Monday, 3 December 2012

I'm Still Their Mum

A strange thing has happened to me this term.

I have looked forward to Jonah starting reception for a long time. 11 years at home with littlies is a life sentence, oops, I mean an absolute pleasure. I was so looking forward to having more time and kept using the phrase 'I'm getting my life back again'. I filled my child-free time with my job and with other important tasks and felt very important about myself.

Finally I was doing something rewarding and for which I could see real results.

But then it all went wrong.

Overloading myself with too many 'important tasks' meant that my family was suffering. I began to see the boys as an 'inconvenience' because when they were there I couldn't be busying myself with all my other 'important tasks'. Fighting brought on by boredom reached an all time high. I couldn't understand where we were going wrong. Nothing had changed, had it?

And then the realisation hit me.

I was the one who had changed. I was trying to be someone that I'm not. Selfishly, I was trying to have a 'life' that did not include my family. I cooked for them and we still played together, but my heart wasn't in it. I was trying to do more 'important tasks'. I had, dangerously, slipped into this without even realising.

Slowly, it dawned on me that my boys are my most 'important task'. They might all be at school now, but I'm still their Mum and they still need me. No, there is no status or recognition involved in raising children but it is absolutely the most important 'task' I will ever do. Nothing else even comes close. So, whilst I may still be busy with my job and all the other things I do, they have to come second to being a mum to my boys. They won't be here forever. There will be plenty of time for all those other things that I want to do. At the moment my job and my priority is to be the best mum I can be for my children, and other things will have to wait. Practically, this means that when they are at home, I am at home with them and so is my brain and my heart. After school, instead of constant fighting and arguing, I want to give them my time. At weekends we need to plan in memory making times together again. We used to be so good at this, but I have slipped into finding more 'important' things to do with my time and my brain. I want to enjoy my children again. I want to have fun and hear them laugh. I want to make the most of the time we have at home with them. I don't want to take them out just so that they can run off energy and give me a quieter life, I want to take them out because we enjoy going out together. I want to have time to plan special things for them and see their faces light up. I want to speak to them in their love languages so that they know how much I really do love them. I don't want them to ever feel like an 'inconvenience' to my all important selfish life.

So, my challenge for this Christmas, and into the new year, is to put my family first. Despite having a life that is always busy and could always suck more from me, they have been given to me for this season of my life and I need to do my best for them and with them.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ice, Ice Baby - The Results!

And they worked (mostly)!

Here are the results of our ice sculptures, created yesterday and left out overnight.








Saturday, 1 December 2012

Ice, Ice Baby....

Oh yes, I'm ashamed to admit it but Vanilla Ice was my era.... Anyway, leaving all that aside we have had some fun with ice today which I thought I would share with you in case you wanted to have the same fun too.

This morning we woke up to a covering of frost, and some fun ice in the garden just waiting to be smashed. I don't really understand it myself, but my boys absolutely love ice. I don't like being cold and wet (bah humbug) but they really enjoy discovering the different shapes in which ice has formed, and if it's smashable then even better.

So we decided to make some ice sculptures. We've done different experiments and left them outside - in the morning we'll discover which sculptures have worked!


We half filled some plastic cups with water and added food colouring. That was messy fun.




We surrounded some biscuit cutters with playdough and filled them with water.


And we filled some balloons with water and hung them on the washing line.


These will all be left out overnight and hopefully in the morning we'll have some ice scupltures! It's very easy - you could try it too if you fancied.

Of course, we also (and yes, Max is wearing a t shirt in extremely cold weather - I have no comment to make on that matter) found some nice blocks of ice perfect for smashing.




What a smashing time was had by all.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Adventures in Faith

Setting out on our new adventure over a year ago we were full of faith for the journey ahead. It felt like day after day we saw miracles of provision. We were full of energy and enthusiasm. We were utterly convinced of God's faithfulness for the long haul ahead.

Further along into our journey, the weariness sets in. When Max was younger and we went for long walks, he used to drop to his knees and cry "I've got no power" until we either forced him to walk (mostly) or picked him up and carried him, muddy wellies and all (his preferred option).

Today, I feel like sitting down in the middle of the mud and crying "I've got no power". Sometimes on a long journey you hit the place where you feel like you just can't go on anymore. Overwhelmed by the journey still ahead, you stumble over questions that are like rocks in your path. Is God still faithful when everything seems to go wrong? How can we keep on teaching our boys to trust God when we are struggling with that very thing yet again? How are we going to keep plodding when our energy levels are so low? Should we just throw it all in? How can we have come this far and yet still not have learnt basic lessons? Have we just made one huge mistake? What are we modelling to our boys in all of this?

And yet, at that moment of dropping to the floor, our God looks at us and loves us. Yes, He is still faithful. His faithfulness and goodness do not depend on circumstances. He just is. The unknown that is ahead of us is not unknown to Him. Max's favourite name for God is "I am." And He is. He really is. So we lift our eyes above the mess of our house, above the boys who fight every time we leave the room, above the broken car which we can't afford to fix or replace, above the busy-ness which threatens to send my head spinning and above the uncertainties of the unknown future and we look to Him. Admitting that we can't do any of this on our own, we look to Him who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. We look to Him who has never let us down or deserted us yet on our journey. We look to the One who will carry us through.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Advent

Perhaps I am just a traditionalist at heart, but I still believe that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. I know that these days it's mostly about presents and Father Christmas (or his American counterpart, Santa), but I happen to hold fast to my values in the face of such red tummied, white bearded adversity.

And so, because of this rather stubborn viewpoint, I refuse to buy an advent calendar about Ben10 or Star Wars. Now this is no judgement on anyone else. If you have Hello Kitty or Dr Who advent calendars hidden away ready for next week, then I actually envy you in part. Enjoy your chocolates. Unfortunately I like to make life harder for myself.

For the last few years we have used a reusable advent calendar and I have stuffed it with chocolates (I used to only put one in and make them share it, but that went wrong a long time ago) and a bible verse for each day. Every morning, whilst eating a chocolate and dribbling it into their weetabix for added taste, we look up the bible verse and we countdown to the coming of Jesus. I like doing it this way. Our children are bombarded with a consumerist Christmas every way they turn and so I feel that at home we should at least attempt to show them why we have Christmas in the first place.

This year, I have written the verses on little strips of paper so that while we are looking them up and reading them together, Jonah can be decorating the strip of paper so we can turn it into an advent paper chain. It's always hard to find something that a 5 year old and an 11 year old can join in with, but I'm hoping this will do the trick.

So, in case you are interested in having a go yourself (and to save you the time I spent finding them all), here are the bible verses I have used:

Dec. 1 John 1: 1-5
Dec. 2 Isaiah 9: 2-7
Dec. 3 Isaiah 11: 1-10
Dec. 4 Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Dec. 5 Luke 1: 5-10
Dec. 6 Luke 1: 11-17
Dec. 7 Luke 1: 18-25
Dec. 8 Luke 1: 26-38
Dec. 9 Mathew 1:18-21
Dec. 10 Matthew 1: 22-26
Dec. 11 Luke 1: 39-45
Dec. 12 Luke 1: 46-56
Dec. 13 Luke 2: 1-5
Dec. 14 Luke 2: 6-7
Dec. 15 Luke 2: 8-12
Dec. 16 Luke 2: 13-14
Dec. 17 Luke 2: 15-18
Dec. 18 Luke 2: 19-20
Dec. 19 Micah 5: 2-5
Dec. 20 Matthew 2: 1-2
Dec. 21 Matthew 2: 3-6
Dec. 22 Mathew 2: 7-8
Dec. 23 Matthew 2: 9-12
Dec. 24 John 1:14

It's just my little way of making sure Christmas is about who it's meant to be about. We'll have fun with it. I hope you enjoy yours too.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Stubborn Children

I am 'blessed' with stubborn children. I use the term 'blessed' because I know that one day this stubborn streak will be used for good. In the battlefield of parenting these 'determined' little ones, I keep my eyes fixed on that future prize.

Take today, for example. It was the age old 'I can't carry my schoolbag' whilst walking home from school. Unfortunately for Jonah, the Master of Stubborness Himself (older brother, Max) has already battled through this with me. This meant that I wasn't particularly fazed by his outbursts, his whining and his attempting to carry a rucksack and a coat on the tip of a pencil and then complaining that it was too heavy to carry.

Chatting with Max about his day (whilst the Bag Carrying Defier continued his protestations in my other ear), we attempted to ignore and stay cheerful.

"MUUUUM! You HAVE to carry this because I'm already carrying my clothes and my body!"

Well, the ignoring of this plea was the final straw.

"If you don't carry my bag and coat then I'm going to drop them on the floor."

"Ok," I replied, "I will not be carrying them for you so if you drop them on the floor then we will have to leave them there."

Along with a dramatic fall to the ground on the knees, the bag and coat were also dropped.

I stepped over them, continuing my conversation with Max, and we walked on.

"MUUUM! My bag and coat are on the floor!!"

"Ok. Well, you'll need to go and collect them then won't you?"

Behind us, a well meaning lady chased after us. "Excuse me! You've dropped a bag and coat!"

"Yes, I know. Thank you."

After walking several hundred metres up the road, Jonah, finally realising that I was not going to return to pick up his belongings, quickly ran and collected them. Sheepishly putting his coat and rucksack on properly, we managed to walk the rest of the way home without any more complaining.

When Max was younger and going through a particularly difficult 'warzone' stage, someone advised us that we needed to 'break his spirit'. I disagreed at the time, and still couldn't disagree more now. Our job isn't to break our stubborn children's spirits, it is to mould and shape them. I can't believe I am even writing this, but I am glad my children are stubborn and determined. Once they have decided on the path to follow, their determination will ensure that they stay on it. Our job is to steer them towards that path and teach them about making right choices.

So, the next time a battle commences about the wearing of a coat (actually, I've given up battling that one - I just let them face the consequences of the weather) or the carrying of a rucksack on the tip of a pencil, I need to remind myself of the positives of having stubborn children. Hmmmm.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Learning? Fun?

Now, I have no idea who Glen Dolman is, but he said this and I think it's very apt.

"Learning is the greatest game in life and the most fun. All children are born believing this and will continue to believe it until we convince them that learning is very hard work and unpleasant.
Some kids never really learn this lesson and go through life believing that learning is fun and the only game worth playing.
We have a name for these people. We call them geniuses."


This is why we have made an appointment to see the headteacher today. We are by no means saying that Max is a genius, rather that we need to bring out the genius in every child.

We have watched him become more and more downhearted as he has become convinced that learning is 'unpleasant'. Our Max, who adored learning, has been switched off. Our job is to press his buttons again.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Reserved Seats

I think I might produce some 'Reserved' signs for the sofas in our lounge. Either that or completely remove the sofas from the room.

Every day, several times a day, my boys fight over who is going to sit in the most favoured space on the sofa.

"MUUUUUUM! Max/Toby/Jonah is in MY space on the sofa!!!! Tell him to MOOOOVE!!!" goes the cry at regular intervals.

My particular style of (lazy) parenting is to ignore this request and leave them to sort it out amongst themselves.

I don't despair though. This is nothing new, of course. My sister will remember the race for the green swivel chair when we were younger. Elbows, bottoms, shoulders, heads and sometimes teeth (yes, but not mine, honestly) were used to remove the offender who sat in the chair before us.

How do we teach our children to share and to put others before themselves? I have no answers. We teach the same things over and over again, and yet I wonder if they bounce off their 'already thinking about something else' brains.

Still, I have hope. These days I don't race my sister to the chair and try to budge her out of the way with my bottom. Although I would almost certainly win.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Eating Out

Taking 3 'vibrant' boys out to a restaurant is always a good growth process for their manners and my humility. We don't eat out very often because they like their food and it is always fairly expensive, so when we do it is such a treat.

Last Saturday we used our Tesco clubcard vouchers and ate our dinner in Pizza Express. Before arriving, we explained that other people will also be eating their meals out and so the boys needed to be on their best behaviour.

They tried, they really did.

It was clear that we don't eat out often enough when we had to explain 'starters' to Jonah and he asked, with disappointment, if the pasta was the pudding. His eyes widened in shock when we explained that he has THREE courses of food. This was a whole new revelation to him. And to me. 5 years old and he'd never had a starter. Oh dear, what a terrible mother I am.

Then the drinks arrived and were, helpfully, in glass bottles with straws. Against my better judgement, Jared had ordered them coca cola and so they sat, with straws plugged in their mouths, blowing noisy bubbles into the bottles. The drink in Max's bottle fizzed up so much that it transformed into a volcano and leaked like lava all over the table.

Quickly mopping up the spilt drink with the warnings of "this is the only drink you're having so don't do that again", we attempted to stop them drinking all their drinks before the food came.

Max's eyes almost popped out of his head when his pizza arrived. He was so hungry and he loves food so much that he immediately and enthusiastically, in true caveman style, grabbed the pizza with both hands and stuffed it into his mouth.

"Max, you've got a knife and fork"
"Eh? What?"
"You've got a knife and fork. Use them please."
"Well, how am I meant to eat pizza with a knife and fork?"
"You have to cut it up."

So, awkwardly and with great difficulty, he slowed himself down and attempted to eat his pizza more politely.

Halfway through the meal, the waitress brought over some small tea lights and placed them on our table. The boys were like moths to a flame. How many things could they try to burn without setting everything on fire? How many times could they swipe their fingers through the flame? How many fingers could be swiped at the same time? It was far too much of a temptation and I was very relieved when they accidently put both candles out with one of their experiments.

It was during the devouring of the Sundaes (oh how yummy they were) that I realised Max was singing very loudly. I am so used to lots of noise when we're eating our meals that his singing hadn't registered in my mind as something he probably shouldn't be doing in a restaurant. It had been going on for quite some time when I finally asked him to stop.

My heart went out to the couples dining around us. Their candlelit pizzas were overshadowed by the finger-eating, serenading boys at our table. I think they all breathed a sigh of relief as we left the restaurant.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Attack of the 'Shoulds and Oughts'

There are so many conflicting views out there about being a Mum. Sometimes I find myself attacked from all sides by the things I should be doing, or am not doing. I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets pulled down by it - unless you have incredibly thick skin, it's hard not to be.

All our babies and children are different. We can't expect everyone to fight the same battles, have the same outcomes or the same robotic, perfect children.

When Jonah, our third and final boy, was born 5 years ago some very good friends with 4 children gave us the most helpful advice so far in all our years of parenting. "Drop your standards".

Consequently, our standards have dropped. So low sometimes that I wonder if they will ever creep back up again!

I stopped trying to be supermum and hide seeds and other 'healthy' things in their weetabix.

I stopped making homemade fishfingers and bought them from Tescos instead.

I really do not care what they wear (most of the time) when they leave the house. This includes wearing holey t-shirts and mud strewn trousers to church meetings.

Sometimes, in a choice between more screen time and my sanity, the screen time wins hands down.

I shout at them. Sometimes they listen more when I shout.

I gave up trying to put sweets given to them at school in the sweetie jar to save for sweetie day and let them eat them on the way home from school instead.

My babies weren't breastfed for long. I gave them bottles and they have amazingly survived and aren't allergic to anything.

I choose my battles, even when I think others might not choose the same battles as me.

I try to discipline consistently, but often fail.

I don't have a clean and tidy house. In fact, you're usually lucky if you can make it through the front door.

I let them watch Scooby Do. Even Jonah. Even the episodes about demons and witches.

And, the amazing thing is that although our standards have dropped considerably, our boys seem to be mostly turning out ok. Maybe it didn't matter, after all, whether I made homemade fishfingers. Perhaps it wasn't the end of the world when I let Max play in the muddy garden in barefeet in the middle of winter because I couldn't face the shoe battle. Maybe my children are loved by me and by God, even when they look like they have been dragged through a hedge backwards (and sometimes, they really have been).

Instead of thinking about the 'shoulds and oughts', I need to think about the fact that my boys are happy, loved by us and by God, that He has great plans for them and has put them in our family for a reason. We are the ideal parents for our children. That's why God gave them to us. Let's have a break from the constant comparisons and know that we are doing our best, for our own children, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.





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

Deflated

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

Happiness

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

Celebrations

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 Amazon.co.uk 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?!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Stranger Danger

I'm not entirely sure who would be in more danger after our discussion this morning - the stranger or my boys.

Having dismissed it as outdated, I have never had the 'don't take sweets from strangers' chat with the boys. All the evidence shows that they are at more risk from people they know rather than strangers. And then yesterday Max was given a chocolate bar by a builder working at the school. I decided it might be best to have a brief discussion on why it's not a good idea to accept sweets from strangers.

I began the conversation in a light-hearted way, determined not to villify every stranger. Unfortunately, Toby jumped in and before I knew it he was telling scaremongering tales about strangers pushing children into the boots of their cars and driving off with them.

Max and Jonah, eyes wide in the wonder of such injustices, butted in with all the ways they would prevent said stranger from making any kind of evil attack.

"Well, we could just sneak up behind them, take the sweets, punch them like this 'POOOF!' and then run off!"

"Or we could trip them up and take the sweets!"

"Or maybe we could chase them away!"

"I know! If we punched them really hard and then kicked them too they wouldn't be able to do anything!"

I tried to steer the discussion back to a polite "No thank you". Then, the 'what if' questions began.

"What if you have just made friends with them and they want to give you a sweet?"

"What if it's another little boy?"

"What if they don't look like a stranger?"

Toby, in his infinite wisdom, gave plentiful advice about all such scenarios.

"Well, I would say that if you have just made friends with them, that should be ok to take the sweets, right Mum?"

To which I replied, in my slightly more experienced wisdom, that a polite "No thank you" will be all they need to say.

As I tried to close the discussion down whilst they were practising the kicks that might be required if a stranger offered them sweets, I wondered if really there had been any point to that little chat at all. Now, I am more worried about the stranger than I am about my boys.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Handy Hints for Little Boys

Little boys and adults seem to be in their own parallel universes. What a little boy may giggle about for hours on end is not funny in the slightest to most adults (I say most, because occasionally I find myself giggling too). They seem to think differently and speak a separate language to the rest of us. And so, to rectify this situation, I have compiled some handy hints that little boys might wish to see. On the other hand, they may also wish to continue in their parallel universe and that would be ok too. We quite like little boy's universes sometimes.

1. Although Mummy may chase you up the stairs shouting "I'm going to pinch your lovely, squishy little bottom", the lady next door might not feel quite so inclined so it might not be the best idea to pull a moonie whilst doing your best bum wiggle in the garden.

2. When we shout "lift up the toilet seat", we mean the whole seat and not just the lid.

3. Whilst you and your friends may giggle for hours about them, most adults do not find wedgies and nipple twists very funny.

4. The whole of life is not a competition. When Mum shouts "Wash your hands for tea", it's sometimes acceptable to be the last one to do it.

5. Although you and your mates may enjoy playing burp tennis or indeed having a whole burp conversation, girls are not particularly impressed by this skill. In fact, it makes us feel rather sick.

6. This may come as a surprise, but hairbrushes and combs are supposed to be used every day, not just once a month.

7. When someone annoys you, it is unecessary to compile a whole long list of names, for example "you fat idiot ugly bumface poohead willybum". Just a "you are annoying me" will suffice.

8. Some people do not like nerf guns being aimed at their heads.

9. If you find, during the course of a meal, that you have not taken a liking to something, spitting it out dramatically and noisily is not an appropriate table manner.

10. Willies are not actually guitars, swords or anything other than just being a willy.

11. It goes without saying that we are all very impressed with your muscles, but you do not need to take off your t shirts as soon as there is a hint of sunshine to show them off.

12. Whilst you may enjoy a small (or indeed large) tussle and wrestle on the floor with your mates or your brothers, your Mum is right when she says it will end it tears. It usually does, so beware of this fact before you engage in the activity.

13. Frogs, slugs, snails, worms or any other kind of creature were not made entirely for your evil intent. Sometimes it's ok to resist the tempation and just leave them alone.

14. Girls are not alien beings.

15. The word "screen" means every screen in the house, including the DS that you were hiding in your bedroom.

16. Yes, you can light farts but always get the permission from the owner of the fart beforehand.

17. Whilst the game "BOGIES!" may be amusing to you, the old lady in the supermarket will not find it funny if you shout it loudly right next to her.


I do hope these have been helpful in explaining some misconceptions and will help to improve the communication between the species.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Militant Mother Alert

I wish I wasn't such a militant mother, I really do. But some things I feel very passionate about, and when it comes to fighting for my boys I find myself clothed ready for battle.

Homework. There seems to be such a wide and varied range of opinions on whether children should be given it and at what age. Some schools don't give it at all until year 7, some start right at the very beginning in reception. Some parents enjoy doing the homework FOR their children (you know, the perfectly put together projects that are carried into school by smiling, clean children), some parents believe that children should be able to do it themselves. And there are a whole load of opinions in the middle too.

In our school, homework is set right from reception. Now, part of me doesn't mind this too much but there are some things I feel very strongly about (and I know, you will be surprised about that).

1. Homework should be something that can be completed by the children themselves. What is the point of parents doing it? The children don't learn anything, except that when they can't do something, someone else will do it for them.

2. Homework should NOT be set during school holidays. This is a time for children to rest, relax, play, see their friends and learn about the world around them.

3. Homework should be positively rewarded not negatively. If Max doesn't do his 'holiday homework' (and the two words shouldn't even go together in my humble opinion), he has to stay in for 2 lunchtimes to do it instead. This is utterly wrong.

4. Homework should be about exploring the world around them and using opportunities for 'life learning' instead of 'making a poster' or a 'board game' about the ancient egyptians. Instead, why not ask the children to fill an empty matchbox with as many small natural items as they can find?

And so, the militant mother in me rises again. Having spent my Saturday morning helping Max with his poster about WW1 so that he doesn't have to stay in at lunchtime to do it, I will have to speak to his teacher. I don't mind the week to week homework that he is set, to be completed at the weekend (although even that is pushing it slightly too far for my liking, but I can accept it). It's homework that is set for the school holidays that I think is totally unecessary. So I will have to tell the teacher that whilst he will do his weekly term time homework, he won't be doing the enormous holiday projects that are set. And I will not expect him to face the lunchtime detentions either, because the decision is mine and not his. We spend our holidays doing all manner of 'life education' activities. In the past I have listed them for the teacher to see, instead of sending in homework. I work hard with my boys during the holidays to give them experiences that they don't have in school. There is so little time outside of school otherwise to explore these learning opportunities.

Oh dear...... here we go again.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Insanity and Life

I have teetered on the very brink of insanity. Cbeebies, baking with messy little ones, constant demands and requests, cleaning up unmentionables (ok, poo, wee, sick and snot), painting that gets splattered all over the room, park trips listening to competitive mothers, toddler groups, crying, laughing, reading the same stories over and over again, playdough that gets trodden into the carpet, listening to cheesy children's cd's in the car, playing ridiculous monster games. It's enough to drive anyone insane.

And it nearly has. But thankfully, something has come to my rescue.

After 11 years of having under 5's at home, Insanity stands grinning at me, waiting to welcome me with open arms. As I giggle my way towards it, School races into my path, knocking me off my feet and rescuing me from the menacing clutches of Insanity's arms.

Tomorrow my little boy starts school. I have survived. I have more than survived on the odd occasion.

Far from feeling sad and nervous, I feel elated and excited. Our family life is moving forward at the proper pace. I have had the privelege (and I know it really is a privelege) of being at home with all my boys before they went to school. Despite the madness and the grey hairs it has produced, I would not have had it any other way. And now, I have done this part of my job. This box can be ticked. I have prepared them all for school. This part of my appraisal can be signed off.

Tomorrow Jonah will begin his long school journey. I am so excited about all he will learn and the person he will become. I am also looking forward to having some time to do the things I have been putting off for so long. Having small children brings sacrifices and, rightly or wrongly, I have put my life on hold for 11 years, waiting for this very moment.

Life doesn't begin now. Life has continued these last 11 years while I was putting aside my hopes and my dreams in order to give my boys the best start I could. However, in another sense my life does begin again now. And having just about escaped Insanity (although some may argue otherwise), I can't wait.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

One Moment in Time

Hindsight can be a cruel, enslaving taskmaster. The battle to be free of it's clutches is a tough one.

I very rarely watch the tv anymore. Not because I'm an earth mother with better things to do with my time, but mostly because I don't get much of a look in and I'd rather read my book. When I do watch it, it shocks me with it's in your face reality. Last night was one of those moments. I happened to come across a programme on pregnancy and birth and it brought back my own extremely vivid memories. Awash with emotion, I watched these ladies meeting their babies for the first time. Loving them unconditionally, cuddling them, stroking their faces, unaware of who their little ones may grow into but overwhelmed with the responsibility of bringing up their child.

Part of me yearned for those days again. Those simple days of nappy changing, feeding, cuddling and pacing up and down at night. The more rational part of me remembers those days with anguish. I don't want another baby. I don't want to start all over again. I just want to do it over again but get it right this time. I didn't cuddle my babies enough. I didn't lavish enough love on their little frames. I didn't make the most of that short, fleeting moment of utter dependence on their mummy. I didn't treasure the moment. I was too focused on helping them to be independent to realise that at that moment in time, they needed me. I was face forward, eyes set on survival. And we did survive.

It made me wonder if, in 10 or 15 years time, will I look back at this time with my boys and wish I could do it all over again too? What can I change now to prevent regrets? If I knew, when they were babies, that they wouldn't cuddle me forever then I would have spent so much more time with them in my arms, languishing in the softness of their skin against mine. What is it that I need to do now? Play with them more? Live in the moment more? Treasure each and every stage, however tough it is? Forget about the mess and noise and just enjoy them?

One day my house will be tidy and quiet. I'll have access to the tv again. I won't have little voices shouting, giggling, arguing, crying, hollering, laughing all over my house. I won't have smooth skin to stroke or little hands to hold. I won't have funny little pictures hastily scribbled and presented to me as priceless works of art. Somehow I need to treasure this moment because that's all it is. A moment.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Real Tales

Mum, Toby keeps coming in my room.
Mum, Jonah has messed up my puzzle.
Mum, Toby keeps shooting me with his nerf gun.
Mum, Max is in my room and I want him out NOW.
Mum, Jonah keeps trying to sit where I'm sitting.
Mum, Jonah keeps kicking me.
Mum, Toby is ANNOYING me.
Mum, Max strangled me.
Mum, Jonah keeps taking all the magnets.
Mum, Max is whipping me.
Mum, Jonah weed on me.
Mum, Toby put water all over me.
Mum, Tell Jonah to stop pulling my penis.
Mum, Jonah is shouting loudly and I can't hear the telly.
Mum, Toby keeps teasing me.
Mum, Tell Max to get out of my room NOW.
Mum, Toby stamped on my head.
Mum, Jonah said a rude word.
Mum, Jonah threw a pillow at me.
Mum, Max is on my bike and I want him off.
Mum, Toby gave me a nipple twist.
Mum, Max punched me.
Mum, Jonah just drew all over my picture.
Mum, Get Max out of my room NOW.
Mum, I've tidied up my mess but Max won't tidy up his.
Mum, Toby put my arm right behind me.
Mum, Jonah licked me.
Mum, Jonah wiped his snotty tissue in my face.


Is it a wonder I am sat with my hands over my ears, desperately waiting for next week to come?

Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Last Week..... Anyone need ideas?

And here we are, entering the last week of the holidays. Phew. Nearly made it.

If, like me, you have run out of ideas and can't even bring yourself to answer the "Muuuuuum, I'm boooooored" cries, here are a list of things we have up in our kitchen. When any of them tell me they are bored, I point them towards the list. If they can't find anything to do on said list, I give them a job around the house to occupy them with! You may wish to ignore the list - feel free, I won't know!

-Bike ride around the block
-Play with lego
-Play with magnets
-Jump on trampoline
-Make mud pies
-Origami
-Junk modelling
-Jigsaw puzzle
-Make your own jigsaw puzzle
-Create list of inventions
-Choose one invention to make
-Play football
-Play frisbee
-Garden games
-Make a book
-Make a kite
-Make a treasure hunt
-Collect snails and race them
-Hunt for frogs
-Make an obstacle course
-Make a den (inside or outside)
-Make up a song and film it
-Borrow a camera and be a photographer. Print out the photos and stick them in a book
-Collect worms and make a worm house
-Make a cartoon storyboard
-Make a giant outdoor sculpture
-Have a tea party - make cakes/biscuits. Decorate the table.

Enjoy your last week (and the week after!)!

Birthdays

Today is my birthday. I'm 17. I know it's difficult to believe because I don't look a day older than 16.

This morning I have been reflecting on birthdays. Children long for their birthdays. They love the fuss and attention (and if I'm honest, so do I!). They look forward to the birthday traditions followed by each family. They enjoy the cake, the presents, the parties, the acknowledgment of their growing up. The whole shabang. (Is that a made up word? The spell checker didn't seem to recognise it.)

Adults on the other hand are quick to dismiss their birthdays. Do we really want to be another year older? Is there anything to celebrate in gaining yet another year on our age?

Last night I was feeling rather grumpy at my impending grand old age of 17. I went to bed feeling old and past it. I don't think this was helped in any way by spending the last week camping with 7,000 teenagers who made me realise that perhaps I am not 17 after all (ssshhhh). I was not looking forward to this day at all.

My boys, however, were 'secretly' (but loudly) planning to celebrate my special day in style. Before bedtime last night they all scampered off to their bedrooms where I overheard sniggers, giggles, poems and raps being practised, paper being cut and "I love you's" being whispered. Toby came downstairs armed with a notebook and asked me what my order for breakfast in bed might be, then raced back upstairs to his fellow conspirators un-whispering his news. It warmed my 17 year old heart.

This morning, I was woken with homemade cards and presents (the best kind), funny little poems (you're so cool, you make men drool...??!), tear jerking sentiments from boys who can clearly show their love, flowers, breakfast on a tray, chocolate tiffin and lots of hugs and kisses from boys who would usually rather not (Max is going for a record in how many hugs he can give me today. He doesn't often hug me so I am making the most of his stiff-backed hugs).

I realised that whether I want to celebrate being 17 or not, my boys want the celebration. They want to use the occasion to show their love for me. My boys who have spent most of the summer holidays arguing with each other and shouting at me for being the worst mummy in the world actually don't mean those things they say in the heat of the moment. They do love me. It's all simmering there under the surface and all they need is an occasion to let it bubble over. Today it has well and truly bubbled. Perhaps it's worth being 17, after all.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Bad Mother Day(s)

Excuse the recent quiet. You, of course, will be rejoicing that I am not wittering in your online ear. I, on the other hand, am not enjoying quiet at all. The tables have been turned and I now have constant wittering in my ears. This irritating noise is preventing me from being able to think, write or even at times speak coherently. I know, you are amazed. The droning hum, combined with the post-camping exhaustion and washing, has produced more Bad Mother Days this week than previously put together in the school holidays. Here is a glimpse of today's efforts:

1. Once I finally managed to drag myself out of bed this morning, I attempted to stay away from the boys so that I didn't have to cope with their early morning nerf gun battles.

2. Delving and digging into the dark, damp recesses of the 'things to do' department of my brain, I made a vain attempt at making a trip to the park sound attractive. They moaned at me "Oh noooo, not that park! We want to go to Sanders park". Instead of standing my ground, I gave in straight away.

3. Armed with bikes, football and my all important book, we arrived at the park where I plonked myself onto a bench with my book. I successfully 'under parented' whilst reading said book. I had no idea where they were for most of the time we were at the park. Every now and then I looked up, clocked their brightly coloured t shirts in the distance, and escaped back into my book again.

4. As soon as the first "I'm boooorrrreeeeed" cry went up, we loaded up the car and came home. I was all too relieved to be escaping the, now full of screaming babies, competitive mothers, tantruming toddlers and pant-showing teenage boys, park.

5. Arriving home with hungry, thirsty boys who had presented me with their food and drink orders before I had even walked through the front door, I ignored them and answered the call of my washing machine (again). Instead of 'perfect mother who makes food for her children' I was 'how long can I ignore my children for before they will give up and make their own lunches?'mother. It worked. They made their own. Yet again, under-parenting at it's best. (Best for me, anyway).

6. I tried my utmost to bake cakes alone, only to be caught out by Max on his way through the kitchen. My heart sank as he asked the dreaded question "Can I help?". While he washed his hands in preparation I tried to speed up the cake making process so there wasn't too much for him to help with when he arrived.

7. Whilst having a lovely, long and luxurious chat with my two sisters, I happened to notice Jonah sneaking past me with the hand soap under his t shirt. Later on, I heard the tap running in the kitchen. When I eventually hauled myself up from my comfortable sitting position, I discovered the washing up liquid bottle empty on the side. Outside, the boys had been making 'potions' and had used all the soap in the house.

8. Screen time finally arrived and I was secretly more pleased than the boys. Of course, I had to still outwardly show my distaste. When Max had his '20 minutes' on the computer (he'd had 10 minutes in the morning) I made excellent use of the fact that he can't properly tell the time yet and his '20 minutes' miraculously turned into 40. Peace and quiet for me, and he still thinks we are sticking to the bargain.


And so another Bad Mother Day has been and gone. Tomorrow my Morning Knight in Shining Armour will be absent and so I plan to begin the day as a bad mother, putting the television on for Jonah when he wakes at the crack of dawn and clambering back to bed for another hour. Toby will bring me a cup of tea in bed and perhaps another Bad Mother Day can be avoided. Who knows?

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

"Under parenting"?

This article has been published in the Telegraph today. I feel like I have been shouting it from the rooftops for years and when I read it, wanted to shout "I TOLD YOU SO!" to the world. I refrained.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/features/9455881/Tiger-mums-its-best-to-underparent.html

Whilst I love the article and the actually rather traditional way of parenting that it presents, part of me feels uncomfortable with the term "Under parenting". To my ears, this sounds negative. It sounds as though you are neglecting your child in some way. In actual fact, it is quite the opposite. This quote explains why:

"At the heart of underparenting is an ethos that encourages children to do chores, learn to cook, get muddy – and fall off the climbing frame from time to time."

Under parenting is not neglecting our children. Far from it. Under parenting in actual fact gives our children the skills they need for the rest of their lives. We would not expect a Surgeon to spend their whole time at medical school sitting in front of an X box and then throw them into the hospitals and ask them to perform surgery. Likewise, we need to train our children in the way they should go (heard that before somewhere....). We MUST teach them basic skills such as cooking, doing the laundry (including the dangerous implements like irons and knives), finding their way to places, buying items in shops and having the correct coins or counting their change. We MUST allow them to take 'safe' risks whilst they are young. We MUST give them the confidence in their own abilities to assess risk and act appropriately. We MUST allow them to make mistakes and learn from the consequences.

This is not negative in any way. This is the most positive action we can take for our children. Let's do this for our children. Let's put their futures back into their hands.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Beach Myth

A visit to the beach is supposed to be an enjoyable, exciting family day isn't it? Holidaying close to several beautiful beaches last week, I had the opportunity to make some beachy observations.

1. Sand is not always fun. Sandcastles, hole digging, the hilarity of burying people (especially if you give them boobies) is clearly not for the faint-hearted. One particular boy (who will remain nameless) spent at least an hour of the beach trip attempting to keep his hands sand free. He would not play in the sand or even sit on the sand. If, by dreadful mistake, he managed to attract a few snippets of sand onto his hands he would sigh, shrug those shoulders of attitude and make the long journey back to the sea to wash the sand off his hands. I discovered that ignoring was the best policy, and soon enough he was playing with the others again.

2. Wetsuits are a necessity. Unless you happen to be on the beach during the week long yearly heatwave, British beaches are windy, chilly places. At what other time would you dress with so few clothes on and expect to be warm? Once the wetsuits were wet and the boys had left the icy seas, they became rather cold. The cold turned to moaning, blue lips, shivering, goosebump covered bodies and eventually grumpiness. It took all of our efforts to keep up their spirits and all of our clean towels to drape around their apparently hypothermic bodies.

3. Children continue to be themselves, despite our expectations of a lovely day out.
Here is a conversation between a nephew and his mother which took place within an hour of arriving at the beach(and if you know them, you can try to guess which nephew):

Nephew: I've finished playing now Mum, I want to get dressed again.
Mother: No, not yet. If you get dressed you won't be able to go in the sea again, or play in the sand again.
Nephew: Well, I don't want to go in the sea again or play in the sand.
Mother: What if you decide that you do want to?
Nephew: I won't. I'm definitely not going to be playing in the sea again or in the sand. I want to get dressed.

This conversation continued for a good hour, while said Mother ignored the protestations of "Muuuuuum, I won't play in the sea again. I just want to get dressed!"

And it's a good job she did ignore them, because a couple of hours later the child who had decided they weren't going to go in the sea again picked up a body board and, with glee and relish, spent another half an hour splashing, body boarding, smiling, laughing, jumping and playing the sea.

4. The sea air that is so good for us, is also rather windy. Despite having erected a windbreak, the aforementioned boy (point 1) spent a great deal of time attempting to create windbreaks with dinghies, body boards and other beach paraphernalia. Unfortunately, for his windbreak to remain upright against the hurricanes blowing in from the ocean, he had to stand in the wind to hold it in place, thus defeating his object.

Having said all that, we did manage to have alot of fun and make some great memories. Just be warned, trips to the British beach are not the idyllic family day out that we all believe. Or perhaps it is just my family who don't sit eating their sand filled sandwiches in the sunshine, radiating smiles and joy.

Champions

Watching the incredible achievements of the Olympic gold medallists last night, I was struck by a thought which grew to a deep down, feel it in your waters, excitement.

Jessica Ennis. A national heroine. An inspiration to young athletes. As she stood receiving her medal with a smile that could have engulfed the whole stadium, the irritating commentator who had clearly run out of things to say waffled on.

"The whole nation loves her."
"Loved by the whole country."
"Everyone loves Jessica Ennis."

The roar of the crowd and the tears in Jessica's eyes were enough to make the hardest of hearts melt. This girl has worked tirelessly for her achievement, and the nation is rightly proud of her. British stiff upper lip was forgotten as the whole country delighted in her.

It felt as though the whole world was watching and roaring their appreciation for this one girl.

One day, every eye shall see the true Champion coming. Will we be able to contain ourselves or will we also roar, cheer, jump up and down in ecstasy, shout, dance, wave flags and probably cry? Our 'worship' of these athletes is a tiny glimpse of the worship to come when our Hero returns. He will wipe away every tear. His coming will dawn a new day in which there is no pain, no death, no sadness. All our earthly achievements will fade away as we gaze into His face and see our true reason for existence. Our party will eclipse all 'post medal ceremony' parties. Joy, which originates in God, will find it's rightful place again.

Do I believe all this? Absolutely. And watching these Olympics has blown again on the embers of my excitement. I can't wait.

Monday, 23 July 2012

The True Value of Friendship

The day began well. Motivation was at it's highest and we enjoyed games, books and other such wholesome fun for the morning.

The trouble began when we took a trip to the park with our friends. (And I am SO very glad they are friends and know us well).

Max always struggles at the beginning of the school holidays. Our normal routine is thrown out of the window. He has to rediscover toys and games that he hasn't played with all term time. He's with me. And we are so alike that sometimes we clash, badly.

Every little thing that I did or suggested was wrong in Max's eyes. I hadn't taken acceptable food for the picnic. Apparently he doesn't like apples. When I reminded him that he has them every day after school, he told me he only likes them sliced up on top of crackers. Of course, silly me. In the blazing hot sun (how kind of the sun to make it's appearance on the first day of the holidays), he refused to wear his cap. I knew he was waiting, just biding his time, ready for a fight to triumph all the other little fights we were having. I was ready.

And it's a good job too. As we were preparing to leave, Toby helpfully threw a 'rock' at Max. It was wrong, of course. Max, however, took this as his opportunity to become the all-tired one. So tired, in fact, that he was unable to even collect his bike and walk to the car with it. Everyone else managed to ride their bikes over to my lovely, patient friend's car (well, 'bus', and if you know her you will now know who I am writing about). They all piled in and waited. And waited. And waited.

I strode back to find Max with all the defiance of a militant dictator to collect Max and bike. Max, without an audience, had managed to summon up enough energy to sit on his bike and slowly ride it. All his energy, however, escaped quickly out of his body when he turned and saw me and he immediately slithered to the ground as though he had been shot.

"I'm too tired!" He wailed.
"Pick up your bike and walk to the car, Max" I answered.
"I can't! It's not that I don't want to Mum, it's that I actually can't!" He continued to holler.
"Why can't you?" I asked
"Because I don't want to!"

Well. That was enough for me. Breathing deeply and slowly, I picked up his bike and told him to get up and walk to the car. I pushed the bike back to the car myself and then waited. And waited. And waited.

Eventually, over the brow of the hill we saw a forlorn, red t-shirted creature, crawling on his hands and knees towards the car. With dirty tear streaks down his face, and knees so grubby you could write your name in them, Max crawled his way slowly and dramatically towards the car. As he saw us watching, he slowed down even more just for further effect. It was a sight to behold, and a lovely start to the summer holidays.

How glad I am for friends who know me and accept me. Thank you, my friend for standing with me under such trials. You know who you are. Today, we made another memory together to laugh about in a few years time (but not now, it's still rather raw).

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A little light summer reading

The summer holidays are now upon us and so,thankfully, is the sunshine. At last!

My aim for the summer holidays is to give my boys time to relax, to play with their friends and to be themselves again. However, if you have children like mine you will know that this doesn't happen naturally but needs a little encouragement and structure.

My first goal is to get them reading again. "Reading?!" I hear you cry! Yes, reading. They have spent the academic year reading books because they have to. I want them to read because they choose to do it. I want them to know the absolute bliss of being pulled into a story that comes alive in their imaginations. School reading books occasionally do this, but mostly it is seen as a chore. Teachers teach them how to read. I teach them how to love reading.

It is a commonly held myth that boys don't like reading. It's true that many boys prefer information and factual books to fiction. I, however, just see this as a challenge to be overcome. So, we've had our first library visit of the summer holidays and now my goal for the summer is to see them taken away to the secret world of their books.

Here are my tips for encouraging boys to read...

Model it. This is more important than anything else. If they see us enjoying our books, they are more likely to follow. And it makes an enormous difference if they see their Dad reading too. Seeing mum reading is great, but seeing Dad reading gives off the vibes that reading is a man's activity. We have done this for the last few years and although Jared began reading in front of them for their benefit, he has actually also discovered a love of reading himself.

When they are too young to read interesting books themselves, read the books to them. We have spent whole summers reading Roald Dahl books with them. Just one chapter every night. The twinkling light of imagination in their eyes as you read to them is absolutely priceless.

Read with them. Take it in turns to read a page each until they are gripped by the story and can carry on themselves.

Give them some quiet time every day to read. We all sit down and read at the same time. It is quiet so they can concentrate. It isn't a chore because we are all doing it. It is accepted as the norm.

When they are older, talk to them about the books they are reading. Ask questions and show interest. Talk about how it feels to be transported away into the world of a book.

If they are motivated by rewards, then give them rewards for reading. My boys have never really been interested rewards for reading but I know it has worked for some.

Take them to the library and let them choose their own books under your careful guidance. Push them slightly so that they don't become stuck in a rut of reading books that are too easy for them. Encourage them to try different authors. Allow them to have some control over what they read. There are some fantastic books out there for boys.


All of this is our responsibility and the summer holidays are the perfect opportunity to give time to it. I am still right in the middle of all this with my boys, and eventually I hope to have three boys who love reading as much as I do. I won't ever accept that they don't like reading just because they are boys. It's a myth which I intend to turn into a lie.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

'Summer' Plans

The oh so long 'summer' holidays loom ahead of us. As I type this, my garden is yet again threatened with flooding and the boys are yet again racing around the house shooting each other. Oh please let us have some more dry days in the 'summer'. I don't even mind if it's not sunny (although that would be nice). Just dry will do.

Over the 'summer', I will attempt (amongst the organised chaos... Ok, just chaos then) to post on here some ideas of things we will be doing together so that you can try them out too if you feel so inclined. You may want to ignore my ideas completely. The great thing about a blog is that I will be blissfully unaware of that fact (unless you choose to tell me, of course).

So, my first plan of action for the 'summer' is to create a big wallplanner. I do this every year. I have a little box for each day of the holidays and I attempt to fill it with something for every day. I do this before the holidays begin. It doesn't have to be anything extravagant. Just 'picnic in park', 'ride bikes and scooters' or 'bake cakes' will do. They can always be elaborated upon nearer the time. These plans often change, but just to know that there are plans in the first place helps me to feel a little less overwhelmed about the neverending story of the holidays.

So, if you feel at a loss about the weeks ahead (as I do!), watch this space for ideas that I will be throwing your way. We can do this. We really can.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Preparing for Romance

It's a good job we've got a few more years to prepare Max for romance. Today, he was off school for a TED day so with Toby in school and Jared and Jonah out for their 'Special Day' (that's another blog...), Max and I had some time to ourselves. We decided to go out for lunch. Food is most definitely Max's love language. Without a doubt, it is the way to his heart.

After making up a story together about a dragon being a pet and discussing the excitement of how much he sweated when he was playing in the soft play centre ("it was literally pouring down the whole of my face, mum"), I happened to mention what might be expected of him if he was to take out a young lady. He must be growing up slightly because this time he didn't pretend to be sick. However, I still feel we have rather a long way to go.... Our conversation went something like this:

Me: "When you take a young lady out for dinner, Max, you have to pull out her chair for her before you sit down."

Max: (totally serious) "What if she's got a really fat bottom and needs another chair? Do I ask the waiter to bring one over for her?"

Then, later on, as we were leaving....

Me: "When you have a young lady with you, you will need to open the doors for her."

Max: "What if she is too fat to fit through the door?"


These were not the kind of conversations I was expecting to have with him. We have a lot of work ahead of us.....

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

50 Shades of ..... What? (Warning... not for the fainthearted)

As our nation seems to be gripped by the "50 Shades of Grey" fever, I wondered what exactly it is about the book that seems to hold the readers attention. Is it particularly well written? Is it a great storyline? Or, let's be honest, is it just the sex?

And I'm no prude. Sex is great. The Bible is full of it, and God loves it. In fact, it was His idea in the first place. But in our sin we have twisted and distorted it to bring about pain, control, selfishness and other uglinesses.

I wonder though, in reading the latest craze, what we are modelling to our children. I have seen families and marriages torn to shreds by pornography addictions. Oh yes, we can always dress it up to be something else that is more palatable, but at the heart of it porn is porn. Porn is selfish. Porn destroys. Porn holds people captive. Porn destroys real, loving relationships. Porn addiction does not let go easily but kills everything in it's path.

I am aware that I have sons entering their pre-teen years and I want with all of my heart for them to grow up to have healthy relationships, including beautiful and passionate sex with the women they have chosen to marry. Therefore, we as parents need to model a healthy marriage in which we choose each other over anyone or anything else, including porn. As their father, Jared needs to be an example to them of 'bouncing their eyes away' from pictures of naked and half naked women that are draped across billboards. He needs to teach them to put a guard stationed on their heart, their minds and their eyes. As their mother, I need to show them the true meaning of love, passion and commitment. As their parents we need to be an example of loving one another and being faithful to one another.

I am making no judgements on the book in question. I freely admit to not having read it (and I don't want or need to read it either). However, I do think it brings to light an issue which is still taboo in our society and which we sweep under the carpet because we don't want to have to face the difficult questions it might throw at us. As mothers, in reading the book are we then telling our husbands they can also look at pornographic pictures of other women on the internet? Are we modelling to our children a lifestyle of pleasure first, commitment second? Are we teaching our children to stay faithful in their hearts, minds and bodies to the person they have committed themselves and given themselves to?

It starts now. Whatever age our children are, we need to teach them about healthy, committed relationships. We need to model a different way to the one they see all around them. It's not an easy path, but I am absolutely convinced that by daring to be different in this our children will stand a chance in their futures.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Entering In

There have been more than a few times over the last 10 years when I have been extremely glad there is no big brother style webcam filming my every move. The things we find ourselves doing with our children when no-one else is around are laughable. Answering plastic telephones; crawling around on our hands and knees mooing or baa baaing; reading stories in ridiculous voices; playing tickle monster; looking for dinosaurs / crocodiles / fairies / sharks / monsters around every corner; fighting pretend pirate enemies with pretend swords ..... the list is truly endless. Why do we find ourselves doing these things? Is it just me or do other people actual enjoy these mindless games we play with our young children?

The reason we get ourselves into this situations is because we want to build relationships with our children. Why else would we make ourselves look so silly? We put aside our own preferences and we enter the world of our children. We forget our inhibitions in order to have fun and enjoy the growing friendship with our child.

This doesn't stop when they don't look for dinosaurs anymore. Whatever stage our children are at, our task is to enter their world. This is easier for some than for others. If you happen to enjoy the same things, you are one of the lucky ones. If, like me, you would rather be curled up reading a book than out in the middle of the woods on a cold day finding and identifying mushrooms, then you will understand what I am talking about. I know of mothers who hated football as girls but now spend their weekend mornings standing in the pouring rain at the side of the pitch, shouting encouragements to their sons. I know of fathers who have been covered in make up or had their fingernails painted and their hair styled.

It doesn't matter whether we enjoy these activities or not. What matters is that we are spending time with our children. It shows them that we enjoy their company. It validates their ideas and their identity. So often, children feel loved not by the amount of presents they have for birthdays or christmas, but by the amount of time we spend with them. Time is so important to them. Time shows them we value them. Sacrificial time shows them that we love them.

It's not easy. I have to battle through my irritation at standing next to yet another pond and skimming stones for hours at a time, but it is so important to my boys. It doesn't come naturally to me but if I don't spend that time with them, how will I ever know what they enjoy? How will I ever see the pleasure on their faces as they enjoy such simple delights? When will we laugh together or celebrate together? It's a choice that I have to make. Spending this time with them, whilst feeling sacrificial in the moment, is vital to the ongoing friendship that I have with my boys.

So, keep mooing, clucking, chasing fairies, standing on football pitches, playing with barbies, riding bikes, skimming stones, singing JLS songs (and that IS a sacrifice) and climbing trees. Let's make the choice to enter the world of our children, I am certain that we will reap the rewards in years to come.

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?