Tag Archives: children

From the mouth of babes

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It’s been a funny few months.  We have decided to move house. The girls are busier than ever. More testing (and angst) at school for them. Tricky work situations.  Hubby has been away. The last few months have been a whirlwind (when isn’t it?) and I can hardly believe we are now in April.  I started a Reiki course back in February and that has helped give me permission to allow myself space while still fulfilling my need to do something helpful for others.

Like many people I find it difficult to accept other people nurturing me. I could over analyse why that is – heaven knows I’ve soul searched over the years.  I know I hold beliefs about how worthy I am (or not). I know I fear rejection if I don’t ‘make’ people happy. I know I over commit to things and feel completely responsible for other people’s feelings and actions. And I know in reality that it’s just the voice in my head talking a load of rubbish.

But my voice is very loud.

This morning the universe spoke loudly too. Through my 7 year old daughter.  A wise head – older than her years – but also refreshingly puppy-ish in her approach to life.

 

I was grumpy this morning. Failing on many levels to reach my perfect mum image. Failing on all levels in fact. The girls were bickering, a removal van was blocking our way to school,  we were late anyway, I’d worked until 2am last night and opened my emails at 7am to receive a very rude and stroppy message from a close colleague. I think I even swore in front of the children (not at them though. Does that offer me some salvation?!). It was not good. I was uptight and being snappy and unpleasant and I knew it. That just made me more snappy and unpleasant as I wrestled with my shame.

I looked and felt like this

 

 

Brave 7yr old: what’s wrong with you this morning? You’re being horrible.
Me: (grumpy voice) I’m tired and worrying about some stuff at work. I didn’t get to bed until half past 2. That’s really late.
7yr old: (compassionate and sincere voice) Do you feel like you’ve only had one hours sleep? That’s a horrible feeling.

It wasn’t much. But do you know what? That drop of empathy has changed my day. Where she found that empathy i will never know. My stress was stressing them both out. But she found a second to think differently about it. Tears came to my eyes and I was so grateful for her attempt to understand me. I thanked her.

7yr old: Let’s be happy. I know just the thing. We can all listen and sing to One Direction!  Loudly!

 

Not my first choice of pick me up music.

But we did. And it was the Best Song Ever.

 

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What About The Boys?

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You know, one of the hardest things I juggle are my emotions around raising two girls.

When I was pregnant we didn’t know what gender our babies would be. For us the excitement was in the Not Knowing.  The only thing I wished for was that my children would have strong spirits, be assertive and compassionate, and have the capacity and strength of character to be Who They Really Are. I hadn’t really considered how important me and hubby would be in that. Yes. I know that’s really naive! But i get it now!

It’s bloody hard. Not because they are difficult or challenging (well… they’re 5 and 7 years old. Of course they are difficult and challenging sometimes!) But I can handle that. In fact – I want them to be difficult and challenging because it means they are forming their own opinions and they are not sheep. I positively encourage them to have opinions and share them in a respectful way.

It’s not even hard raising two girls because of the co-ordination that goes into swimming classes, ballet, musical theatre, after school care, homework, reading, play dates, roller skating, science experiments, family visits, working full time and – from next week – gymnastics (what was I thinking!?!).

It’s hard because after having children I view the world through completely different lenses.

Some of that has been so magical and joyful; watching them delight in their first play in the snow, peeling back the leaves of a cob of sweetcorn to reveal the golden nuggets inside, seeing the spiders webs after the first frost, breathing ‘steam’ out of our mouths on a cold winter’s day, the tooth fairy leaving a note, blowing dandelion seeds, seeing deer in the woods…….. oh the list goes on. And you catch the magic too if you can be present in these moments.

But I get scared by some of it as I watch my impressionable daughters soak up their world and begin internalising what it means to be a ‘girl’ and what it means to be a ‘boy’. Seriously. Why as a society do we still put so much bloody importance on What We Are and not Who We Are?! Why can we not separate the two?!

Both my parents were from North London lower working class families who had lots of children and barely any money. I come from tough, traditional heritage where the men had one role and the women had another. There are some amazing characters in my ancestry (I might tell you about them one day) and I’m very proud and grateful for that. I had a younger brother who I perceived as getting away with murder while I was expected to conform. I suffered from a massive inferiority complex growing up and developed bulimia from 15 years old and finally beat it at the age of 22. I chose relationships that were full of drama. I voiced my opinions with arrogance (and ignorance), and revelled in being an animal rights activist and controversial with my views.  I rejected everything my mother had been raised by because I saw all the baggage she carried. Not realising baggage was fairly inevitable.

And I learnt a lot. I met my first ‘proper’ feminist at university. Unfortunately she was somewhat of a man hater. I considered myself to be a feminist but I didn’t want to hate men. I liked them! My construct of feminism was equality of opportunity for all regardless of gender and I still hold that view today. I don’t care to get on my soap box in public anymore. Er… except in this blog.

Of course, I am now even more aware of how gender is portrayed as I view the world through the innocent eyes of my daughters. At first I was keen to reduce the ‘girlification’ of them from birth. I rejected the ‘pinkness’ that you are forcefed when you have girls (‘Why don’t you want the bright pink dresses with frills on for D1? It’s so pretty and she looks so cute!’ ) and actively looked for toys, games, books etc that told more than just princess stories. We did actually have some pink and some princesses ( because other people had bought them) but they were part of a wider choice of things. Both my girls went through a short pink/princess stage and having the knowledge I do about how children develop etc I was OK with this (who am I kidding?!) because it was their ‘choice’. The driver behind this is about developing an identity, fitting in and belonging. If you don’t have this securely established then it’s much harder to have the confidence to not conform. Does that make sense?!?

So we went through the pink/ princess stage and then we entered the ‘I want to be like a grown up’ stage. We are still at that one actually. But what are grown up women  like….? Hmmm. Friends and family – some positive; some ignorant of how impressionalble our girls are. It’s amazing how the first thing people say to them is how pretty they look or invite them to have their hair and nails done as if that’s the only thing they can talk about. There’s so much more to my girls than that. Images on TV aren’t very diverse. Sassy tween/teenage girls who are bitchy, squeal and tantrum or clever girls who are seen as not cool. I know there are exceptions out there but that message is lost between all the other junk. Billboard posters/advertisements… well. Don’t even get me started. Films… most women are side kicks who are conventionally, stereotypcally beautiful first and then have a personality if you’re lucky. Do i sound scathing? Sorry. I’m just disappointed. There’s some great stuff out there but you have to look hard.

We are finding our way through this and there’s lots of talking at times in our house about what’s ‘real’ in media images of women and what’s airbrushed (‘Why do they do it if it’s not real, Mummy? What’s the point?’ Good question. How do you tell a five year old it’s because sex sells?) Popular songs (‘ Why do One Direction only ever sing about kissing girls?’). We imagine real possibilities of exciting futures and talk and learn about everything we find interesting. Not just things that are typically ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ stuff. It started very early on. Oh yes. I was going to get it right straight from the start. None of this objectification for my girls. No thank you. Girl Power!

And that’s when my husband said four words late last year that brought me right back down to earth with a bump.

‘What about the boys?’

‘Huh?’

‘Boys. You talk to D1 and D2 about all the things that they might want to do in the future; you challenge the things they say only boys can do, you question they way girls are portrayed in certain films or TV programs. Do you talk about the boys?’

‘Er…yes… of course I do!’

He knew i was lying.

NO. NO. NO I don’t!!!

Argh. What an idiot. What a glaring oversight on my part. In my attempts to ensure our girls were receiving balanced messages about women I had completely ignored talking about boys and the pressures on them to fit a stereotype. How is that really balanced? I had not even paid attention to the messages we internalise about what it is to be a boy. And neither had I really given any thought to how what I didn’t say about boys would translate in my girl’s little heads. ‘All the boys are silly in my class, Mummy,’ said my 5yr old.

Boys/Men are generally portrayed as being powerful,heroic, nerdy, stupid or evil. Either a protector or something to be feared. And increasingly airbrushed, impossible bodies are evident in the media. These are the messages boys and girls are getting about men – just like boys and girls are getting messages about women’s bodies and behaviour that is unrealistic. It works both ways. And it’s not helpful. In fact, my husband doesn’t think men have as much of a voice about it as women. I think maybe he has a point.

Why are we letting it happen? Why is it so ‘normal’?

Thank you Hubby. The conversations in our house have changed. We don’t just talk about what girls can do – we talk about what people can do (male or female). We don’t just discuss female characters in books/films/TV – we discuss the characters in books/films/TV (male or female). We are beginning to question stereotypes (yes – even at the age of 7) and there’s some good chat going on. We pretend to be knights, Doctors, Kings, Queens, Mummy and Daddy, elephants, famous athletes, scientists AND Princesses. We can be anything we want to be. We like it all. We embrace choice.

And I clearly have a lot to learn when it comes to equality and diversity. I guess my younger, arrogant/ignorant self is still under the surface a bit. My fears for my girls growing up in a society that values a women’s idealised appearance over who she is or what she thinks led me on a path that could easily have seen me encouraging a girls vs boys belief. And I don’t hold that belief. Yes – I want my girls to have choice. But I want ALL children – ALL people – to have that regardless of their gender or sexuality.

It’s not a Battle of the Sexes. It’s not Men vs Women. Because in every battle there is always a winner and a loser. How can that be equality? It’s about the boys and the girls.

Angels with Hidden Wings

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Do you ever have people cross your path and they leave a lasting impression forever?  Even if the conversation/exchange/contact was such a brief moment in time it hardly registers as 0.01% of your life. But it leaves you irrevocably changed .

I’ve been blessed a few times in my life like that. I truly believe in the saying ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will come.’ I can’t help wondering if those teachers are Angels with Hidden Wings. Here’s just a couple of examples that spring to mind.

A few years ago I spontaneously popped into visit my Aunt and Uncle. They were having friends round for dinner and invited me to stay. I am really close to my Aunt and Uncle – my Uncle took on somewhat of a fatherly role after my dad died – so I was thrilled to say yes and spend more time with them. I was expecting for the evening to be filled with polite small talk on my part, with me not really having very much to say but just being grateful to be included. Well, I didn’t say very much at all but not because I felt awkward. Just because I was in awe. It turned out one of their very good friends at this dinner had been a journalist in South Africa and was one of the men in the Treason Trials. He knew Nelson Mandela and had been smuggled out of the country to avoid further vindication. He now spent his time writing and raising money for schools in the townships. It was only in the few years since the end of apartheid that he’d been able to go back to his country. Oh how I wanted to spend more time in the company of this amazing man and his wife! To ask more questions. To have some of his magic. I have never felt so humbled.

Lots of other Angels have crossed my path and nudged me in different directions. Most recently I met a woman who will have no idea what a light she is. I have to share her story because her strength is remarkable. Names have been changed out of respect for her identity.

Mae must be in her late 40s. She left her children and family behind in Jamaica to find a way of making enough money for them after her husband died. A tough decision. She came to the UK on a working visa and lived with her cousin, Asha. Mae is an educated lady, proud and hard-working. Her cousin fell pregnant and the baby’s father didn’t/couldn’t stay (I don’t know the full details here so cannot accurately account for the reasons). Asha died three months after giving birth to a little girl, Ruby, who had so many complications she had to stay in hospital until she was 10 months old. Grandparents took on legal guardianship of Ruby to prevent her going into foster care but didn’t want her to live with them, so Mae has taken on full responsibility for this perfect little girl with additional needs. Ruby is now 4 years old and due to go to school in September 2014.

Mae had to give up her job to care for Ruby and is now struggling on benefits. If a child was in foster care under the local authority the foster-carers would be paid. As Mae is considered family to Ruby, she gets no such support. She doesn’t drive. Her own daughter recently died at 21 years old and she has two grandchildren in Jamaica who she cannot afford to see. She can’t afford to go back out there and as she has a working visa she cannot bring them here. She has a wealth of responsibilities – health appointments. schooling etc to navigate her way through for the little girl she is raising. On her own. And she’s struggling; financially and emotionally. The only thing that keeps her going is Ruby.

My professional role as a Manager and Advisory Teacher for pre-schoolers with Special/Additional Needs and Disabilities is to help other educators understand certain conditions and how to support such children. A large part of my role is to help with the transition into mainstream school. This is how I met Mae. Ruby was referred to our service and I have the privilege of working with them. I met Mae properly for the first time three weeks ago.

We met at the school she wants Ruby to go to. It’s a popular Catholic school and as such there is a strict criteria in order for a child to get a place. One of those criteria is you need to be baptised. Mae was confident Ruby had been baptised when she was in hospital but when we checked her certificate she had been baptised Church of England. Not Catholic. Mae was so upset – she had thought Ruby was Catholic like her mother had been. The school recommended that she talk to Father John at the Catholic church but you could see Mae was so confused by the whole situation that she didn’t know if she was coming or going. This was the one thing she thought was a certainty – despite all the other pressures she was confident Ruby would go to a school that would honour her dead mother’s faith.

I found myself offering to walk to the church with her and to talk to Father John. It was out of my way and I was going to be late for another appointment but something told me this was the right thing to do. We walked the mile to the church together. Two people who had only briefly spoken on the phone before that day. I wondered what on earth we would talk about and even if i was going to help.

I needn’t have worried. We slipped into easy conversation and I was surprised at how quickly we connected. It was the slowest mile I have ever walked – not because the time dragged but because our conversation meant there was no need to hurry. On arriving at the church a Mass was in progress so we waited outside. By this time she had shared her very personal experiences, the history of Ruby (some of which I knew but a lot of which I didn’t) and her current situation and struggles. There was no underlying self pity from her, neither was there a sense of injustice or of being ‘owed’ anything. She told me the ‘warts and all’ situation and – for someone who often feels responsible for everyone – I didn’t feel she was asking anything from me.

Mass finished and we entered the church. Father John was busy so we sat at the front pew and waited. We spoke in hushed tones as she continued her story. She wept silently as she spoke of her fears of not having her visa renewed; of her dreams and hopes for the future. I wiped her tears and I wept too.

Father John met with us and after (briefly) recounting the situation he offered to write a supporting letter for the school application. Mae’s relief was obvious. We needed to complete a set of forms so Mae and I went to the local library and I helped her. When I finally left her I felt such a loss. I wanted to invite this incredible selfless, intelligent, brave, confused and scared woman to come home with me. A ridiculous reality – and I didn’t – but I was acutely aware her worries would be with her over Christmas. She had told me she didn’t want to leave the house during the holiday period.

I couldn’t do any more that day and I haven’t spoken to her since. But I will do when I’m back at work next week. You see, I was with her over Christmas. Not physically, but mentally. I have thought about her and Ruby every day – even fantasised about sending them anonymous monetary gifts in my attempt to seek a way of supporting them to stay together and do more than worry and exist  – and she will have no idea how much she touched my heart in those couple of hours we spent together. I just want to see her get a break and have some hope for the future. I have some thoughts about how I might be able to support and I will start some balls rolling next week. She is definitely one of those Angels with Hidden Wings. And her gift to me is allowing me to be touched by her light while feeling I might be able to help her too. I hope.

I’ve noticed my Angels with hidden Wings always have something in common. Despite whatever struggles they’ve had they always seem to exude a deep inner strength that I can’t help but admire. I think that is what I am drawn to. I remain fascinated and awe inspired by the determination and resiliance of the human spirit.

I believe we have all been an Angel to people we have met. We all have gifts to share. It might be the smile you gave someone unthinkingly, the story you told, the attention you gave someone, the joy you shared, the way you handled a situation… the list goes on.

I rarely make resolutions for the new year. I’m rubbish at keeping them so I simply don’t bother. If and when I decide to change something then I just do it as soon as I make the resolve – and that’s at any time of the year. Like everyone else sometimes they last and sometimes they fail. However this year I am promising myself that I will remind people of their light. And I will remind myself of mine. It’s in all of us. It’s so bright. We are all someone’s gift just as much as they are ours.

So I am starting this new years resolution by reminding you. Yes. You. You don’t have to try to be an Angel with Hidden Wings. You already are.

I shall leave you with the famous Marianne Williamson quote:

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?’

I wish you a year full of love and light. I wish you the courage to be who you really are. May many Angels cross your path. I send you my gratitude for already being one. Happy 2014.

A Hearty Welcome

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First of all, if you are reading this then, welcome. Everyone is welcome. I claim not to offer anything other than my own thoughts, opinions, craziness and sometimes down right ‘unique-ness’ (not even sure if that’s a word but it goes pretty well together). I have called this blog ‘Spinning Plates and Staying Sane’ because that’s what I think I do. I am an experienced Plate Spinner. And I attempt to stay sane. We probably all are doing this. I am fairly ordinary in many ways, and like a lot of people with many commitments and responsibilities I sometimes think I’m going insane. I spend my life seeking the peace and the calm I know and am told is out there.

I am a lucky lady. At 38 years old I have a fantastic husband and two amazing, (mostly) happy young daughters. I work full time. I live in a nice three bedroom house and we have three guinea pigs. I fit the ‘perfect’ white, working middle class stereo type. And I should be content. Isn’t this the dream? What we all strive for? Having it all?

And yet, despite this ‘having it all’ I find myself thirsting for more. Not necessarily anything better. Apart from wanting to move house to a different area, I am thrilled with the roof I have over my head and my amazing family, friends and the all round quality of my life. I count my blessings daily. I really do. I am healthy. I work bloody hard. I sacrifice a lot of myself for this ‘perfection’. But I know I wouldn’t be making these sacrifices if it didn’t meet my needs.

And that’s what this blog is about, really. Me. My personal quest. My way of managing my stream of consciousness, my thoughts, my ideas, the articles I read that resonate with my personal beliefs and my frustration about how all of us have our wings clipped. Our angel wings. How we are conditioned to believe we have to be one thing to be ‘OK’ when our souls are crying out to be something else. How do we get that balance? Can we ever get the balance?

My girls are growing up. I am acutely aware of the complicated strengths, weaknesses, values, insecurities and stereotypes (etc etc) I absorbed unconsciously from my own unconscious parents, teachers, family, friends et al. I watch my two daughters doing exactly the same and I am acutely aware of the role model I am to them. It scares me. It scares me that I will not be good enough. I will give them ‘stuff’ they have to deal with. That I already have. I want them to be free. To be brave. To not even notice the chains that are so easily wrapped around us. I want them to see possibility in everything and be excited by life. I want them to find that quicker than I did. I want them to struggle less than I do.

So how am I going to achieve that? Well, I’m not naive enough to think I can do it overnight or even wrap them in cotton wool and ‘protect’ them from everything. And I am not their only influence. They will naturally absorb and take in a wealth of information from all sorts of media. Neither do I want them to adopt my values or thoughts if they aren’t true for them They are not clones of me and neither should they be. I want them to experience the joy that life holds – and to do that you have to experience some of the lows. You have to be able to think for yourself. Know your boundaries – over step them sometimes too. Take risks.You have to learn how to bounce back from the bad stuff and know the good stuff when it’s there. I see my role to keep them emotionally and physically safe for as long as possible but that’s not about shielding them unnecessarily – that’s about helping them develop the skills to navigate and cope with all that life beholds. To watch and encourage them to fly but be their safe place if and when they need to return.

So on top of providing for my family and trying to balance myself, I have the same mission as many parents out there. To be the best parent/person I can and somehow still stay sane. I am like you. I am a paradox. I am Perfect but Imperfect. Complete and incomplete. Strong and Weak. Clever and Stupid. Knowledgeable and Ignorant.

And this blog aims to show that. It will be cathartic I am sure. It won’t make sense at times. But that’s me. And that’s life. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense – and we all find ourselves struggling to appear sane while spinning those plates.