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Family Motherhood {the ordinary moments}

A snuggly sort of Saturday

05/02/2017

Somewhere it’s written down as an actual genuine rule, that when you’re at your most busy, the exhaustion that runs with it only hits when you stop long enough to notice.  My January has been dominated by two big work moments, one in the middle and one at the end of last week, and the sudden realisation that I was done, or rather that I had just a smidgen of breathing space before the next urgent deadline hit me with all the force of a month’s worth of late nights and my poor little brain had to be coaxed into action with the promise of our team goodie shelf (and the very welcome and now traditional Toblerone from my boss on his return from the Alps).  I was so glad to see Friday, and even gladder to see 5pm on Friday and the train home.

I know when I was the full time at home parent, the weekend felt like the chance to do something or go on an adventure as a complete family, and it’s a mindset that I think I’ve carried across into going back to work.  Add in the omnipresent lurk of maternal guilt and I have a default setting that weekends should be for adventures and for making enough memories with the children that they never look back on their childhood and think I was missing.  It’s also a lot of fun, as our trip to the Chinese New Year festivities last Sunday proved, but sometimes you just need to have a really lazy day.

Well sort of a really lazy day.  The viewings continue so we were up bright and early yesterday to get the house back to showing standard and then headed out for breakfast to wait for everyone to finish traipsing through, but once we got home, we were home.  And part of me thought that on such a beautiful sunny day we really ought to go and do something, and the really tired part of me looked at the comfy sofa and the window open to let the sunshine, and knew that the furthest we were going was the garden.

Space for the Butterflies - A snuggly Saturday

And so we settled into one of the sort of ordinary days that I seem to have so rarely now; sat around the dinner table while the girls did some colouring, Pip drew expansive blue swirls, and I picked up his Christmas jumper (sadly neglected since the big day) in between fielding illustration requests, because why shouldn’t you have a hockey player, Pip watching hockey, a helicopter and a rainbow all in the same picture.  With John home for a little longer thanks to a change in hockey plans, he joined the art club and it felt very peaceful, even in the noise of a family of five.

Space for the Butterflies - A snuggly Saturday

Space for the Butterflies - A snuggly Saturday

Space for the Butterflies - A snuggly Saturday

For lunch we gave the kids a carpet picnic, a favourite treat of theirs, and when we’d rescued cheese wrappers from the floor, they brought down their duvets and pillows and quilts and we set up the play frame to make a snuggly den.

Space for the Butterflies - A snuggly Saturday

But whatever game they were playing didn’t quite stack up to just cuddling up; I sat on the sofa with my knitting and one by one they came to join us; Kitty and Elma down the other end giggling and wiggling my toes, and Pip snuggled up by my side.  We didn’t read stories or even sing, I just listened to them chatter away and caught up on snippets of all the vitally important things about school; Elma’s next playdate, how many teeth each of Kitty’s friends have lost, and where she sat to eat her carrots last week.

Space for the Butterflies - A snuggly Saturday

Space for the Butterflies - A snuggly Saturday

When I was all grown up and heading back to see my Mum she used to keep patting me, just to check I was real, and really there, and at the time I thought it was sweet and a little bit funny, but now I totally get where she was coming from.  As the full time working parent in this family my arms are empty more often than they are full, even in the weeks where I wake up to find Pip on one side, Kitty on the other and Elma sleeping across my feet, and though all three kids are little cuddle bugs, I can’t spend all my home time clutching them to me to try to compensate.  To spend hours just curled up together with no pressure to be anywhere or doing anything was one of those days that feel like Saturdays should; the days that drop into the “you’re doing OK” side of the scales.

Space for the Butterflies - A snuggly Saturday

As I’m writing this I feel bonelessly relaxed; definitely a feeling to hang onto as we head into another week.

Joining Katie at Mummy Daddy Me and Donna at What the Redhead Said for The Ordinary Moments

Family Kitty Motherhood {the ordinary moments}

Milestones like buses

22/01/2017

Do you find that with little ones the milestones come all at once?  When they were really tiny they were saying “Mama”, and walking, and proving their father wrong on the question of broccoli all within a moment, and then it was running and throwing their arms around your neck for a jam smothered kiss and the first unprompted “I luff you”.  It feels like we’ve hit two more within a breath of each other.

  Space for the Butterflies - on milestones and the lessons that my daughter teaches me
The first of Kitty’s teeth coincided with the start of school, falling out into a post-church-coffee bourbon biscuit much to her very great surprise when aged 5 and a smidgen her parents had entirely failed to mention that teeth fall out and it’s not a problem.  It’s our biggest parenting fail to date but in my defence I thought I had another year to cover the subject.
Tooth number two, another bottom one, followed quickly after and then for the last year or so we’ve got used to that gap, and watched the new big girl teeth make their way in below.  One top tooth in particular has been very wobbly for months, to the point that we were starting to contemplate a dentist visit to check all was well when I got a text message late one Friday afternoon while I was down in London.  Her first top tooth was eagerly awaiting the tooth fairy.
In our house the tooth fairy doesn’t take the teeth, because Kitty wants to keep them, and she doesn’t leave money because she didn’t have any to hand when the first tooth fell out and had to make do with whatever she could find.  Back then it was a chocolate coin which I’m near certain had my dentist grandfather turning in his grave, and most recently it was a tiny notepad with a gold initial on each page and a pen with radishes on it (because the tooth fairy came with Mummy on a trip to the Kikki K shop on the way home from work).
When I took this month’s Siblings photos that weekend, she was determined that everyone would see that shiny new gap, even if it did make her look less like she was gazing affectionately at the rest of the family and more as if we were a tasty snack.
Space for the Butterflies - on milestones and the lessons that my daughter teaches me
And in the same week we discovered that she needed new glasses.  It’s not the newness that makes this so much of a milestone; she’s worn glasses for nearly a year now, and we’ve got through several pairs of glasses both from a change in the prescription and Kitty’s determination that glasses will not prevent her from doing anything, right up to and including being sat on by her brother.  But this time, there is a change.
Space for the Butterflies - on milestones and the lessons that my daughter teaches me
(this is the look she’s going to give me when she’s 16 and I suggest that 10pm is a perfectly acceptable curfew isn’t it!)
Since that first letter came home from school to suggest that we might like to take her for an opticians’ appointment, Kitty has been working her way through a cast of Disney characters on the arms of her glasses (bless you Specsavers for having glasses that she wanted to wear, and my mother in law for suggesting it).  We’ve had Elsa and Tinkerbell, Ariel, Cinderella and the Minions and all of my scruples about not letting my children be walking adverts (“you can wear a t-shirt with Elsa on it when she wears one with you on it”) were thrown out of the window because of all the selections of children’s glasses in all the opticians within easy reach they were easily the nicest.  And truth be told, when John took her in to have her latest check up I was expecting more of the same, perhaps Belle this time for variety.
Except my lovely tall girl, who rocks age 10-11 clothes at age 6, has grown out of the characters range.  Nothing with a princess on was the right size for her face, and found myself sat in the office, wishing I was there to lend a helping hand as they entered the world of pre-teen glasses and a world of uncertainty.
  Space for the Butterflies - on milestones and the lessons that my daughter teaches me
Choosing glasses for Kitty worries me, far more than it does her.  When I was little my choices were whether to have the pink NHS pair or the blue (I generally alternated) and the photos between age 5 and 13 show me with one or the other; enormous plastic frames and every so slightly Dame Edna Everage pointy corners (well it was the 80’s) and I swore to myself when she and her brother and sister were born that if they needed glasses they would always look smart and modern and up to date and never feel less because they’d inherited my dodgy eyesight.  So far we’ve had not problems, but what I think of as the antithesis of what I wore as a child; metal frames, small lenses; isn’t the fashion any more.  The 80′ are back (and you have no idea how old that makes me feel). The current trend is for bigger lenses and more obvious frames and there was a little six year old incarnation of me that whispered “don’t do that” in my ear when I heard of the options that they had in the shop that fitted my lovely eldest daughter.
But times have changed, and the joys of a vintage revival is that it tends to keep only the good stuff and ditch the bits that you skim over in the family photo albums, and if I’m honest with myself I can see that. I cannot and I will not let my own experiences overshadow my children.
So Kitty has new glasses.  They’re bigger frames than last time, they’re definitely more of a statement, they have Cath Kidston flowery arms (or Cath Kit Kat as Kitty says) and my not so little girl rocks them.  She is in every inch, wearing the glasses, and not the other way round, and she looks awesome in them.
Space for the Butterflies - on milestones and the lessons that my daughter teaches me
It was the first time that I’ve really had to let go of what has made up me, to recognise what it is that makes up her.  No one will tease her for having Cath Kinston glasses; she wore them to school and her classmates were only excited for her, and at home she couldn’t wait to show them off to her siblings.  And for me, to get that wrapped around my brain until the worries calmed and the tension ebbed; that was the latest in a very long line of lessons that my daughter will teach me.

Joining Katie at Mummy Daddy Me for The Ordinary Moments

Motherhood Pause for Thought Siblings

Aleppo, and the story of an extra Christmas present

15/12/2016

I came here this evening with every intention of just writing a happy chatty sort of Siblings post, full of our stories from the last month, but I find I can’t.

I looked at my pictures of my gorgeous, happy, safe, thriving children, who are all tucked up snug in their own beds in their own homes, and the contrast between them and the stories of the horrific scenes unfolding in Aleppo broke my heart.

Innocent civilians, and far too many of them children, caught up in a war they didn’t want, in a home neighbourhood which they can’t get out of when evacuation attempts keep being blocked by one militia or the other, fearing for their safety at the hands of both sides and no-one in the rest of the world seeming to care enough to do anything about it.

It makes me so frustrated to see actions being described as “probably genocide” but no government doing anything to actually stop it while it’s happening.  It’s no good sending in drones and spy planes to record evidence of war crimes and telling them all off in the future, it’s as much use to the people on the ground as someone videoing a burglary but not actually telling the police that it’s happening until afterwards.

It’s made writing about the little moments of daily life as a family of five seem rather trivial.  I know that they’re not; not really.  When Val McDermid spoke at Blogfest last year she said that the arts is a peaceful way in which we fight back against those who would have our lives ruled by fear, and she’s absolutely right; creativity allows a freedom that cannot comfortably coexist with terror and it has been a weapon against oppression since time immemorial.  Recognising that gives us the freedom to keep on blogging about parenting and knitting, and to do the parenting and knitting itself without being overwhelmed by some of the truly horrible things going on in the world today.

And yet what I’d really like to do right now is get leaders from both sides in a room and shout “have you lost your mind?!”.  Or, even better I’d send Samantha Power whose eloquent speech to the United Nations brought tears to my eyes.

My experience with tantruming toddlers suggests it probably wouldn’t make much difference anyway.  So we’ve done the only practical thing we can do; support the people who are trying to help.  For us it’s in the form of donations to the British Red Cross and Medicin Sans Frontieres, and fervent prayer that the latest attempts at an evacuation succeed.  The donations are roughly what we would spend on a Christmas present if we suddenly acquired an extra family member, and if I’m going to have a Christmas wish this year, wouldn’t it be wonderful if so many people gave an extra present’s worth of donation that the charities trying to pick up the pieces of countries torn apart by greed, jealousy and intolerance, had enough funding do give physical practical help where we can’t.

And I’m sorry if this post feels gloomy when December should be pictures of the children in Christmas jumpers and stories of their nativity plays and all the rest.  That will come (my Christmas holidays start next Wednesday and I can’t wait to be at home with the family) we’re all happy and healthy and starting to get into the flurry of Christmas preparations but to write that post without also writing this felt too much as if it was pasting a glossy front over how I truly feel at the moment: thankful that I can keep my little trio safe, incredibly grateful for what we have, and frustrated to the point of angry that I cannot say the same for the families in Aleppo.

Space for the Butterflies; Siblings 2016 December

Elma Family Kitty Motherhood Photography Pip

Don’t mind the gap

12/05/2016

Space for the Butterflies - on the gap between babies

Pip is 20 months. He’s now the age that Elma was when he was born, and when Kitty was his age she was well on the way to becoming a big sister. Even writing that down I feel like I need to go back and count back and just double check that that’s really right.

It doesn’t feel like it should be right, the idea of being pregnant right now, let alone actually having a newborn seems completely crazy to me.

And it made me wonder why. Part of it I’m sure is that after my body took a bit of a pasting making space for my very tall son I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to leave at least two years before I even thought about more children and so any conversations that H and I have had about whether we’re done at three or want to try for four/an entire football team have been very hypothetical; it’s just not something we need to make a decision about just yet and so my subconscious isn’t really thinking about it.

But a lot of it is the children themselves. When we had Kitty we knew even before she was born that we wanted to give her a sibling, and without too big a gap. With only one child to two parents it was easy to be confident that we could still give her everything she needed and look after a new baby sister. And that baby sister was, and remains, the most fiercely independent of my little trio, and the best at sleeping.

She started to sleep through the night so much earlier than Kitty (who took her time) and Pip (still waiting on that one!) and I think the only way to describe it is that by the time her brother arrived she was as ready to be a big sister as we were to parent three children. It has never felt like we rushed Elma or somehow cheated her of her turn as the baby of the family and she in turn is thriving as the much adored middle, fun for playing ‘go to school’ with Kitty (that was this morning’s game as I was getting ready), or just for hugging by Pip. Space for the Butterflies - on the gap between babies

Pip though, oh my little boy. I look at pictures of him and I see a little boy, with messy blond hair and a big smile, running and trying to jump, and rugby tackling his sisters as a sort of squish-hug, and I grab his shoes and for a moment think that they’re Elma’s (he’s currently a size 6!) and in all those things I can see how very grown up he is becoming, on the cusp of moving from babyhood and into childhood.

And then there are the moments when he sees me coming through the door and runs arms outstretched, only happy when he’s up in my arms, burying his head in my neck, or the times when he sees H giving me a hug and tries to shove him out the way with an expression that very clearly says that Pip does not share Mama. He falls asleep in my arms and when he wakes in the night he comes straight back to me, curling up in the crook of my arm and snuggling down.

Every now and then he’ll finish his milk and lie back looking at me, the most beautific milk drunk smile you’ve ever seen, and very slowly his eyelids will drop and close and he will fall asleep still smiling.

And in those moments he is every inch a baby, and still needs to be a baby, and I think that had we presented him with a baby sibling right now he would really have struggled in a way that Kitty and Elma never did.

If we ever have more children the gap to Pip will be the biggest yet, and bigger than the only other gap I truly know, the one between me and my sister. But I’m oddly comforted that that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  If the time comes to add to our family then the gap will be whatever it will be. But right now? My heart and hands are full, and I can’t imagine it any other way.

 

Family Kitty Motherhood Pause for Thought

Dear Nicky Morgan, Really?

03/05/2016
Space for the Butterflies - five little words

Kitty on her first day of school – September 2015

Today my eldest daughter will be going to school.  Were she two years older or six years older she would not. We, like so many other parents have watched SATS twist and change; have seen an education system materially altered from when we were small; a teaching staff that are busting a gut to deliver a well rounded creative education, despite a wholesale increase in bureaucracy and constraints; and children whose awareness of testing and the consequences of that testing is disproportionate to their very young age.  At a time when they should be exploring the world around them and letting their imaginations run riot, the existence of standardised testing means that they’re being taught to the test at the expense of education; it’s knowledge force fed by rote with ever increasing requirements.

Parents have raised petitions, parents have written to their MPs, parents have talked to schools, and nothing is getting through. There are no changes being made, but nor are we getting any answers.  And it’s off the back of that level of disenfranchisement that the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign has flourished.

You may not agree. Actually, you don’t agree with the campaign, because you told the headteachers conference on Saturday that it would be damaging for children to take part in the boycott.  In fact, you said that:

“Keeping children home even for a day undermines their education,”

Really Nicky Morgan? Really?

Let’s have a look at this then shall we.  Well firstly, I don’t think you’re actually talking about the impact of children missing one day of school.  You are a working mother, and even if you’ve never had to do a conference call with a client while simultaneously chain feeding your baby carrot wotsits to stop them adding their tuppence to the conversation, I’m pretty sure you’ve grasped by now that kids get sick.  They get tummy bugs and earaches and horrid coughs and colds and chicken pox; and that can all be within the space of one winter if you’re really lucky.  Children miss school, and they make up for it as quickly as they chop and change their birthday party guest list. So your concern clearly isn’t that the children will miss a day of lessons (and for the record I suspect that any parent that feels strongly enough to protest is probably going to be planning something both educational and fun in its stead).

If it’s not the “missing school” part, but the “keeping home” part, what of that? The argument that I assume you are trying to put forward is that if we as parents take our children out of school for the day we are teaching them disrespect for their teachers and their school, and showing a lack of confidence in what they do.  We are saying to our children that they can be selfish, they can pick and choose what they like out of education and the rest doesn’t matter, and you would claim that in the long run our actions will cause our children to disconnect from their learning. It certainly hits the right notes for some tidy scaremongering (one day out and your children are doomed) and I’m sure it looked very pretty written down on paper.  But let me suggest to you an alternative lesson that the children being homeschooled today might be learning.

What if we as parents sit down with our children and give them credit for a little understanding.  What if we say to our children “we love your school, we think your teachers are awesome and work so hard, we think your headmaster is brilliant, and we’re so glad that you run in the door each day with a beaming smile.  But just as your teachers tell you what to do, there are people who tell your teachers what to do, and we think those people are getting it wrong. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your teachers either.”

We can teach them that when things are wrong, they do not have to sit and suffer in silence; that they can use methods of peaceful protest to give their voice a shout.  For the child stressed and made miserable by the tests it validates their feelings, and tells them that we are listening, and we have their backs.  It’s very easy for us to talk about “be the change you want to see in the world”; what if we actually showed them how lone voice by lone voice the mutterings of the playground, the disquiet within ourselves as a body of parents, has come together as one clear call which you have at last been unable to ignore? Wouldn’t that be a far more powerful lesson to instil in our future?

That you chose to comment in your address to a conference of headteachers on Saturday, with no actual school days between then and the day of the protest was an interesting tactic.  I’m sure many headteachers do have children of their own, although given that they can see the experience not just of their own children but of every child in their school, I suspect your remarks were unlikely to have swayed them personally, and as I said, there was no opportunity for them to pass your views back to their parents. So I can only assume that you were banking on your comments being picked up by the media and read by parents over the long weekend; asking them to second guess their decision away from the camaraderie of the school gate.  As I said, interesting, and just a little bit patronising.

So how about dropping the tactics, and the scheming.  We’ve got your attention and we’re here ready to listen.  As parents we have nothing but the very best intentions for our children.  We want to protect them and challenge them, and to light a fire for learning that will be with them for the rest of their lives. I want to hope and trust that you and the rest of the Department for Education want what is best for our children too.  On Saturday you rightly raised concerns that our proportion of functionally literate teenagers is lower than it should be and lower than many of our neighbours, and you’d be hard pushed to find a parent who doesn’t want to improve that.  But at the moment your solution, having acknowledged that something isn’t working, is that we should do even more of the same, just earlier and harder.  Sat on this side of the fence that’s illogical – if you repeat the same experiment you’ve got to be expecting the same results – and contrary to heavyweight academic research on the topic.

So talk to us. Talk to the parents, not to the headteachers. Write an open letter.  If you truly believe that increased testing at primary level is the right answer; that knowing about intransitive verbs really is essential knowledge for a ten year old, then tell us why. A proper why, backed up with evidence and fully reasoned out, not just “because I say so”. And if you can’t, then listen.

Because one of the biggest tragedies in all of this is that it’s got this far.

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