "Well, I'm going to stay up and wait for the hand on the clock to whizz backwards. Does it really go backwards?"

Me: "No, the clock doesn't go backwards. Time goes backwards." (And it was at this point I realised my mistake in attempting to explain it.)

Max: "How can Time go backwards? Does it mean we are outside of time?"

Me: "Errm, no, it just changes and goes backwards so we don't have dark mornings anymore."

Max: "Is space outside of time too? Who is really outside of time? Is it just God or is anyone else?"

At this rather deep and philosophical point, I gave up trying to explain.

Me: "Well, I don't know all those answers. I just want you to stay in bed in the morning quietly until we tell you it's time to get up."

And he did.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

You Learn Something New Every Day

These are the things I've learnt today:

1. Despite all previous evidence to the contrary, Max is actually able to get up and get dressed in the morning without a crane to lift him out of bed and a repeat alarm shouting "Get dressed, Max, get dressed!"

2. Nursery staff have to wear plastic gloves to wipe children's noses. Yes, this shocked me. I'd never been in a nursery until this term when I began visiting them with my job. I was so surprised at the funny sight that I did a double take.

3. Jonah doesn't know as much about the world around him as I assumed. Today, he asked how people's arms break. How do they break right off? Do their mums have to carry the arms for them?

4. Nerf bullets are faster than spiders.

5. I am becoming more like my big sister in her revulsion of public toilets. The one in the library today was so terrible that even I couldn't use it. And, living with one for most of the time, I am usually fairly accepting of dirty toilets.

6. Having spent the day with some little girls who cry alot, I am actually very glad to only have boys. Boys may punch each other, but they don't cry when the tiny corner of their name sticker is ripped.

7. Toby is such a stickler for plans that, even though he is desperate to read the new books he had for his birthday, he has to finish off the library book he is reading first. His own rules, not mine.

8. I can achieve alot more in one day than I ever imagined.

9. According to Max, it's nearly Spring.

10. It is possible for two boys to sit in the same room without adult supervision and read their own books without throwing anything at each other or breaking into a fight.

So, there you have it. Now you've learnt something new too.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Parents Evenings always used to be lovely affairs where I was told how wonderful my children were and what an amazing job we were doing with them.

Now I dread them.

Today I held in my tears as the teacher (who I actually like, so I am not criticising in any way) explained to us that they would get so much more out of Max if they could let him go outside more, but the curriculum doesn't allow for it.

When my boys were small, I encouraged 'out of the box' thinking. I would give them an everyday household item, for example a spoon, and would ask them to come up with different uses for it. They would invent lots of different uses for the spoon. A spoon could be a weapon (easy option), they could sit on it and fly (like Big Cook Little Cook), they could use it to flick with, they might even be able to use it as an umbrella if their head was small enough. Creativity was rife and I loved it.

When they began Reception, they had a whole classroom full of creativity to enjoy and they flourished. Their 'own choices' of what to play with / write / build or make were positively encouraged and they were praised, even if their junk-modelled rocket looked more like a generously sellotaped box with fluffy bits hanging off.

Then Year 1 hit with a harsh vengeance and the illusion of school being a place where they were encouraged to be themselves became a distant memory.

As they have gone further and further up the school system, they have been more and more squeezed to fit the tick boxes that are required. Everything that is excess to requirements is trimmed off. No-one is interested if they are exceptionally sensitive and thoughtful towards others or if they have the kind of brain that invents new ideas.

Today, I wonder if I set them up for disaster. Perhaps I should have just encouraged them to conform and be like everyone else. Perhaps I got it all wrong.

I am all for obedience and I know that sometimes we have to just get on with things we don't like doing. I know that life lessons have to be learnt. I know that most teachers do a fantastic job with the resources they are given and the limitations placed on them. Yet I still feel utterly deflated when I hear that robots are being created who can pass Ofsteds and SATs.

What value are we placing on those children who can't fit the robot mould? What will happen to the ones who can't tick the boxes? Where is the celebration and encouragement of other life skills? How can a system, so utterly flawed, continue to mould and shape our children? What do those parents who really care about their children do when they see them being flattened and squashed into a box that just doesn't fit them? What will become of these squashed children? Will they be able to re-mould themselves when they can climb out of the box of the education system? What future do they have?

Friday, 19 October 2012


When my boys were babies and I fed them, I would sit, snuggled and suddenly a feeling of peace would descend upon me. It felt like all was right with the world. This may have been because I was finally sitting down, or perhaps because I was exhausted and zombie-like. But, with my rose tinted glasses, I like to think it was because I was finding joy in my babies (and, being honest, there wasn't alot of joy to be found in those dark days of bleary eyed exhaustion).

Now they are all in their middle-child years, I find that feeling in other situations. It's now a Friday afternoon. I'm looking out of my window and watching them playing in the garden. Two of them are building a 'nerf base' (how much I laugh to myself about my long ago 'no guns' rule), one of them is practising scooter stunts. In an hour's time, we'll all be warm and snuggled in front of a film together, eating hot dogs and sweeties. Everything inside of me suddenly breathes out and I'm happy.

I'm happy because my boys are having fun outside (despite the fact that it's rather chilly and the back door has been left wide open).
I'm happy because they are being creative.
I'm happy because I have lovely, funny, ingenious boys who are fun to be with.
I'm happy because they are, on the odd occasion, kind to each other.
I'm happy because I have been given these children to love, nurture and prepare for life.
I'm happy because Jonah's little hand still slides neatly into mine sometimes.
I'm happy because they are old enough to do some really fun stuff now.
I'm happy because Toby is making the tea tonight and I don't have to think about it.
I'm happy because they are just being themselves and not trying to be teenagers.
I'm happy because Max has spiked his hair today but, in true Max style, it's a bit wonky and it makes me love him even more for his wonkiness.

And so, for a few minutes I can enjoy that sense of peace and contentment. Now, I know that happiness and peace do not depend on circumstances, but there are times when we can find joy in the different situations we find ourselves in, however small or seemingly insignificant.

At least, I was enjoying it. Now, of course, Jonah has come inside crying. And life goes on.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Mothering Risk Takers

As I watched the record breaking skydive yesterday, it wasn't Felix Baumgartner's leap of faith I was captivated by. It was his mother.

A mother of a risk taker myself, I was utterly entranced by this brave woman, watching her son jump from space to earth. How did she reach that point? How did she manage to even watch? Most of the time, when my small risk taker is somewhere I'd rather he wasn't, I try to turn my back so I can't see. Although usually I find myself peering at him out of the corner of my eye, to make sure he is safe. I felt huge admiration for this mother who allowed her son to follow his dreams without standing in his way despite, I'm sure, a huge maternal protective instinct to keep him safe.

My Max, now 8, had the 'best day of his life' in the summer jumping 60ft from cliffs into the sea. He now wants to be a skydiver and beat Baumgartner's record. How does a mother go from allowing small risks to setting them free to take enormous ones? And why should we?

We start small. We start with watching our toddlers climbing onto furniture. We take them to parks with climbing frames. We let them climb trees (although Max goes so high that sometimes his head pokes out of the top - those are the back turning moments). We let them skid on icy puddles. We allow them to take risks within our safe grasp. And we let them grow in confidence. We allow them to make mistakes and, gasp in horror, to let them fall. We teach them to understand the extent of the risks they are taking. We teach them to have confidence in themselves.

If we allow our children to take these small risks, when they are older they will have the confidence to take bigger risks, and I'm not just thinking about skydiving. We want to encourage a generation of creative minds, of politically radical leadership, of adults who will tread paths none have walked before. If we want our chidren to grow up as trailblazers and those who stand up for injustices, we must teach them to take risks. If we see entrepeneurial spirit in our children, we must teach them to take risks. If we want our children to have jobs, families and to work hard, we must teach them to take risks. If those of us who are Christian parents want to see our children growing God's Kingdom, we must teach them to take risks.

Our children are growing up in a generation of placid non-risk takers who take everything put in front of them but don't reach out to grab hold of what life could be. It's up to us to change this. So, even though it can feel almost impossible, we must let our children take those risks and applaud them. There is no face more proud than a parent who has watched their child succeed. Felix Baumgartner's mother has that face this morning. Will it be your face tomorrow?

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Disney Parenting

We've begun a new family tradition in our home. Film Friday. It's a lovely way to end the week. We get our PJ's on, make some yummy food, set up a projector in the lounge and eat our tea in there whilst watching the film.

This week the chosen film was Finding Nemo. It's not a new film to the family. In fact, I could probably recite all the lines from it. Two year old Toby watched it every day for at least a year. He was fish-obsessed and we had to endure, sorry, enjoy Nemo (or Mee-mo, as he called it) for a very long time. Watching it again on Friday, I was awash with memories of that time, 9 years ago, when I had a toddler and a baby.

But here's my confession. It made me realise that alot of my parenting values were actually taken right out of good old Marlin's book. Marlin, as you will know if you have watched Finding Nemo (especially if you've watched it as many times as I have), lost his clown-fish wife to a barracuda attack when Nemo was just a little fish egg. He promised Nemo that he would never let anything bad happen to him and brought him up well protected inside his little anemone house. The day came when it was time for Nemo to begin school and, having never been exposed to the big wide ocean before, Nemo defies his father and chases off after a boat in the distance, being caught by a diver on his way. The rest of the film is Marlin's long journey through danger to find his son, and Nemo's discovery that he can do things he never thought possible.

A lovely Disney moral. However, as the film wore on I realised that the lessons Marlin was learning in letting go of his son are ones that I face every day. How wonderful it would be to keep our children away from danger, to hold onto them and cocoon them. How much I long to keep them in my arms and never to let go of them in case something bad happens to them. The recent case of missing April Jones has brought this home to us parents yet again, sending shivers down our spines. But as Marlin discovered, we have no choice. We have to let our children go. We have to teach them about good choices and then allow them to be exposed to situations in which they have to make those choices themselves. Standing back and watching them is the hardest thing to do. What if something bad happens? What if, what if, what if?

Reunited at the end of the film, Marlin sends Nemo off to school with a smile on his face. "Go have an adventure!", he calls to his son. May we be parents who release our children to be the people they were made to be. May we trust that, whilst we have to let go of them, their Heavenly Father will always hold on. We can let go because He doesn't. As hard as it feels sometimes, we can send our children off to have their adventures - whether good or bad, shouting our encouragements from the sidelines, because they are in their Father's hands.

Saturday, 6 October 2012


We did a useful, wholesome activity today. I have to confess I did not invent this activity myself, but stole it from another blog. It was such a good idea that I couldn't resist.

The tale telling, fighting and downright selfish attitudes are eating holes in our family life like woodworm in a beautiful old wooden cabinet. They are spoiling us. So, I decided to combat this by having a time of encouraging one another and celebrating each other. I bought a tub of yummy Celebrations to encourage the encouragements along.

We each had to write down (or draw) something we liked about another person in the family. Then we read it out to them and shared some Celebrations - one for the person who did the encouraging and one for the encouraged one. Apart from the odd hitch "I don't like Jonah because he's annoying", it went down fairly well. I'm sure the selfishness will continue, but it was lovely for just a few moments to hear everyone speaking kind words about each other.

Why not give it a try in your own family? Children will do anything for chocolate....

Shopping Trip

Shops are a necessary evil. Ever since my boys have been too big to be strapped into a pushchair, I have actively avoided taking them shopping. Fingers trailing surfaces, touching the untouchable. Wandering feet taking them to unknown and unfindable places. The "can I have?" question playing on repeat. It's enough to make me kiss the feet of the inventors.

However, there are some things that just cannot be bought online. And on those rare occasions, the shops have to be braved. Today has been one of those occasions. Taking 3 boys and a husband shopping is not for the fainthearted, so I braced myself, took some deep breaths and off we went.

Hoping to do a 'grab everything you need in one shop and exit the building as quickly as possible' move, we made our way to a large out of town shop. To my dismay, I discovered that Max is actually bothered about the clothes he wears. It was a lesson in knowing "what goes with what" as he piled into the basket bright orange jeans and trainers that are just 'sickage'. Unfortunately for Max, the sickage trainers were not the most practical and knowing that he would rather put them on as quickly as possible and head out into the mud of the garden, the white lace up boots were not the best buy.

Max and changing rooms were also a new experience. Trying on his first pair of skinny jeans, he stood in front of the mirror shaking his booty until I explained to him that there were other people waiting to use the changing rooms. He was rather pleased that the skinny jeans gave his best bum wiggle an extra je ne sais pas.

The 'all you can eat' shop did not have practical velcro trainers for either Max or Jonah so we had to traipse out and find yet another shop.

This was our mistake. Oh yes, the trainers were purchased but this second shop was full of toys, technological gadgets and even sweets. To drag the boys away from playing with the new ipad or macbook pro to try on boring trainers was like attempting to seperate a man from his beer on a summer's evening. It was an almost impossible mission. We managed it with the promise that they could return to the gadgets afterwards. Once we returned however, there was a beady eyed member of staff watching their every click (and thump in Jonah's case). Feeling like the parents with the uncontrollable children, we dragged them out of the gadget area as quickly as we possibly could.

Paying quickly and leaving the shop in which they had touched everything they could lay their grubby hands on, we headed out into the busy Saturday afternoon car park which was full of bollards. Bollards, of course, are designed to prevent cars from driving into the sides of the shop. Unfortunately, little boys (and some big ones) believe they are designed to be leapt over at every opportunity. So, along the side of the busy car park, my boys gave in to the irresistible temptation to leap every bollard in sight much to the distress of the car drivers nearby. A scary moment.

The shopping trip had been completed and we breathed a sigh of relief as we clambered into the car to return home. We breathed too soon. Jonah, for whom we'd bought new trainers, suddenly realised we hadn't bought him 'anything'. In his language, 'anything' means something that isn't boring for example sweets, toys or other such like. He then moaned for the whole 15 minute journey home that we hadn't bought him anything and there was 'nothing to do'. Moaned is putting it politely. Howling would probably more of a correct term.

When we arrived home, he lay on the floor in the kitchen continuing to howl, just to make his point further.

And so the shopping trip has been made. Perhaps if I hadn't avoided shopping trips so vehemently my boys might be more used to them. I freely admit my mistake, made in desperation and for survival-of-the-mother. Maybe one day I might enjoy taking them shopping, but that is an unimaginable goal at present.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

September Blues

I know it is officially October now. How can I not know it is October when Toby is counting down the days to his 11th birthday. 11?! How did that happen?

The beginning of September brought a sigh of relief for me as everyone went back to school and routines took over again. I like routine. I'm not a go with the flow person, despite the fact that most of the time I am going with the flow. Everyone was excited about their new classes and teachers. Everyone felt more grown up again (except me). The first few weeks were an upwards rollercoaster. Smart uniforms, new lunch boxes, shiny pencil cases, new friends.

And then the tiredness kicks in. And the realisation that actually the new teacher isn't as kind as she made out on the first day. And the reality that this going to school lark has to be done every day kicks in. And so do reading books, packed lunch making, homework, making sure you've got everything you need, trying to be good all day so you don't get into trouble and having to be dressed before breakfast.

Maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be after all.

So instead of showing all this heavy weight on your shoulders to the teachers at school, you show it at home. You show it to your brothers who love you (although they couldn't possibly admit it) even though you punch them and call them names. Instead of answering back to your teachers, you answer your parents back because they love you unconditionally. You don't want to, and afterwards you know you shouldn't have said it, but it just pops out of your mouth before you managed to rein it back in. Whilst at school you might come across as confident and full of courage, at home you can let out all those pent up emotions and have a good cry.

And so September brings challenges of it's own. It requires extra patience on my part (still in training on that one) and more compassion for one another (and on that one). If ever there was a particular time of year to try and spend more time individually with the boys, this would be it. They need time to process the changes and they need a sounding board to talk it all through with. Few of us like change, and I need to be the constant in my boy's lives while they are becoming used to these changes. I need to be there for them and see past the rudeness and the fighting.

Who said parenting was easy?!