Archive for the ‘ Raising boys ’ Category

Teenager alert! (and he’s only 10)

Things my 10 year old son claims he no longer likes that he used to:

*Night-time cuddles and stories – “yeah mum, like I want you in my face before I go to sleep – not.”

*Super Furry Animals, Radiohead, Wedding Present, Smiths, any of the many bands with guitars I indoctrinated him into liking as a child – “they’re, like, so old fashioned. Haven’t you even heard of Bruno Mars? Or Chase & Status? God, you’re so ancient.”

*One or two of his childhood friends – “mum, they’re so immature. And they don’t even know it.”

*His dad – “I sometimes think you just haven’t taken to me.”

*His brother – “Sometimes I wish you hadn’t been born, you’re THAT annoying.”

*Me – “Did they have exams when you were younger to get into university or were you just allowed in even if you weren’t clever, like you?”

*Having his picture taken – “If you take one more picture of me without asking my permission first I’m going to sue you.”

Things I love about my 10 year old:

*The way he insists on wearing aftershave (Lynx Africa)

*The amazing cuddles he gives me – they may be loads less frequent but when they come they are so worth it.

*The way he flicks his head to get his new fringe out of his eyes

*How he loves horror stories, even though they frighten him

*The brilliant way he amuses his brother with silly impressions and crazy voices to cheer him up if he’s sad or hurt.

*His lovely caring nature; he may try to act tough but he gives it away every time

He no longer allows me to take his photo, unless it is for a very special reason, like he’s engaged in an unusual activity like flying down a zipwire. Instead, to feed my desire to capture his lovely face as often as possible, I have to devise cunning and sly tricks.

Due to computer problems I can’t seem to upload an image to the blog today, but suffice to say they are of a “blurry/arty” nature – where he has moved suddenly on realising his picture is being taken. Several of them were taken inside the Pompidou Centre in Paris during a trip yesterday. We took part in an art project, called Inside Out. The artist, called JR, has set up a giant photobooth in the centre and each person enters the booth, sits still and an image is taken. During the process a bindi mark is placed on every person’s forehead. The resulting images are printed out onto giant sheets of paper – mine is nearly as big as me – which are ejected from a huge slot high up at the top of the giant photobooth, from where they flutter to the ground, to excited squeals from the people waiting below. It is great fun and you can see the results at http://www.insideoutproject.net/pompidou

Behind the fun lies the incredibly powerful idea that everyone is beautiful and unique. As someone who constantly struggles with self image, it was interesting to note my own reaction. While everyone else in my family ooed and aahed over their posters and laid them out on the floor to take in all their glory, I couldn’t wait to roll mine up and hide it away. Participants are urged to put their poster faces up in their own community – while I can think of a million places I’d want to display the giant faces of my sons and husband, I can’t imagine being comfortable placing my own giant face anywhere other than in the back garden. Funny how a bit of fun art can make you stop and think and analyse your own vision of yourself, isn’t it? I’ve certainly embraced one of the stated aims of the project – “to discover, reveal and share your untold story…”

You don’t have to visit France to join in – visit http://www.insideoutproject.net to find out how to submit your own portrait and receive a poster back in return.

Next to the giant photobooth were traditional, smaller versions, which produced 7x5inch prints. Felix had to kneel up to get to the right eye level for his pic – and while he was doing so I snapped a couple of candid pix. He will hate that I photographed him without him knowing it, so am I morally right to do so? It’s a tough one – I know I’d hate it.

As my son enters into the twilight world of teenage insecurity, I’m sure he, like me, doesn’t see and appreciate his own beauty, and that’s probably why he constantly asks me to erase the pictures I’ve taken of him. I won’t though – I want him to know that he is beautiful and amazing, if only he’d open his eyes to it. A lesson there for me too I think.

Sunny Day

only cloud in the sky

It was nice today, wasn’t it? This series of pictures was taken today in my back garden. It’s a rather unloved place; it lacks order or definition. But on a day like today it is a great place to hang out.

Eldest son and his dad spent the previous night in Hurcott Woods on a survival adventure with Wyre Forest’s rangers. The boy came back a man; full of tales of derring do, tree felling, sleeping on a bed of ferns under a hastily constructed shelter, burning sausages and fighting off bats and mice.

By the time they dragged their exhausted bodies homeward this morning, me and littlest were already engaged in our own battle against the encroaching weeds and ivy that have joined forces to strangle the life out of anything remotely recognisable as a flower in the back garden.

Three hours, two tip runs, busted nails and hedge-backwards hair later, and I was ready to down tools. It looked alright. I probably won’t do any gardening for another two months, but at least today we got to enjoy freshly mown lawn, tidy beds and neatly coiled hosepipe.

Watching the kids squealing in and out of the paddling pool and playing tig; and joining in with the lego-building and odd game of tennis; got me all nostalgic. This was what I used to do when I was a kid, when the sun shone and the summer holidays stretched endlessly ahead – it is what I hope my grandkids will do too. We had nowhere to be, noone to see – just a lovely simple day. The tunes we put on reflected the nostalgic mood – Cafe Bleu, Boat to Bolivia, Architecture and Morality, Rattlesnakes – interspersed with some Nick Drake and Scott Matthews. As I said, very chilled, very simple.

Getting my shit together

It’s been  ages since I blogged. In fact, funnily enough, my absence coincided with starting a new job. Mmm – odd that.

There just aren’t enough hours in the day any more. I used to have time to decide not to clean the bathroom and go and do something more exciting instead; now that choice has gone.

I used to have time to stop and chat – now I always seem to be rushing off somewhere. I used to have time to go for long walks and to take photos and to just do stuff because the sun was shining. I used to be able to take on work projects I liked and ignore stuff I didn’t. Now I have annoying “commitments” all week round. S’not fair. It’s like being a growed up.

The great news is, though, I think this is short lived pain; of that I am sure. Starting a new job inevitably involves upheaval and working too many hours; now I’ve got things a bit more sussed this should ease off a bit. Hopefully a bit of routine will return to my life and I’ll find time for the lovely stuff again soon. If not, well, I’ll just quit.

In the meantime I’m blessed with an amazing family who make sure I don’t let it all get too much. Here are three of them – Richy, Felix and Oscar. They make me smile all the time; they love me and I bloody adore them. They are gorgeous, even with a distorting wide angle lens…

Just relax, take it easy, you’re still young…

Son one

Son two – “that was AWESOME”

My boys. Still so young, but growing up fast. Too fast. One of the reasons I take so many photos of them, to their complete and utter dismay, is that they are so beautiful, and pure, and innocent. One day they probably won’t be (innocent that is). But until then I do my best every day to celebrate their childish ways.

Just before these pix were taken, on the beach at Woolacombe, eldest was in the doghouse. He’d challenged his dad’s authority – again – and been dealt an appropriate punishment (no swingboat ride, no icecream). The day’s not too far off when punishments of this sort just will not cut it. When the arguments are long, and loud, and involve tears and breaking things. We’ve already had some taster sessions. He is stubborn, and refuses to take the easy option. Just like his dad. There will be trouble ahead.

But until then we will revel in his cuteness. In those wobbly teeth, and band of freckles which burst out, like snowdrops, at the first sign of spring and sunshine.

His little brother has it easy. He can’t do much wrong right now. We try not to let him get away with anything, but he makes it hard with his ready laugh and cheeky wit.

These photos were taken after a particularly exhilarating bodyboarding session. Littlest boy had taken a full head dunking dive off the board. As he surfaced, I ran to him to ask if he was all right. “That,” he declared, “was AWESOME! Can I go again?” and off he shot, back into the waves.

Big brother was equally happy. Staying close to shore is not his thing anymore; he likes to paddle out to the furthest surfers, in deep water, waiting to catch the big one. Time after time he misses the wave – then he catches one just right and swoops into shore. Less effusive than his brother, this grin captures the ride’s awesomeness all the same.

What a great time of their lives. But I wouldn’t hold back time, even if I could. I can’t wait to see what kind of men they turn into.

Black and white and red all over

 

 

 

Tree shadow, white wall and scooter boy

Well, what a week or so that was. It started with a job interview and ended with a canalside walk in the sunshine.

Before I get started, I warn you that I fear this is going to be one of those revelatory blogs. I’ve been drinking coffee with the odd drambuie liqueur, don’t feel like bed, do feel like chatting. Everyone else in my family is asleep. The laptop and this blog will have to suffice.

So, I’ll roll back 10 days to a job interview – my first proper one for a decade or so. I worried about what to wear, what to say, what to do with my hands.

The interview was held in the building where, as a young wannabe reporter 20 years or more earlier, I had turned up to try to land a place on one of the country’s best training courses. The sliding doors were still in place. Behind the desk was the same receptionist. And greeting me at the interview was someone who had worked alongside me all those years ago. He was the boss now. I couldn’t help joking about something that had happened two decades earlier. He didn’t laugh.

Anyway, the interview resulted in a job offer. It wasn’t exactly my dream job, but over the course of the next few days I got to really like the idea. In fact, I decided it was not just a job I wanted; it was the only thing I needed to make my life complete.

In fact, I decided the only thing stopping me accepting the job was my family circumstances. Curse them. For a few days I felt resentful and bitter. My ambition was being thwarted by my kids, without them even knowing about it. I’m ashamed to say I think I was even a bit mean to them as a result – older son would certainly argue I was a bit strict when on Thursday I banned him from riding his bike for a week for “being sullen”.

It took a while to work this out of my system. Even on Friday I was still in two minds about what to do. I knew there were genuine practical difficulties that would be extremely tough to overcome. The job would involve a two hour round trip every day. My hubby works over an hour away, and we have no family living nearby.

In fact there were more good reasons for turning it down than accepting it. Top of the list was the fact that I’d only wanted a part time position, which was not on the table.

Then I learned some terrible news and some worse news.

Someone I know and like (I’m reluctant to call her a friend only because we know each other purely in a professional capacity, but I know she is someone I’d like to have as a friend) was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is young and fit and gorgeous. It is a cruel and horrid disease.

The news has made me more determined than ever to do my little tiny bit to help find a cure or prevent more women (and men) suffering. I’m proud to be “walking the walk” by taking part in the London Moonwalk in May, with all money raised supporting breast cancer charities and hospitals. It’s a 26 mile night walk. I am halfway through my training regime and woefully under prepared but this recent news has made me more determined than ever to knuckle down. After all, a few blisters and aching bones are nothing compared to what cancer sufferers have to put up with. Feel free to support my efforts if you can…http://www.walkthewalkfundraising.org/blister_sisters

Then on Friday night I had a really vivid, bad dream. I woke up feeling really sad; at some point in my dream someone close to me died. I didn’t know who or how but it was a thought which stayed with me when I woke. I remember I posted a status update to this effect on my Facebook page on Saturday morning.

Two hours later my mum called to tell me my dad’s lovely cousin, Rachel (known as Ray), had died that morning. Ray had been hospitalised with a serious bout of pneumonia and pleurisy before Christmas. We exchanged emails and commented to each other on Facebook, keeping up a regular dialogue. She had suffered a lot in recent years with illnesses, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, but remained positive, upbeat and smiling throughout. She was the chronicler of my dad’s family history, the keeper of the flame…and suddenly, that morning, she was gone.

It is a terribly selfish thing to say, but her death helped me to see sense; to see the future I really wanted for myself and my family. This is nothing to do with sacrificing my own ambitions for my kids – I am horribly ambitious in some ways and determined to achieve success in my own right. But not at the expense of all the things that already make sense in my life; of all the things that already work well; and most of all of the precious time I get to spend with people who really matter.

So, I’ve turned the job down. It was never going to work; and the moment I pressed the send button on the email about my decision I felt relieved, rather than regretful.

Along the way between interview and today the muddy waters that have been swirling around me for months have suddenly cleared. For the first time in ages I realise what I want and how I’m going to try to achieve it. So thanks to everyone whose comments of support helped me along the way…you did help, enormously.

And so to that canalside walk earlier today. It was a simple stroll in the winter sunshine. The sky was a beautiful clear blue, like a Mediterranean sea. Trees were reflected in the still canal. I walked hand in hand with my lovely family, feeling the rays on my face. My heart was smiling. A corner had been turned.

White Blue

Triumph of Good over Evil

Words of a poet

“For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothing.”

Edmund Burke didn’t actually say this quote famously attributed to him. What he actually said was more profound:

“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

But nevertheless he is quoted thus in the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. You would think they would know better. But I digress. This is not a blog about dodgy quotations.

Yesterday I visited London with my family, a half-term day return trip by train. It was a really lovely, if exhausting, day. We had nine hours clear in London, bookended by two 3-hour train rides.

We had hoped to take the kids to the new Dr Who Experience at Olympia but left it too late to book tickets. It was opening week after all, so not surprisingly there was no space to be had.

Instead we decided to head for the Science Museum, and booked an afternoon IMAX 3D movie all about space and the Hubble. That left us a couple of hours free for sight-seeing. On the way down, I think somewhere around Cradley Heath (home of Green Teeth Keith (long story)), my elder son asked if we could go to the Imperial War Museum.

“Why?” we asked, surprised mainly because of our son’s non-aggressive, confrontation-hating tendencies. “Well, I really like learning about war and I think it would be good.” So that’s where we agreed to head.

We looked at tanks, and guns, and planes, and more guns, and rockets. We climbed into a World War 1 trench (incredibly good; even smelled dirty and sweaty and stale and felt oppressive and scary) and followed an interactive trail about the causes of WWII. Then we saw a sign for the Holocaust Exhibition, on the top floor. “Not recommended for children under 14”, it said. Elder son, aged 10, asked if he could go anyway.

“It might be quite harrowing. It is about a period of history and events that are pretty shocking. Are you sure you want to go?” I asked. “Yeah – we’ve done Anne Frank at school, mum. I know all about it.”

The next half hour was fascinating, and horrifying, and informative, and gruesome. We saw the rise of Hitler; we saw footage of the Nuremberg Rally; we saw Hitler Youth uniforms and more swastikas than the BNP dream of. Elder son drank it all in.

We saw the beginning of Jewish persecution. We saw a simple yet fascinating film on the deeply held anti-Semitism of Christians through history.

We saw the slow but inevitable march towards Kristallnacht. It all starts innocuously, with silly insults, and exclusion, and book burning, and laws that can be dressed up as practical but which are truly hate-riven.

“Where one burns books one will, in the end, burn people.” Heinrich Heine, German-Jewish poet, 1797-1856.

We watched sad and yet heroic interviews with Jews who survived the onslaught. All of it in a hushed, whispering atmosphere, everywhere gently lit to ensure our focus was solely on the pictures and videos on the walls around us.

Next we found ourselves in a mock-up of a train carriage, just like the ones used to transport milllions of Jews to the concentration camps.

One of my abiding memories will be a simple graph, depicting how the “final solution” was an interwoven collaboration of transport, building companies, the utilities, nazi governors in nations across Eastern Europe, the SS and the German army. They were all in on it. This was no forced brutality by a strong minority; this was a majority collusion.

Then came the final, most intense assault on our senses. Auschwitz, in tiny model form. All white. No colour, in keeping with the sombre mood.

We imagined, and saw in miniature, the families departing the crowded trains into the cold air; the last heart-breaking separation of men and women and children; the final long walk. At the last the tiny figures head underground, into the gas chambers.

All the way through the exhibition I kept asking elder son: “Do you want to carry on?”

Around him were repeated images of naked body upon naked body in mass graves. An iconic image of a Jewish man, gun at his head, kneeling on the edge of a mass grave, drew a gasp from him. “That man’s about to be shot dead, isn’t he?”

But while I didn’t want him to be traumatised, there was something about me that willed him to see it through to the end.

Along the way we talked a little about what we saw and felt; about how horrendously cruel humans can be to each other; how easy it can be for people to go along with the herd out of fear of reprisal or out of a desire to fit in; how wrong it is to judge people on the colour of their skin, or their religion, or their background.

My son will undoubtedly grow up with prejudices, and beliefs that are based on things he has been told by the media, by his teachers, by his pals and by us, his parents. He will probably be mean to some people. He will almost certainly experience hatred, and anger, and envy, and every other negative emotion. He will experience bullying, either as a giver or receiver. It’s all part of human nature.

But I’m really glad he both wanted to, and seemed to understand and learn from, his exposure to the Holocaust, even the sanitised version he saw yesterday. I just hope it doesn’t give him too many nightmares.

Incidentally, I told one relative I had taken him to this exhibition, and was asked why I would want him to see that. “He’s too young for things like that. Why take away his innocence?” Was I right? I think I was – but maybe not? Perhaps at 10 he is too young to know the horrors man can inflict on fellow man.

If it helps, he spent the afternoon marvelling at the wonders of the natural world and the fantastic things man has done and is capable of doing for each other, courtesy of the wonderful Science Museum. He got to see the life of an astronaut, to travel through Space with Hubble, to fly an aeroplane and to gun down bad pollutants in the atmosphere to preserve our climate.

I hope it provided a nice balance – the inhumanity that man is capable of, contrasted with the incredible good man can do, and teh miracle of life and the universe.

Standing in the Sun

Boys at war

This photo just about sums up my two boys in an instant. They are play-fighting with sticks – but in this moment their personalities shine through.

Littlest boy is the fierce aggressor; leaping in, taking a gamble, leaving himself open to a clever cut-and-thrust, but daring to go for it all the same. This is the boy who likes karate, running fast and getting stickers; who laughs long, loud and openly; who has a tendency to laziness; who is the leader of his little gang of boys at school, pushing them to be different (and sometimes naughty).

Big brother steps back and out of the line of attack. He’s a natural defender; a strategic thinker, rather than impulsive actor; the one who has a distaste for violence and aggression generally. He likes solving puzzles, reading books, running fast and getting unconditional praise; he responds to the slightest slight or the most constructive criticism as if he has been felled by a brutal swordsman. He is caring and sensitive and funny; he is also animated about his pain, emotional or physical.

They are very different but adore each other; I adore them equally. They are my best work. Two different sides of the same coin.

I like how the sun shines on them both in this picture – littlest boy has his back to it but it still swathes him in light, while big bro turns away from it, towards the shadows, but is still caught in its rays. I’ve also included pictures of them taken separately, also yesterday (below). What a pair of beauties (though I appreciate I am hugely biased.)

I was discussing the other day why I blog. One of the reasons I mentioned was my desire to keep a diary of sorts of my life and innermost thoughts, as a kind of legacy for my kids. It’s also a way to let them know (as I do every day anyway) how amazingly proud of them both I am, of how much they are loved. Thanks boys, for being just the way you are.