Posts Tagged ‘ Parenting ’

Three years later…

We’re always saying how time flies (we being middle aged people). Digging around in this old blog has brought that into sharp focus. It’s been three years since my last post confession, though as I sit here with the fire burning low and the gentle sound of  The National playing on Spotify and a glass of merlot to hand it feels like I’ve never been away.

And yet, and yet…life has moved on; leaped on. I have a teenager in the house. My baby boy will turn nine before the year is out. I am a co-director in a proper company and am working close on full time. We have today been visited by a retirement planner and have discussed aggressive pensions and venture capital. My hair is less glossy, my tummy thinks I’m having a baby, well, twins. I have friends of my own (not my parents) who are in their 50s and 60s. I’m in a choir, I enjoy a knit and a natter, and I frequently forget that the 1980s is a foreign country not just to my children but also to co-workers. I’ve discovered Hendricks gin with slivers of cucumber and get cross with regret at all those years drinking the far inferior Gordon’s and lemon. When I go to pubs I rate them on the availability of seats and whether the music is suitably in the background, rather than how busy and noisy they are. Fuck, I’ve even started listening to The National.

I’ve also started enjoying books again. One of three I’ve currently got on the go is Andrew Marr’s A short book about drawing, which is more an instruction manual. It’s a really sweet book, particularly when set against Marr’s recent stroke and his rehabilitation, which he says drawing has helped inform and inspire. He’s not a great artist but that’s why I especially like it; it gives me heart. I like taking on new hobbies and interests and drawing is one of the newest. I’ll see how long the drawing thing lasts, vying as it is for my attention with so many other distractions. andrew-marr I don’t think life has ever been this busy, but also so interesting.

Tomorrow is fairly typical of life at the moment…I’ll be up about 645, prepare breakfast, get eldest to his 730 train, do littlest’s lunch and help him get ready before the school run, followed by a quick dash to the physio to be reduced to tears by his deep massage on my poorly plantar and told off for not keeping my foot in a bucket of ice or resting it like he’s ordered.

Then back in time to make a 10am call to a designer who’s got to try to make sense of my lengthy notes and scribbles as we create a new website together for a client. I’ll just have time to make quick calls to the plumber and tiler to book them in to finish off the bombsite that is the bathroom before dashing to a school where I’m putting together a communications strategy and a school magazine.

I’ll spend around three hours with them before dashing off to an emergency dental appointment, then back to the office to put together some of the reams of new content needed for the aforementioned website.

Collect the kids from train station and childminder, back home, chat to them while preparing tea, eat together, then try to get a bit of glossing done to advance the bathroom project. Once the kids are in bed the hubby will hopefully be back from a day in Stafford with another client, and after a quick catch up with him I’ll be back to website content writing. I’ll ring my mum and dad for a catch up, and suddenly remember I’ve yet to book a Mother’s Day meal somewhere and everywhere will be full, so everyone will end up here, without a functioning bathroom. Oh joy.

Despite appearances, I’m really not complaining about my lot, far from it. Both our household incomes depend on us making a success of our business, so being busy is necessary. Thankfully all the work we are doing at the moment is enjoyable and creative, and we are working with and for some amazing people and organisations. I love nearly everything on this busy little list but I do long sometimes for the luxury of empty days. They will no doubt come back soon enough…

So, time for bed. Here’s a lovely night-night tune…it’s from a new LP from Johnny Cash of rediscovered work from the 1980s. This is a top tune, beautiful and strong and poignant. Enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwRScXqKoXY

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“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…”

My son, this morning, on his bike.

According to most recent figures, more than 20 children are killed every year in England & Wales while out cycling. While this represents untold tragedy and heartache for every family, this statistic has bizarrely cheered me up a bit. I reckon it means the chances of my little man joining them is pretty remote, right? Right?

This week my elder son, aged 10, has started cycling to school. We only live just over half a mile from school, so up to now we have made the journey on foot.

But since Monday my son and his classmates have been undergoing cycle proficiency training each morning; this clearly can’t be done without the aid of a bike, so it makes sense for him to cycle.

The first morning I made him wheel his bike the first 200 yards to the main road, where I tentatively saw him across to the central reservation and then on to the other side, before watching in horror as he wobbled on his way, pedalling furiously to get up some speed. High sided lorries whizzed by just feet away, making his wobble all the more pronounced.

He’s actually quite a competent cyclist. We regularly head off for family bike rides along the canal or along cycle trails, and he likes riding round and round the garden, leaving a muddy trail in  his wake.

But he rarely rides on the roads, so is somewhat lacking in street skills and seems blissfully unaware of possible hazards.

It’s hardly his fault.

When we were kids we would tear around the neighbourhood on our bikes in packs of up to 20, whizzing on and off pavements, riding no-handed or doing wheelies to our hearts’ content. Footwear of choice was trainers (winter) or flipflops (summer). Helmets were unheard of. Lights and reflectors were for show, not for safety.

No such fun for my son and his mates.

I’m really trying to give him more freedom; I truly believe that it’s only possible for anyone to know how to deal with risk and life’s ups and downs by experiencing them and learning how to negotiate them.

But it’s hard, isn’t it? I do understand why my fellow parents are so reluctant. Everywhere you look there are warnings, dire ones at that, about the risks facing kids today. It’s enough to make you want to wrap them up in cotton wool and never let them out of your sight.

Anyway, I’m braving it. I know he’s going to grow up sometime – I guess learning how to negotiate a quarter mile of A-road on two wheels is just going to be the start of his journey to manhood.

The picture above was taken on the field next to his school, as he messed around with his friends before the bell went this morning. I caught up with him after walking the same route with my younger son. It was a lovely frosty morning and it was good to see him having fun. But mostly it was good to know he’d made it in one piece. I could breath again. At least, until tomorrow…

THE JOYS OF RUNNING AND OTHER STORIES

Back in the day, sometime in the late 1970s to early 80s, I was quite a good little middle distance runner.

My heyday lasted just a year or so, when I was about 12 or 13. I was Shropshire county cross country champion, reached regional finals for 800m and 1500m, ran regularly for my local club (Shrewsbury & Atcham AC) and had an 800m PB of 2 mins 16 secs. Now I doubt I could break four minutes.

In those days parental involvement was muted. Any folks who showed a keen interest in their child’s athletics development were viewed as pushy, needy and, frankly, pretty wierd.

My mum and dad, like most of my friends’ parents, supported me by making sure I had the kit I needed, ferrying me to and from events when needed, giving me entry fees for races and asking me how my training was going. The last thing I wanted back then was for my parents to hang around while I was at training sessions with my friends, or for them to get involved in coaching or transport. Running was My Thing, something I did that was separate from school and family life.

Despite this adolescent insouciance, I recall with great clarity every single time my folks turned up at a race meeting to cheer me on. It only happened a handful of times, but obviously their presence meant a huge amount to me, even if at the time I would have died rather than tell them so.

Now, as a parent myself, I can’t imagine being anything other than cheerleader-in-chief, photographer extraordinaire and manager supreme, should my boys discover their passion lies with a particular sport. I will be right there, every step of the way, just as I am with most anything they do. It would be frowned upon these days to be anything less.

I wonder if I would have shown the same passion back in the 70s and 80s, when parental involvement was not encouraged like it is now. I like to think so – I believe it is a Very Good Thing to share in and get involved in your children’s activities.

But there is a fine line between encouragement and being overbearing; between supporting your child and putting undue pressure on them; between helping them and doing the work for them. (I also feel for the poor sods running the activities, usually as volunteers. Who’d choose to be a gym coach or kids’ football team manager or Scout leader these days, faced with all those beady eyes scrutinising their every move and hanging on their every word?)

I know lots of parents who feel under enormous pressure to “conform” and be fascinated by every little thing their child does and says. It’s not good enough these days to provide them with the opportunities – we have to share in and endure them as well. And if you suggest that, actually, it’s pretty boring to sit through another choir practice or judo session, you may as well sign the kids over to social services.

I wasted an hour of my life yesterday attending an information session for new parents at the primary school where my youngest will start in September. While our little darlings were getting to know each other and their teacher, we were herded into the school hall to take part in some maths activities designed to help us help our children to master numbers.

Now, I think activities like this are really useful and full marks to the school for organising them (there are two more to come!) But having previously taken part in similar sessions for my firstborn, and having been a volunteer TA at the school working with children on this very topic, there was absolutely no need for me to stay. I could instead have used the time to pop home, have a cuppa, do some paperwork, ironing, anything. However, I felt compelled to stay, to show that I was a SUPPORTIVE PARENT, and to make sure my name was on The List. (You know, the one every teacher keeps, listing the parents who give a damn. Being on The List gives little Jonny a good chance of getting picked to be in the photo shoot in the local newspaper or of landing good parts in the school play. Come on, you know it’s true.)

I’d like to get back to running now, which was intended to be the theme of today’s blog. See how my little brain works, leaping from subject to subject in the blink of any eye? Try being in my mind for a day, it’s fascinating.

So, by the time I turned 15 I had hung up my spikes. I didn’t even go running for pleasure – I just called a complete halt. I went from running three or four times a week, plus races, to nothing. Nada. Zilch. I’d replaced the joys of pounding the streets with hanging about on them; swapped making myself breathless through endeavour for filling my lungs with cigarette smoke in a quest to be cool.

Over the last 10 years I have dabbled again in this most simple of exercises. Like my weight, my interest in running has yo-yo’ed dramatically over the past decade or so. I have completed a few 10k races, red faced but respectably not last; a few more 5k events; managed two or three triathlons;  and even entered a half marathon before pulling out a few weeks before due to illness (and lack of training if truth be told.)

Earlier this year I decided I needed some support to get the most out of running, so signed up to a beginners’ course for runners offered by Kidderminster & Stourport AC, from their fabulous new base at Stourport Sports Club.

I turned up on the first night, with some trepidation, to meet a roomful of like minded men and women. About half were fit enough to join one of the regular running groups immediately; the rest of us would be put through our paces more gently.

We were all manner of shapes and sizes. I’m always amazed to discover that people who are thinner and younger than me can’t always run as far as me, but that’s how it turned out.

Anyway, in exchange for £20 I enjoyed three sessions of running a week for eight weeks, led by Theresa and Pam, a funny and encouraging pair of coaches. I also go to meet some absolutely fab new friends and, perhaps most importantly, rediscovered my love of running. It’s not helped me shed weight yet, but I think that will only come once I stop eating all the pies.

My new interest in running caused me to revisit the work of Haruki Murakami. Now I’ve loved the work of Murakami for years – his charming and gentle fantasies, his quirky view of the world, his strange, introverted characters and beautifully described scenes resonate with me like no other novelist. Murakami is also a lifetime runner. He has completed more than 25 marathons, several extreme long distance runs and, now in his 60s, continues to find solace and pleasure in running.

He has written a fabulous book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is an absolute joy. In it he explores the idea of running as something spiritual, something other than a means for keeping fit.

He describes how running is a skill that must be learned, practised and honed; something that requires inner strength and persistence. As someone seeking to improve on these aspects of my own personality, it resonates particularly powerfully.

Running is presented as a simple exercise that can be done anywhere, without equipment or preparation; but which somehow embraces all of the difficulties and challenges of life – the need for self discipline, for overcoming lack of willpower, the need for consistency, for being single-minded in pursuit of a goal.

I love Murakami’s philosophy of life. He sees it as something simple that is made overly complex. He determines to live his simple life simply – running every day, writing every day, spending time with his loved ones, pursuing his goals, being alone when he feels like it, not wasting time with people he doesn’t care about.

Running fascinates me. I like how it works its magic – how the act of running can help me turn trouble and confusion in my mind into clarity.

When I hit the road, get into a gentle rhythm and my breathing and footfalls come together in harmony, I develop uncanny focus. The insurmountable becomes achieveable, I spot a way round a sticking point. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always like that. Running can be annoying, frustrating and very painful. Sometimes I drag myself round the block and come back wondering what the hell I was doing. But it’s worth it for those special moments and for the way it can make you feel so good.

When my running is going well, I’m flying along, seeming to barely touch the pavement. I feel just as I guess I did when I was 13 and loved the sensation of running. It’s a great way to feel alive, fit and healthy.

When it goes badly it reminds me that I’m out of shape and not getting any younger. But, as Murakami so masterfully describes it: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” A good philosophy for life too.

I’m off for a run now…look out for me!

PUGIL STICKS – MY FOUR YEAR OLD’S ELECTION REMEDY

My four year old has an amazing brain. Like a sponge, he seems to suck in everything he sees and hears, then regurgitates it all in a confused splurge.

This often expresses itself in bizarre imagined violence or threats which verge on the psychotic, which of course causes me untold worry. Only last night he threatened to squeeze his brother’s head until his brain oozed out of his eyes.

I was reading a lovely bedtime story to him on Thursday – the fabulous The Snail and the Whale.  At the end of this joyous tale of friendship and derring-do I asked him if he had any questions about the book. He looked thoughtful for a moment before asking: “Which would be the worst way to die – a chick hatching in your stomach which pecked a hole through your heart; or having a spoke which gave you a fire in your brain?” We decided death by chick was probably the most vile, though might also be quite ticklish.

Where all these thoughts originate is anyone’s guess. I can already hear the moral majority decrying the fact that I allow him to watch TV programmes aimed at older children. Horrible Histories, an absolutely brilliant CBBC programme, is a show he watches regularly with his brother, and which includes features about bizarre deaths and scary battles from times of old. The Simpsons also features scenes which are decidedly unsuitable for a pre-schooler – particularly the carnage inflicted on Itchy by Scratchy. And that Government stroke advert has clearly had an impact, even if my son mishears it as a part of a wheel.

But apart from these rather worrying observations, he also demonstrates a fabulous knack for seeing through complicated scenarios and coming up with a simple solution.

Which brings me onto the election, and specifically the hung parliament outcome. Before the election my four year old asked what was happening. In my best teacher-speak, I told him it was called a general election and it was like a big football match. There were three main teams – the reds, the blues and the yellows – and each one had a captain who wanted to become prime minister. “All the grown ups in the country will vote and the captain with the most votes becomes the prime minister,” I explained confidently.

The day after the election, he asked me if the reds (his favourite colour) had won. I explained that none of the teams had won – well, the blues kind of won, but only just. Now all the captains were having a chat to try to decide who would become the prime minister, and the blues and the yellows or the reds and the yellows might join together to become the…well, the purples or something.

At this point he did his thoughtful face again. “They should just have a fight. On a giant platform up in the sky so everyone could see them. And they could have huge sticks and hit each other with them until one of them fell off. The one who fell off would be splatted. Then the winner would become prime minister. And he might use his laser eyes to help the other one come back to life.”

“Erm, a bit like Gladiators you mean, with pugil sticks?” I asked him.

As I avidly follow the news and regularly update my Guardian and Sky News apps on my phone, waiting hopefully for any sign of a Lab-LibDem pact, I can’t help thinking his idea makes a lot of sense. After all, we want our prime minister to be agile, strong willed, sure-footed and fearless – all traits required to win the pugil stick battle on Gladiators. How about it, Clegg, Cameron and Brown?

On the same theme, my fellow Wyre Forest inhabitants have helped turn the entire county of Worcestershire a fetching shade of blue. We now have a new representative in Parliament – the wonderfully coiffured Conservative Mark Garnier (“because he’s worth it”). His election marks the end of the Independent era of Dr Richard Taylor, swept to power on a wave of local anger about the downgrading of Kidderminster Hospital back in 2001.

I’m not entirely clear how much Dr Taylor has achieved for the constituency since then, though I’m sure there are plenty of people who will tell me. But he seemed to be a thoroughly decent man, the type of person who would do his utmost to help deserving people with a problem to solve, and who genuinely wanted the best for the folk of Wyre Forest. He demonstrated no clear allegiance to one party or another, instead weighing up each issue in turn, and was one of only a handful of MPS who emerged unscathed and with his reputation untainted by the expenses scandal. I imagine he is sorry to be missing out on the current shenanigans, when I’m sure he would have been courted by both Tories and Labour desperate to count on his allegiance.

Now he’s off into retirement – but if he’s ever short of something to do, he could always help my son lobby for political reform. Together they could devise a sports-day style event for the next election. All the MPs could hang out together in their team shirts in huddles around a windswept athletics track, while their aides handed out jaffa cakes and orange slices. They’d all get a medal, wherever they finished – after all, it wouldn’t do to be too competitive. Sounds like a giggle. And of course it would all culminate in that face-off for the PM’s job. Hang Tough, anyone?

My four year old models the outfit all MPs could don for the election sports day

Hello world! Welcome to my first blog.

I have two adorable sons, both with wildly different personalities. I’ll be asking for your advice on my “evil genius” younger son another time (is it normal for four year olds to threaten to slice your tummy with a laser gun?) but the topic for today’s blog is my eldest.

Aged nine, he is growing up into a really lovely little fella.

But he’s what my granddad would have called “a bit soft”.

He can be brought to tears easily by a harsh word, thinks Dale Winton is ace and one of his favourite Christmas presents was tickets to see Hairspray, the Musical.

He hates being “scruffy”, doesn’t like football because it’s too rough, is kind to his little brother, thinks the merest scratch is a medical emergency, likes to make sure there are candles on the table for tea, and still loves nothing more than climbing into our bed in a morning for a cuddle.

He takes the smallest criticism from any quarter to heart and thinks the world will end if he ever “gets his name on the board” (a warning used at his school for bad behaviour).

He’s not a wimp – far from it. He has scaled Snowdonia and other mountains several times, swims long distances like a fish, likes rock climbing, and will have a go at pretty much anything.

So why do I feel that I’m somehow failing to prepare him well for life? Should I be doing more to “toughen him up”, to give him a harder edge, to prepare him for life’s slings and arrows?

My hubby adores him as much as I do, but gets particularly frustrated at our son’s dramatic reaction to physical pain.

He only has to knock his knee or stub a toe and he reacts like he’s been shot and/or tortured! He howls in pain, sometimes throws himself down dramatically, and generally makes a big show. We have tried being sympathetic, but now we just roll our eyes at him and carry on with whatever we are doing, much to his annoyance.

If I ought to be doing more to harden him up (and I’m far from convinced that I should) how would I go about it? I don’t want to be mean to him, or undermine his self esteem by somehow suggesting he should be different to the way he is.

I would be so proud should he stay just the way he is into adulthood – a gentle, sensitive, kind, funny man.

It’s just that I also want to make sure he is robust enough to deal with life’s hardships when they come. Am I wrong to assume that because he is so sensitive he is also lacking in mental toughness and fortitude? And can mental strength be taught anyway?

Blimey, that’s a lot of questions! Your thoughts would be much welcomed!

Finally, as a case in point – last night he was offered the chance of chopping firewood in the garden and then watching Star Wars with his dad, or coming with me to watch a family friend perform in Carousel. Needless to say, we both woke up with the words of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” still ringing in our ears.