Category Archives: Parenting

midlife crisis

Northumbrian sunrise

I’m probably overstating things with the title of this post, but I’m approaching a big birthday and it’s bringing with it some big thoughts. Forty *gulp* – it feels significant, and sensible. Irresolutely grownup.

And I’m just not sure I’m ready for that.

I remember my dad turning forty when I was a child. In celebration, I bought him a plastic walking stick filled with smarties. I thought it was hilarious: “Haha, Daddy, you’re so old!” Looking back, I’m not sure what he thought of it and I’m also not sure how I’d feel if one of my sons gave me the same present now. Well, I’d eat the smarties, obviously but does forty count as old? Surely not, but neither does it count as young enough for that joke to be entirely devoid of bite (except where the smarties are concerned hehe – stop eye-rolling, I’m allowed to make terrible jokes at my age).

I’ve noticed recently how forty is spoken of as if it’s crossing some sort of frontier – like a cut off point for desirability and dynamism in our youth-obsessed culture. Of course that’s not actually the case: older people can be every bit as attractive and even if our energy levels are lower than they were in the full flush of youth, our wisdom more than makes up for that. Nevertheless, forty is a point when you quite possibly have more of your life behind you than in front of you and I’m definitely finding it’s making me pause and reflect.

Have I achieved enough? Am I good enough at what I do? Have I followed enough of my dreams? And if the answer to any of those is no, is there enough time left to change that?

I’ve spoken to quite a few people about this recently. Most understand. Some say, ‘Oh forty was nothing, wait till you get to fifty!” with others’ it’s, “thirty was so much worse!” Personally, I barely noticed turning thirty: my eldest son was five months old and I spent my birthday weekend in a ‘luxury eco lodge’ (oh yes) in Yorkshire with some of my best friends. It was all healthy outdoor walks, home cooked meals and woodburning stoves, and between us we had a baby, a toddler and a pregnancy. It may be my least raucous birthday ever. We were all fully settled down and engaged with the homemaking and family-building stage of life.

And that stage of life defined my thirties, really. I had my first child at twenty-nine and my third (and last) at thirty-five. My youngest started school a couple of months ago meaning my thirties almost perfectly encapsulated the pre-school years of parenting. Perhaps that’s why this birthday feels particularly significant. I’m bidding farewell to my thirties, a decade of babies and toddlers, of constant change and challenge, of passionate new maternal love and friendships forged amidst the fires of sleep deprivation and vomit and birth stories and ‘oh-my-god-I-haven’t-a-clue-what-I’m-doing-oh-phew-neither-do-you-let’s-just-figure-this-out-together-ness’.

Of course, I had other focuses during the last decade too, but children were at the heart of it. When they’re little it feels natural for that to be the case – they need you so entirely. And now… now things are starting to feel different. My kids will always be my focus but now they’re all at school there’s more room for other things to enter the frame. And that’s great but it’s also making me feel so nostalgic for all those moments of passion and purpose and awe. For the wonder of creating new life and the craziness of living through those early years of it. Could another decade of my life ever be that intense? Would I want it to be?

And now it’s hello forties decade of…what? Career building? House renovation? (it’s all sounding a bit too grown up) dream following? Of knuckling down and get on with achieving everything I ever wanted to because time is slipping through my fingers and I’m not getting it back?

All of those? Or none of those? Or perhaps it’s just time for some consolidation – for realising what I’ve got and what I’ve created and nurtured and spending time working on the bits that need attention and enjoying the good stuff that comes my way.

I’m lucky, I know that. Lucky to have what I have and even more, who I have in my life. I think it’s enough. More than enough.

Forty isn’t time for a midlife crisis at all is it? It’s time for a midlife celebration!

And as anyone who’s spent any time with me recently will know, I’m having plenty of those! :)

mumturnedmom

I haven’t joined in any linkies for ages but this is the last ever week of ‘The Prompt’ which is one of my favourite linkies of all – I used to join in with it loads back when I blogged more regularly. Sara’s weekly prompts have been a huge inspiration to me (in fact, the first picture book text I ever wrote came from one of them) so it felt right to join in this last one. The prompt this week was ‘ENOUGH’. Thanks Sara!

frantic first day

Ah, the first day of term. With six weeks off, there’s plenty of time to get everything organised so that this day can start totally smoothly, right? With everything where it should be and everyone knowing exactly what to do and when? Yes?

Ummmm:

frantic excitement?

drawing by my 4yo son that sums up the mood in our house this morning quite well!

“Where’s my jumper?”

“I can’t find my P.E kit!”

“Did you sort out dinner money for this term?”

“How much is it?.. and where’s the cheque book?”

“Argh, my school bag’s full of mould!”

“My trousers are too big!”

“My shoes are too small!”

“Seriously, where’s the cheque book?!”

“Has anyone seen my hairbrush?”

“Who ate all the shreddies?!”

“WHERE’S THE FLIPPING CHEQUE BOOK?!!”

“Why are you lying on the floor in just your pants?! We need to go in five minutes!!”

“Oh no, smallest boy was supposed to be collecting mementos of his summer in this small paper bag for the last six weeks! The bag’s empty!”

“Quick, COLLECT MEMENTOS!!!”

“Yes, that lego brick will do – It’s a memory! And that pebble!”

“Why do we have five cheque books here and NONE OF THEM HAVE ANY ACTUAL CHEQUES IN THEM?!!”

“Where’s my coat?”

“Who stole my trainers?”

“There’s a spider in my shoe!”

“RIGHT! Is everyone ready with teeth brushed and shoes on and have you all been to the loo and, wait, WHY ARE YOU STILL NOT WEARING ANY TROUSERS?!”

“Put these on, no they’re not scratchy they’re just new… ok, maybe they’re new and scratchy but you’ll stop noticing soon.”

“ARGH!”

“Ok, is everyone ready?! Finally? Because if we leave now we might just about not be late!”

“Quick, take a ‘Back to School’ photo!”

“I can’t, those two are already in the car and this one’s crying and anyway there’s no time for that.”

“Oh, just take it anyway, it’s ‘capturing a moment’ right? That’s what it’s all about!”

And that about sums things up. Kudos to any of you who managed a seamlessly-perfect first morning back. As you can see, we don’t fall into that category… but, hey, we made it to school on time.

(And we even found the right cheque book.)

:)

the end of an era

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post about any aspect of parenthood but, well, it’s that time of year isn’t it? Today was the last day of term and marked a turning point – my youngest had his last morning at nursery before he starts proper school in September. And yes, I’m feeling all emotional about it.walking down a path
On Tuesday he had his ‘nursery graduation’ (these events seem to be the thing now) which involved the kids wearing caps and gowns and doing a little singing performance before being presented with a certificate. It was very cute and lovely but somehow didn’t really tug on my heart strings. I think it’s because I find that the most emotional moments are often the simplest. They sneak up without the bells and whistles of celebrations and ceremonies. Their power is not in the fanfare but in the stillness in its wake.

And so, this lunchtime, leaving the classroom where my youngest had been spending his mornings for the last year, I found myself dragging my heels. Most people had left – the hubbub of voices receded, the crush of parents chatting about holidays and of jostling youngsters waving paintings faded away. But I couldn’t quite leave. Dawdling, I took one more look around the empty walls usually festooned with colourful artwork, at the rows of little pegs without their clutter of coats and wellies, and the big tables swept clean of plasticine, paint and glue. And my eyes swam.

Because I wasn’t really seeing it at all – that emptiness, I mean. I was seeing my youngest bouncing into the class every morning and rushing up to greet his little friends, I was seeing my middle son grinning by the window as he waved me off, already clutching the lego he made a beeline for every morning. And I was looking back seven years to when my eldest began nursery, remembering how it felt to cross that threshold for the first time. I couldn’t believe I was about to leave for the last.

So I stalled, I hugged his (wonderful) teacher again, I fought back the tears and made plans to immediately head to the nearest soft play with a group of friends for a chat and a laugh and a little nostalgic wallow.

I’ll miss these afternoons together once my son starts school – not only my time with him but also the (mostly) weekly meet-ups with the group of mums of my son’s best friends. I didn’t even expect to make new friends third time around (having lost the super-keen ‘Ooh, who will be my friend?!’ edge I’d had when my eldest started school and even the more casual ‘Shall we be mates, then?’ vibe of round two) but my youngest, it turns out, is a sociable little thing with impeccable taste and his friends’ mums are lovely. We’ve had some good times this past year.

This isn’t an ending though, not really. The nursery class are all moving up to reception in September and it’s a mere one classroom away! I know my son will be happy and I’m not at all worried… so what am I getting all emotional about? Well, apart from the simple answer (that’s just how I’m wired, sentimental sap that I am), I think it’s because it’s really and truly the end of an era. All three of my boys have been through this particular rite of passage but third time around it has particular significance for me because this is also the last time. It’s not just the end of my four-year-old’s preschool years it’s the end of the preschool years for our family entirely. That’s it.

Of course this change is great in many ways. It means more freedom and space and time for me and a movement towards all three of our kids being more independent. Honestly, I think it will be fab.

But right now, I’m allowing myself a little wobble. My baby is growing up – ALL my babies are growing up – and sometimes that hurts. So tonight I’ll indulge myself. I’m going crack open the wine and the chocolate and reflect on the last ten years.

A decade of parenthood and three little school boys.

It’s all going to be fine.

costume chaos and illustration news

frosty-fieldOk, so it’s really late and I’m really tired and I have about thirty seconds to write a post for ‘What I’m Writing’ tomorrow. Not that I have to write a post for my linky I suppose, but tomorrow it’s the one hundredth week of ‘What I’m Writing’ so I don’t want to miss linking up when it’s such a nice, round figure!

So… It’s late because I’ve been really busy this week. I’ve been writing stuff for work, I’ve been doing an illustration commission and, given it’s December and I’ve got three kids, I’ve been running around in a kind of Christmas frenzy trying not to drop the ball on nativity costumes, social events, presents, parties and end of term thingymabobs. This morning I was frantically trying to assemble a snowflake costume for my three-year-old for the dress-rehearsal of his school play. He ended up in a thermal vest and a cellular blanket. “It will do, it will have to do!” I chimed until I got to the classroom and realised the other kids were all adorned in flashing lights, glitter, home-made wings, amazing headwear, baubles, tinsel and perfectly carved ice sculptures. Ok, I made that last one up but blimey, it took all my powers of ‘cool, parent-of-a-third-child zen’ not to rush home and construct an elaborate walk-in ice cave for him to wear for the performance tomorrow (shhh but I’m still thinking there might be time in the morning… )

So, did you notice that bit just up there at the top of the previous paragraph? The bit where I said I was working on an illustration commission? I have been and it’s my first ever! Well, strictly speaking it’s the second I’ve been asked to do, but I’m not due to start the first one till the new year so the one I’ve been working on this week is the first I’ve actually done, if that makes sense? Probably not. It’s even later at night now. Anyway, I’ve just finished the commission and sent it off to the writer this evening. It’s illustrations for her middle grade book which is coming out next year… more info to follow… I’m dead excited, truth be told!

Right, it’s really, REALLY late now so I’m definitely posting this and going to bed!

Writing Bubble

 

favourite moments from the Harry Potter Studio Tour

harry-potter-entranceLast week we went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour. It was an amazing experience! We left our youngest son (aged three) with my parents and took our two older boys (aged seven and nine) down to Watford – a fair old drive from Northumberland – staying two nights in a Premier Inn so that we could spend a whole day at the studios. It was well worth it. We arrived at 10.30 in the morning and didn’t leave ’till 4pm. We could have stayed longer – there was certainly more than enough to keep us interested – but we kind of ran out of steam in the end. It was a very busy day and I reached saturation point with input!

Favourite moments

There’s so much (too much!) I could tell you about the experience but, in the interests of brevity, I thought I’d just share my highlights. Maybe I can whet your appetite and persuade you to go along and experience it yourself!

The Great Hall

There’s a particularly exciting way that this set piece is introduced, which for me made it one of the highlights. It’s also right at the start of the tour so you’re all, “Eeek, We’re actually here! It’s like being in a film! Look at that fireplace! OMG did Alan Rickman really wear that costume*?! It’s the Griffindor dining table! CAN I EAT THAT CAKE?!!”** ‘etc. etc. (Well, I was – you may be calmer). My phone was packed with photos before we even left the hall.the-great-hall

*Yes he really did.

**No you can’t – it’s plastic.

Dumbledore’s Office

I’m not even sure what was so exciting about this set piece except that OH YES I DO – IT’S DUMBLEDORE’S OFFICE! Perhaps it’s just because I liked this room in the film, and perhaps it’s because you can actually go into part of it (you look at other sets from the outside) but for me it was magical.dumbledores-office
I also loved the potions lab (it even had spoons that ‘magically’ turned in cauldrons), The Burrow where the Weasely family lived (complete with knitting that knits itself, knives that chop and irons that iron – and all responsive to your waving hand. Fun.) and the Griffindor common room and bedroom. Oh and the Ministry of Magic… and all the other set pieces really because they are the actual sets from the actual films and Julie Walters and Jason Isaacs and Maggie Smith and Gary Oldman etc. were actually in them. See that stool? ALAN RICKMAN SAT ON IT! OH YES HE DID!

harry-potter-sets
L – R from the top: Potions lab, The Burrow, Griffindor Common Room, Griffindor boys bedroom, Professor Umbridge’s Office, The Hogwarts clock.

The Hogwarts Express!

I’m not usually excited by trains but I made an exception for this one. The photo below is of the actual train that was used for external shots in the film. You can go inside it too, where each carriage has been ‘dressed’ to represent a different year at Hogwarts. There’s also the opportunity to sit in a different, open-sided train carriage (the one used for filming internal shots) which jiggles around and has images flashing by the windows. You can do a bit of acting – “There’s a dementor at the window – look terrified!”– and have your photos taken in it which is pretty fun too. Oh, and you can pretend to push a trolley through platform 9 3/4 of coursehogwarts-express

The Creature Workshop.

This was just so cool. I saw John Cleese’s fake, ‘Nearly-headless Nick’ head, Fawkes the Phoenix (I always loved Fawkes), Buckbeak the hippogriff and a tiny shrivelled Voldemort that my husband swears looks like he feels first thing in the morning. Also thestrels, Aragog the giant spider and life sized models of cast members. All awesome.creature-workshop

Diagon Alley

I loved this street, it was so cool to see all the shops – I wanted to rush into Ollivanders for a wand or Flourish & Blotts for a book. And I REALLY wanted to go into Weasleys Wizzarding Wheezes for some tricks! Unfortunately you can’t actually enter any of the shops but still, being on the street is pretty exciting!diagon-alley

Cardboard versions of the sets

These were just gorgeous – perfect miniature replicas of the sets in white cardboard. Or perhaps ‘replicas’ is the wrong word since they were made before the actual sets. They are little works of art in their own right and really made me realise the artistry that goes into set design. I wish I could have taken better photos but the models were, understandably, all behind glass (and the glass had got rather finger-printy by later in the day!).

hogwarts-card-model

The Huge Hogwarts Model

This was, without a doubt, my favourite moment of the tour and it came right at the very end. I walked round the corner and literally gasped when I saw it. It’s a 1:24 scale model of the entire Hogwarts estate and is both miniature yet huge (50 feet in diameter!). The model was used to film the aerial shots of Hogwarts so it’s totally realistic. Close-up shots were filmed not only on set, but also on location in various parts of the UK, and when you look at the model you can see that it was designed with these locations in mind. For example, some was filmed in Durham and you can see a section of the model that’s like Durham cathedral. It’s intricate and clever and just plain old stunning. It takes up a whole room and they change the lighting over it so sometimes it’s day light and other times night time. All the windows are lit so it’s like the most gigantic, beautiful, twinkling Christmas decoration ever. If I’m completely honest, I felt a bit emotional looking at it.hogwartsYou can probably tell that we had a brilliant day. My nine-year-old who is a massive Harry Potter fan was enraptured all the way round, and he was so excited to see all the places Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint had been – I’ve probably shown my age with my choice of actors to be thrilled about! (but c’mon – Alan Rickman!).

Bottom line – we all loved it and we loved it all!

 

writing, submitting and casting spells

sunset

Just a quick one from me as it’s half term and we’re about to head off for a few days to the Harry Potter Studios! My nine-year-old is a huge Harry Potter fan – he and I have both read all the books and watched (most of) the films. We’ve just been watching The Goblet of Fire to get ourselves in the mood. Very exciting – I’ll let you know how it goes! I may well cover Instagram with photos!

Before I go, I do have a teeny bit of news to report on the writing front. I’ve just submitted three picture book manuscripts to an agent! I really meant to send off a batch of five or six (one of the pieces of advice I heard at the Festival of Writing was to submit this way) but researching suitable agents and following the different submission guidelines takes time and I just wasn’t getting round to it. So, since I had an agent in mind who I knew I wanted to submit to, I figured I’d send my manuscripts to her first and go from there.

Submitting also meant I spent lots of time last week polishing my third manuscript (one and two were already good to go) and I’m pretty happy with it now. It’s the only non-rhyming book I’ve written and though I love rhyme, prose translates more easily, making it better in commercial terms (potential for huge international sales, see!) so I figured I should at least give it a go. The book was actually inspired by this picture I drew back in February – I had a hunch Stanley had a story so I’m quite chuffed to be right! Stanley's jumper

Oh, and on the subject of drawing, I had an inspiring conversation with a friend about all the pictures we’ve done this year. Plans are afoot – watch this space!

That’s it for now, I’m off to cast some spells.

Writing Bubble

a new chapter

boys at the lakeside

My three boys in the lake district this summer – already feels like a lifetime ago!

Today was the first day of the new school term – the day my eldest son started middle school, my youngest started school nursery and my middle son went back to cheekily sauntering his way through the education system. It was the day for jumping out of ‘summer mode’ and back into routine. It was always going to be a big day for a nostalgic sap like me and, as expected, I felt all the feels:

Amazed pleasure – when my eldest two boys got up and were halfway through breakfast by the time I staggered downstairs (bleary-eyed after a fitful night dreaming about a daddy-long-legs attack… don’t ask), and then went and got themselves ready for school without any prompting at all. :)

Pride – when my eldest walked off with his best mate towards his new school with nothing more than a grin of excitement, a fond wave and ‘see you later’! in my direction. No nerves whatsoever!

Sudden desire to slap myself in the head – when I realised I’d failed to mention any sort of plan for picking him up. “I realised you didn’t tell me where to meet you after school!” he said later (totally unfazed) “But I saw Alex’s mum and asked her and she said you were coming to meet me at the phone box.” Good old Alex’s mum.

Frustration – at having ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ by ABBA on repeat in my head for most of the day. “Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture… ” Seriously, those lyrics, I know they’re about a daughter rather than a son but apart from that. Ouch.

Excitement – at starting my #WhatImWriting linky up again after a summer break and seeing people’s posts pop into my inbox and feeling that sense of anticipation about writing and blogging and, best of all, having my writing gang back together again!

Jitters – all morning I had this weird nervous energy. Couldn’t settle. Kept making cups of tea and not drinking them, or boiling the kettle and not pouring the water, or pouring the water into the mug without boiling the kettle first. I needed to go back to tea-making 101 clearly.

Nostalgia – at being back in the school nursery for the third (and final) time. It’s been six years since I first walked through those doors with my first son. It feels exactly the same and totally different.

Actually thinking I might cry – in the reception of the first school where I saw my eldest’s smiling photo on a noticeboard for the school council. The noticeboard is out of date of course – he’s left the school but seeing him there wearing his old school uniform… and then realising he wasn’t at the school any more and would never wear that uniform again… *sob*

Happiness – at seeing my fellow-school-parent-friends and then getting messages from other friends asking me how I was feeling and sending me photos of their kids in new uniform and all of us sharing all the, “this is it! A new stage!” excited emotion.

High-as-a-kite thrilledness – when we were all suddenly planning coffees and nights out and catch ups after the summer. I’ve missed everyone and I love, love LOVE knowing people are going to be around more and that we’re actually going to be able to meet during the day sometimes without kids!

Bliss – on a sunny afternoon walk through the forest with my youngest after his nursery session. He’s always been a brilliant little companion. We strolled along slowly examining bark and twigs and sunlight through the trees and when we got back he said “That was a lovely walk together, Mummy” and my heart melted.

Relief – because all the boys had a good first day. We had ice lollies in the garden and they told me all about it. My eldest was so happy and has already made new friends.

Happy excitement with a hint of disbelief – at realising this is the start of a new chapter where I have more time to myself to write and draw (and clean the house which shouldn’t excite me as much as it does) and to catch up with friends and just be myself by myself more than I’ve had a chance to in nearly a decade!

And now with a glass of wine and three boys upstairs asleep and some of my favourite blogs to read, I think I might have hit… contentment.

Writing Bubble

the deep breath before the plunge

fell and waterThere’s a scene in LOTR Return Of The King where, on the eve of a huge battle, Gandalf and Pippin stand on a balcony of Minas Tirith looking out across the plains towards Mordor. Mount Doom glowers ominously in the distance and a brooding darkness is engulfing the land. “It’s so quiet” says Pippin, awestruck. “It’s the deep breath before the plunge” Gandalf responds.

I’ve always loved that line – it captures so well that feeling of anticipating something inevitable, particularly if you’re viewing it with some trepidation. There’s nothing you can do to stop the passage of time: the thing – whatever it is – is going to happen. So you take that deep breath, and you wait.

I’m feeling a teeny bit like that now. Only a very teeny bit – thankfully I’m not facing the ‘great battle of our time’ or anything even close. There is no growing shadow, menacing volcano, or hoards of Orks about to descend. But change is coming. Summer has rolled on past and is nearing its its destination. Next week school term begins and with it an end to the lazy days and a lurching jump back into the morning routine.

This September also brings with it two changes for our family – my eldest begins middle school and my youngest is starting school nursery five mornings a week. In actual fact, these changes are good. I’m pretty sure both my boys are ready for them, as is my middle son who’s going to find himself the ‘big brother’ rather than the ‘little brother’ in school for the first time. But still, they’re changes and I’ve never been one for change – it brings the unknown which is well… unknown. Anything could happen! Give me the comforting blanket of familiarity any time.

There’s another reason for my deep breath too though. I’m not looking at encroaching darkness, I’m actually looking at a beautiful sunrise. Because with the new school term comes time to pursue my creative goals – the most time I’ve had in years (and years!). Five mornings of child-free time a week! Ok, some of that will be taken up by work, and yes I’ll also need to get on top of all sorts of household stuff that I’ve let slide, and I’ve promised myself I’ll get fit, but still… all that time. I can’t help but be excited!

Right now my creativity is champing at the bit. I’ve been fitting drawing and writing into little bits of time I’ve had over the summer and am finally close to submitting my first assignment for my illustration course. Woo hoo! It’s taken me ages to get to this point so I’m hoping to be able to up the pace a bit once we get settled into the new school year.

I’ve also signed up to go to the Festival of Writing in early September where I have two one-on-one meetings with agents arranged. Eeek. I’ve been editing picture book manuscripts on and off all summer to submit to them and finally got two sent off yesterday! I’m hoping to get useful feedback from the sessions. It feels like a good time to talk to some professionals, go to some seminars (I went to some great ones at the Festival last year) and generally get my head back into my writing again.

I’m also going to get back to more regular blogging and my weekly #WhatImWriting linky after a summer off. Hopefully my productivity in all areas will improve but, at this point it’s hard to tell quite how things will pan out. Will my mornings pass in a blur of ironing and attempts to get to the bottom of my email pile? Will ‘getting fit’ steal from creativity or encourage it? Will all my boys settle into their new routines without a hitch? Will I?

Yes, change is definitely on the way and with a week of summer holidays to go, I’m standing on the balcony of my citadel (ok, sitting on the sofa in my living room) watching it approach. Chances of an eerie silence falling to herald it? In this house?! Zero. But I’ll be taking that deep breath.

And then… the plunge.

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moving on

I woke up this morning itching to write about yesterday. I can’t let it go by unmarked, I thought. I have to put the feelings somewhere.
clouds and sunshine

You see, yesterday was my nine-year-old son’s last ever day of first school. Yes, my eldest little thinker and feeler (and blimey is he both!) has left behind the place he’s spent a huge chunk of the last six years. The place where, despite its ups and downs (he managed to start the school just as it went through possibly the most tumultuous period in its history!) he has felt nurtured and appreciated and above all, happy.

And this makes me feel… I’m not sure… in many ways happy, because he’s definitely ready to move on, but also kind of sad, because it’s the end of an era, and mostly just plain old nostalgic. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my baby is not a baby anymore. And yes, I know, I KNOW he hasn’t been a baby for flippin’ years, I mean, he’s all whippet-slim and clear-eyed and angular and asking me questions about politics and what I think he should do about classroom dynamics and relationships between his peers. What baby is like that? Yep, he’s a big boy and I want him to be a big boy but, shit, sometimes it feels like yesterday that he lay newly born and softly warm and wriggly on my chest and I said ‘it’s a baby!’ in amazement and looked at my husband and we cried and laughed and… you know… felt that huge surge of wonder and love that changes everything forever.

But it’s been nine years. And he’s growing up.

We had a picnic on the playing fields after school yesterday – a get-together of parents and kids from my son’s year and all their siblings too. It was baking hot so we adults sat in the shade of the trees as the kids dashed around madly, occasionally rushing up to where we were sprawled to stuff their faces with crisps before bounding off again. They signed each other’s T-shirts, did each other’s hair and spoke in their funny language of year-four-isms that I normally find maddening but which yesterday sounded almost, ALMOST endearing.

I chatted with some of my friends and fellow parents (always lovely) and, though I did wonder afterwards if I should have made more of an effort to talk to everyone, really I was just content to observe. I enjoyed looking out from under the shade of the trees that line the yard where my son and I first stepped six years ago, at the people who I’ve walked alongside these past years. Some I’ve come to know really well, others I barely know at all and yet these are the faces that have lined every school play, every assembly, every fete, every classroom activity, every, well, everything school-related for more than half a decade. Side-by-side we’ve watched our chubby-faced three-year-olds evolve into lean-limbed feisty, eloquent nine-year olds.

Look how far we’ve come, I thought as I gazed at the buzz of life before me. Look what we’ve createdLook how much happiness can be found right here. 

Sometimes words aren’t necessary.

Sometimes just being is enough.

What I learned from the Kids Strike

#THISislearning collage2So, May third has passed – the day of #THISislearning and the Kids Strike has been and gone. It was an epic day all about education and beliefs and passion and fun and learning. My boys learned masses. Here’s what the experience taught me:

Standing up for your beliefs feels fantastic.

I’ve always shied away from controversy – in life in general and especially on my blog. Except with close friends, I generally keep quiet about my beliefs (especially on ‘hot topics’ like politics and religion) so when I published a passionate post about education six weeks ago it was a huge leap into the unknown. The fantastic, supportive, heartfelt response I had was impossible to ignore though, and I had to follow-through, both with taking part in the Kids Strike and co-running my own parallel #THISislearning campaign. And it felt good – to draw that line in the sand and say ‘something needs to change and I’m going to try my best to make that happen.’ I rediscovered my inner activist, missing since my teenage years. Yes – standing up for your beliefs feels good.

…it also feels scary

Ok, the brave, bold types amongst you might think this is odd, but as an introvert I don’t like drawing attention to myself and as a big-time softy it makes me nervous to place myself in a position where I could get hurt. I’m also a natural law-abider – a bit of a goody two shoes to be honest. But standing up for my beliefs recently has involved deliberately trying to draw attention to myself (running a campaign requires you to say “Hey, look over here! Please join in with this!”), breaking the law (in order to join in the strike) and also putting myself in a position where I could get hurt. The trolls were out in force on the day of the strike. Luckily, I wasn’t targeted but knowing that some of my friends were, and that there were nasty comments being made, put me on high alert. Basically, on all counts I felt out of my comfort zone. It has not been a relaxing six weeks!

The mere act of the kids strike was a fantastic learning opportunity

Ok, with kids, everything is a useful learning opportunity but this point feels important to me because one of the criticisms levelled at strikers was a notion of it being wrong to include kids. I very much disagree – it was an awesome opportunity to teach them about politics, values, beliefs and the ways society works. On the morning of the strike, I took my boys to a nearby school where one of the parents had organised a friendly picket line. I say ‘friendly’ because the head teacher knew all about it and was fine about it, and the purpose was to ask parents for signatures to a letter that was being sent to our MP about the whole thing.

My eight-year-old in particular was so interested in the whole experience of being there and asked loads of questions about strikes and political action. We ended up taking about the junior doctor strikes too. I’ve never known him so interested in politics before. As a parent it felt so important to talk to him about what we value (as his parents) at a time when he was totally engaged.

Doing educational things with kids can be a huge source of joy and excitement.

I suppose this wasn’t really a surprise but the extent of the joy perhaps was. I got together with a friend and with our five kids (two eight-year-olds, two six-year-olds and a three-year-old) we did masses of activities. We looked at a real, disused mill, rambled through the forest following the pipeline to see where it had been dammed, researched hydroelectricity, designed and made our own water wheels (and tried them out in a river), made paper chromatography flowers, read the wonderful Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck books by Andrea Beaty and discussed them, wrote stories and did explosive science experiments. The older two kids took notes throughout. My eight-year-old was really enthused by everything and all the kids were so happy.

There was one point where they were all experimenting with oil, baking soda, vinegar and various other things and as I watched them work together, cooperating, trying out more and more ideas and squealing with joy and excitement, I felt so happy I thought my heart might burst. Ok, they did get a little out of control with food colouring, baking soda, leaves, ramps and bicycles (!?!) but we were outside and it was after 3’o clock so I figured, ‘whatever, let them get on with it’. At the end of the day my boys fell into bed with huge grins on their faces saying it was the best day ever. My six year old said “I give it 100%!”

I did, however, gain:

A whole new level of respect for teachers

We had five kids to keep engaged and focussed. How they cope with classes of thirty kids, impresses the socks off me. Hats off to them.

And a whole new level of respect for homeschoolers

You do this everyday?! I mean, it must be amazing in some ways but surely exhausting in others! Such a big responsibility to have to think up all the activities and keep the kids on point and also to get the balance between being totally child-led and making sure you get enough done… well done, seriously.

All sorts of random stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise have done

When you spend time with kids engaging in their learning, you learn so much too! They ask questions and together you find the answers, you create things you otherwise wouldn’t have created and think in ways you otherwise wouldn’t have thought. It’s really inspirational.

That my friends are awesome

Again, I knew this already but man… from my best mate who was a fab cheerleader the whole time, drew loads of #THISislearning pictures and provided lots of inspiration for a post about activities for kids, to the friend who I spent the day with (which made striking a million times easier as I would have been on my own otherwise), to the friend who read my No, Mr Cameron, No. post and told me how proud she was of me with such enthusiasm that my face ached from smiling by the end of her email, to the blogging friends who joined in on the day and sent amazing messages of support, and the friends who’ve chatted with me and put the world (and my head) to rights over the last couple of days. Not to forget Sophie who, despite juggling a million different things, was a fantastic, eloquent, supportive co-campaigner for #THISislearning. Oh, and my husband who always has my back (I’ll start coming to bed before midnight now, promise!) I felt surrounded by a huge raft of emotional support, I really did. You guys rock.

That people are awesome

At the end of the day on May 3rd and on the following morning I looked though my social media feeds at the #THISislearning hashtag. Wow. The different activities that people had been doing with their kids, the happy faces, the brilliant blog posts, the enthusiasm and dedication to showing Nicky Morgan what real learning looks like… well it was just amazing. Again, my heart kind of exploded (remember how I said I was a softy – I wasn’t lying!) It was just wonderful to see.

And I think I’m going to end this post on that note. An enormous thank you goes to you all.

xxx

mumturnedmom

Linking to The Prompt which, this week, is ‘choice’. This whole experience came from the choice to hit ‘publish on that blog post.

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