Saturday, 2 September 2017

Callum's Unschool Report 2017

Dear Callum,

As I just started to write I had a vision of reading this to you when it's done and how excited you'll be to hear it and I thought, doesn't that just sum you up in a nutshell! You are energy and excitement personified! You wake up in the morning full of joy and looking to find more, and so mostly you do! You are far too big and beautiful to squeeze into a few hundred words and so I won't even try to fully capture you, but I'm writing this anyway, so that we will have a precious record of you at 7 years and 4 months old, and so that you will have an insight into the things I was thinking when I watched you!

I'm deliberately writing your 'Report' first because in so many things I feel like you come last, or wait the longest. You have been blessed with an extremely easy-going nature, and from a very young age you began to give-way to your far less easy-going brothers. I've kept a close eye on this over the years, making sure you're truly happy and comfortable in your generosity, reminding you that saying no is ok, and ensuring that I don't take advantage of your nature myself in order to have an easier ride from time-to-time. You love to see other people happy, and I often think this has a lot to do with why you are so happy yourself. You are patient and forgiving, and in our busy home of complex dynamics this is a real gift - you are often an example to all of us!

You are also very sensitive and emotional, and this was one of the reasons that Unschooling felt like a better choice for you than school when we made the decision not to send you 3 years ago. Your spirit might have been easily broken at the age of 4, there was a chance you could have conveniently faded into the classroom paintwork in an attempt to keep everyone happy, but I know you and I know that's not what you need to thrive. The other thing of course is that you are almost constantly moving and this is not something that can simply be remedied by asking you to be still! Your body has a real need to move and as I've watched you grow I have come to see what an integral part of your learning this is. It has been less obvious to me how you are learning than it has  been with your brothers, and I've had to watch more closely and exercise a bit of faith! This has been a useful learning curve for me - I love to study, observe and reflect on how things are unfolding, but it hasn't always been possible to do this with you in the same way! You seem to absorb things in a way I struggle to describe or understand, but nonetheless you continue to thrive and expand and the faith I have put in your innate ability to learn has always paid off. You are like a sponge and your memory is awesome, so watching documentary style TV shows whilst standing on your head seems to be a particularly good learning mechanism for you!

You love to dance and make noise and you've been attending dance classes for the past year now which has been a great source of fun for you. You've taken part in several shows and workshops and I've seen through this both how eager you are to please, and how anxious you are about making mistakes. You like to address things from a logical perspective, so will often talk about building adrenalin in the run up to a performance, and describe how that makes you feel. You are so full of character that it can be easy to overlook the emotional side of you, but we make a lot of effort not to. You have been proud of your ability to perform and cope with nerves, and the rest of us have loved watching you flourish on the stage. I also love the dancing you bring to our our trips to the our trips to the supermarket....I could go on!

You are a natural scientist and engineer, and you are fantastic at theorising and explaining how things work. This, paired with your brilliant memory means that you can easily take knowledge and apply it to new situations. Just a couple of days ago we were in some wartime tunnels chatting about how the electric lights might be powered, and you told me how the bulbs were likely dim because there were so many of them on the same circuit sharing the same power source. I remembered a brief, short experiment you had done with an electronics kit a while ago and guess this is where you had got this idea. Whilst some people seem to need to learn the same thing in many different ways or repeatedly over a period of time, knowledge just seems to stick with you! It has become a joke between us how many times I say in amazement "Callum! How did you know that?"

You are enthusiastic and open to new experiences. You love visiting new places, and seeing new things! You are particularly interested in various types of performance, comedy and nature and wildlife. You are sensual and love whole body experiences! You love being in water and are always the first in the sea - whatever the weather and regardless of swimwear! As a toddler, whenever the paints came out you would always paint yourself, and this has proven a useful preference as you've grown older and been happy for your artistic twin to use you as a canvas for his 'tattoos'! You love practical tasks and outdoor activities - camping and gardening are both big hits with you! You are flamboyant and love to dress up in all sorts of different clothes, and love role-play games with your siblings and friends. Really though, life is all about the possibility of social contact for you - wherever there is the possibility of play with other children, that's where you want to be! Wherever we go everybody knows you are there, which has been difficult for me at times - I like to blend in when I'm out in public - but being dragged outside of my comfort zone has rarely proven to be a bad thing, so I thank you for that!

People really matter to you, and you love very deeply! Your family means the world to you, and nothing gives you more joy than having our house full of people, or celebrating someone's birthday or some other occasion. The two years we were in Sheffield were difficult for you because there were such a lot of people to miss, although now we're home you miss those you met there instead! You remember people you met only briefly years ago and still talk about them and hold them close in your heart. When I told you we'd be going back to camp in the Wye Valley soon, you immediately remembered by name the little boy you'd played with for a few hours there last year, and talked fondly about him. Wherever we go you make friends and get chatting to other adults and children. You are extremely warm and deeply accepting, and I often notice you befriending people who I imagine might struggle with social relationships or making friends. I am in awe of your openness and love for people - my heart is swelling in my chest as I write this and think about how loved and special you make people feel. This gift you have is a gift that the world needs, and I make it my job to protect it and see it safely into adulthood.


I can't pretend I don't sometimes struggle with your energy and exhuberance, the noise and movement that comes with living with you overwhelms me sometimes. But you are gloriously you, and as I grow in making space for you, so I see you growing in understanding me, and the peace and stillness I need. You are naturally good at learning about others and their individual needs, and this makes you a wonderful son, brother and friend.

Your family loves you Callum! You bring joy and energy when the rest of us are flailing, and we're all lucky to know you!

love always, M and D xx


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Joseph reads

Joseph has started to read. A few months ago he couldn't and yet in these past few weeks, seemingly quite suddenly, he can! 

Only a few months back I found myself wishing the whole reading thing would take off for him. Even though he was growing and learning and expanding in all sorts of wonderful ways, I found a part of me that was impatient for him to read and in doing so, found yet another layer of schooled fears that I needed to peel away and dispose of.  Because even though we have been Unschooling for over 4 years, and even though we have seen evidence in our own home time and time again of how effectively children can learn through their own interests and motivation, I'm aware that we live in a culture where reading is equated with intelligence, and where ways of learning that involve reading books are considered superior to those that do not. 

I don't know much about what goes on in school these days, but I do know that A LOT of it in the early years has to do with teaching children to read. I know that whole programmes and strategies are dedicated towards this end.  I know that there are reading books and that going 'up a level' is often a great source of pride and celebration (at least for the parents, and if Facebook is anything to go by!) I know that even by the time you are 5, it is something you can be classed as 'behind' in. This is why I had that moment of doubt this year, because whilst most of the nation's young children are being taught to read, we have chosen to allow our children to learn in their own time, by the means that most makes sense for them, when they are ready, and without being 'taught'.

I didn't pass on my fleeting doubts to Joseph. I did what I always do when a 'wobble' about the processes of natural learning occurs; I told myself to wait 6 months and see how I felt then. Afterall I've done my research. I've read enough about learning without schooling and Radical Unschooling to know that many, many children have learned to read and write without being taught, and that it's not uncommon for perfectly intelligent children to learn anytime up to the age of 14.  So I said thanks but no thanks to the doubt and the fear, and got on with helping Joseph explore all the things he loves. Mostly those things have included but are not restricted to; meeting up with friends, going to forest school, playing role-play games with his brothers, going to sports club, watching his favourite YouTubers, exploring the limits of his body and Gaming with a capital G! This year Joseph has particularly enjoyed online gaming and I think it's here that he found a massive incentive to read because he wants to communicate with other players. We've supported Joseph by reading all the messages he asks us to read, and by writing messages to other players in his words when he wants us to.  Very quickly I noticed that he could read basic messages and write basic responses, but in a fairly limited way.  A few months down the line, and he's reading.

I knew because he came to me with a book and said "I just read this whole book!"  

The following day he said he'd like to read to me, and he read me a book. Fluently!  None of that robotic the. cat. sat. on. the. mat. reading. Just reading! Something has clicked. Whatever it was that needed to fall into place has done so, and its all making sense for him.

In this country, a great deal of emphasis is put on learning to read very young and within the school setting there's a valid reason for this: its efficient time wise. Its easier for teachers with 30 children in a class to teach if those children can read their way through a worksheet. Outside of school there was no such need for us to rush the process. For the past 8 years Joseph hasn't been waiting until he could read, he has been playing and thinking and solving real problems, and using numbers and creating stories and building and doing all sorts of other awesome things. He has never been behind at reading, he just wasn't doing it yet. His body and mind have been busy for 8 years doing all the things they were ready for, and then somewhere in the process of all that, he started reading too!

I've heard that often when kids learn to read without instruction, they don't start with the absolute basics but tend to read in accordance with their verbal skills. This would seem to be true for Joseph; I have heard him read words that he can only read because he uses and understands them, in other words, they are not words you could sound out or even easily guess. He laughs as he reads along, so I know he is engaged with and understands what he is reading. I've seen him correct the tone of his voice according to punctuation, even though he has never had a lesson in what punctuation is. It seems to me that giving him the time and space to develop really great verbal skills has been a very good thing for his reading.

I had been led to believe that certain basic literacy skills are required in order for others to be built on top of them, although I had chosen to disregard this in allowing my children to find their own path to reading. For example you first need to know the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make, and then you need to know the sounds that certain letters make when they are together, and then you can put these sounds together to make words. Joseph can read without having mastered these basics. He can read words in a book that he would not be able to identify the component sounds of. There are letters of the alphabet that he would struggle to name. None of this has stopped him from reading. Something goes on between him and the words that I can't really describe or understand, but that hasn't stopped him reading either ;-)

Of course its not like Ollie and I have done nothing to encourage him to read. We've read to him ever since he was tiny, we've talked and chatted (Ollie probably more than me :-D) we've sung and played silly word games, we've chanted the words poo and bum over and over into amazing poo-bum poems! We've enjoyed language and words in all the forms that the boys access them. We've watched tons of films and TV and talked about and replayed stories. We've played lots of video games, and talked about video games, and dressed-up and pretended to be characters from video games and allowed it all to capture our imagination. We have seen all learning as equal. We did not see Joseph as 'waiting' to read. We have never believed that reading would define his intelligence or that it is any better than any other way of learning, and I think that has helped him to read too. We created a space where reading could happen, and when he was ready, it did.

When Joseph first learnt to ride his bike, hang upside-down from the doorframe and do the monkey bars at the park he was really excited to show us, and he has been really excited to show me he can read too! He has read to me a lot as he enjoys using this new skill, and I have loved seeing the whole thing happen and will watch with interest as it develops. I'm writing this because finding stories of other kids who learned to read without instruction inspired me to give my children the time and space to do this amidst a culture that pushes reading on young children regardless of their readiness. It felt important to add my voice to all those saying that children CAN do this for themselves if given a rich environment and allowed to develop the motivation.  Also, I have three more children who will all find their own way to reading, and at some point I might get nervous and doubt it can happen. I can read this and remind myself to take a deep breath, because it already has!  

If you fancy reading a Psychology Today article about other Unschooled kids who have learned to read without instruction you can do that here.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

While we wait for number 4!

Joseph, Callum and Charlie have been brothers for almost 5 years and in that time have become quite a united force, however they are soon to be joined by a new sibling! On the whole they have all been remarkably relaxed about it and seem pretty excited, particularly Callum who had been wishing in wishing wells for a baby brother or sister for a long time! In fact, I recently heard him tell another home-ed mum that he had wished just the right amount because had he wished too much, I might have had twins again! All of the boys had let us know that they liked the idea of a new baby in the house which was handy, because we did too!

Joseph discovered that I was pregnant when I was only 6 or 7 weeks. I had been experiencing a lot of sickness, and had been prescribed tablets by the GP to stop me vomiting when Joseph overheard a conversation between Ollie and I where 'pregnancy' was mentioned. He asked outright if I was pregnant and we were honest with him, telling him that we hoped I'd be having a baby, but needed to wait until the scan to find out for sure. We asked him not to mention it to anyone until we knew for definite and he was fine about this, chatting to us about it every now and again to say that he really hoped there would be a baby, and that Callum would be soooo happy!

When we showed the boys the scan picture and told them they would all be big brothers they were excited, although it was clearly a lot to take in. Charlie put the scan picture in the bin later that day, but continued to talk happily about a new baby, so we didn't have any major concerns! Soon after he knew there really would be a baby the news began to sink in for Joseph, and he discussed concerns that the baby would break or knock over his toys. He really enjoys setting up battle scenes of various sorts, so I can understand why this was a particular concern for him, although all of the boys have since expressed similar worries. I've tried to reassure them as best I can, letting them know that it will be a while before the baby can move around and that I'll do everything I can to prevent any 'destruction' from happening. We've discussed the spaces throughout the house where we can set their toys up away from a crawling or toddling baby, and the kind of toys we could get for the baby so that they have their own things, while acknowledging that this little person is likely to find their three big brothers and everything they do pretty fascinating! I told them that when Joseph liked to build and Callum and Charlie liked knocking things down, we would sometimes build things especially for them to knock over, and Callum likes the idea of doing this for his little brother or sister!

Callum has been fascinated by my growing body! He is a very tactile and sensual person, and loves to be able to feel and touch my belly. He often gives the bump a massage with some body butter, and the baby 'thanks' him with lots of wriggles and kicks, which has been a lovely way for them to bond. Joseph too has a lot of affection for the bump, hugs it, speaks to it and tells it that he loves it. Being a little older than his brothers, he seems better able to imagine having a baby in the house and shows a lot of excitement. When I was recently sorting through baby clothes we chatted about how there would soon be a baby in the house and he said with real feeling, "We're so lucky!" He recently climbed into bed for a cuddle one morning and was kicked by the baby, then bent down to my belly and told it "I can't wait to meet you!"

With Charlie, things have been a little different, and he seems to have been preparing by becoming a baby himself again! He tells me often that he is my baby, he likes to be cradled and enjoys being treated like a baby, often asking me to feed him for example. None of this has concerned Ollie or I, and we have been happy to play along. Of all the boys, he seems the most likely to feel displaced by a new sibling; he is the third born and the smallest, and despite Charlie being only a minute younger than Callum, Joseph has always perceived him as the youngest. All of the boys enjoy a lot of physical and emotional closeness with me, but whilst Callum and Joseph are increasingly interested in activities that take them away from me for periods of time, Charlie isn't ready to make that kind of separation yet. When Charlie tells other adults that he is a baby they usually respond by telling him that he is a 'big boy' now, and remind him that he is soon to become a big brother. I feel like Charlie feels this all too well, and doesn't need me to remind him. It feels as though he needs to be reassured that he won't be forced into a role he isn't comfortable with before he is ready, and that he won't be turfed out of a position within the family that makes him feel secure. We all know that a huge change is coming and that this will impact all of the boys, but I don't think that reminding Charlie constantly what a big boy he is now would help him ride that change. When we're alone together he talks about being a big brother, about the things he'll show the baby and help them to learn, and he has given me toys he has found around the house that he thinks a baby would like. Charlie is a deep thinker with a vivid imagination, and has shared some lovely realisations. He has talked about how I have two skeletons inside my body, and about how the baby is living underwater. For a couple of months now Charlie has been telling us that he came from the sea, often telling us stories about his life underwater before he came to us, and through this underwater theme I can see that he is already making a connection with his new sibling. He'll often point to me and then the bump saying "I love you, and I love you", and I can see that he understands that this bump is its own person, and is preparing for it to become one. There will no doubt be ups and downs for him along the way as there will for us all as we adapt, but I feel confident that we can ride them together.

'Baby play' has been something that all of the boys have taken part in a lot of lately. They spend a lot of time in imaginary play together anyway, but I've noticed that baby characters have become more of a feature, and that whereas before there was some prestige in taking the role of the character with the most power or influence, there is now competition over who will be the baby! I love that at the age of almost 7 Joseph feels safe to play out these roles at home, and that all the boys are having a chance to explore, think about and experience how life might be for a baby. A baby mammals game has become a particular favourite, whereby I am their animal mother and they pretend to be born before we reenact the likely events in the moments, hours and days afterwards. We've been horses, tigers, cheetahs, rabbits, monkeys, meerkats, wolves, blue whales and moles to name a few! Callum is particularly enthusiastic about this game, and likes to construct a habitat! They tried out being baby sea turtles too, but decided it was less fun because the hatchlings don't ever meet their mothers!


As we've been preparing for the new arrival and increasing amounts of baby paraphernalia has been shipped into the house, the boys have enjoyed trying it out and having a go where they can; laying on play-mats, sitting in slings and even using the Bumbo as a Minecraft helmet! On the whole they seem excited and unphased, although I recall that one day after we'd all been chatting about the baby for a while Charlie became cross and told me that this wasn't his house, and that he needed to go and live in an aquarium (he comes from under the sea after all!) I told him that I love him and would miss him if he went to live somewhere else, so would build him an aquarium to live in at home! He was thrilled with this and hearing it seems to have been enough because so far I haven't had to build one, although of course I remain on standby...(its amazing the things a bunk bed can become with the help of a few blankets!)

Not going to school means that the boys have been more involved in baby preparations and appointments than they would have been otherwise, being present for midwife visits and coming to the chiropractor with me. I think this has helped them to understand what my body is going through and why I'm not able to do as much as usual, and they have been very mindful of helping me when they can. They love to dismantle and tip over sofas to make dens on an almost daily basis, but now do this with thought as to which objects can easily be put back again, waiting until Ollie is home for any major furniture moves! Joseph carries bags for me and brings me glasses of water, and after one busy afternoon at the park which resulted in a lot of aching, I was so well cared for that I could barely be seen under the blankets and cushions they all propped me up and covered me with on the sofa later! They understand that yoga is helpful for me, and are mostly happy for me to disappear for half an hour to go and do some upstairs. They are all old enough and have been involved enough to show a lot of kindness and understanding towards me about this pregnancy, and that, along with not working this time around, has made for a mostly very relaxing few months preparing for this baby.

For Oliver and I, expecting number 4 has been lovely. There's none of the first time 'what kind of parent will I make' anxiety, or worries about how we'll adapt to more than one child. We've been outnumbered by children for almost 5 years and we haven't just survived it we've really enjoyed it, even that crazy year we were parents to 3 boys under the age of 3! There's no doubt that we've forgotten many of the difficulties involved in caring for a small baby (sleep deprivation does that to you) but baby number 4 is heading towards confident and content parents, and we've been able to happily prepare for this child in a way we probably haven't done before. This new house is ready for and is spacious enough for a new family member, so we haven't spent any time clearing space, preparing a room or other DIY as we have with previous pregnancies, meaning that the focus has very much been on preparing for the birth and enjoying time with the boys. We've been Youth Hostelling and visiting fun places, the boys have made the baby its own bear (filled with not one, but three hearts each with a kiss from big brothers), and we have just returned from a lovely final pre-baby family break in the Lake District.

The boys are not impatient about the arrival of the baby, they know its due to arrive some time around their own birthdays but seem happy with the wait. Ollie and I are too. This pregnancy has flown by, we know how precious this time before the arrival is and are making sure we enjoy it. Being at home during this pregnancy means that I've had lots of time to enjoy this bump, and I'm happy to continue doing that while we all wait for the big day!

We don't know if we are expecting a boy or girl, although Charlie tells us he knows its a boy and thinks we should call him David Attenborough! On holiday last week he wrote 'Oro' in the sand, asked us what it said and has since been telling us that this is the baby's name! Callum would like a sister but is not too bothered, and Joseph doesn't mind either way! Neither do Ollie and I, we've had brilliant fun parenting only boys and are more than happy for this to continue, or not...whatever life has in store!

Over the past five years I've become very used to the image of 3 little boys. It's an image I've used to calm myself in many a manic moment by stepping back, taking a breath, watching them play and taking time to be truly, deeply grateful. I can't quite believe that I'll soon be watching 4 of them, and as excited as I am, I'm using this 'waiting' time to really enjoy the image of 3.

Joseph is right, we are lucky to have this baby to look forward to, but I know that this baby is lucky too. He or she is heading towards a lot of love, and its great to be feeling that way.




Sunday, 26 October 2014

Moving House

There have been several times in life when I've found myself shifting in a direction I had no idea I would be heading. It's happened again and our family has moved, 4 hours north to Sheffield!

At the beginning of 2014 I thought we were pretty settled. After working up and down the country and staying away from home a lot for the past 4 years, Oliver had got a new job within commuting distance of home, and it looked like our roots in our little corner of Kent were firmly set. Within a couple of months it was clear that things weren't working out as we'd hoped. Oliver wasn't enjoying his new job; a 9 to 5 working pattern didn't suit him particularly well, the work was not as technical, challenging or interesting as he had been led to believe and although I liked having Ollie home every night, we didn't find that our time together as family was as benefited by the change as we had hoped it would be. We were lucky, and within 48 hours of Oliver sharing his feelings about his new job with me, his old employer called offering him an opportunity to go back! To cut a long story short we decided that he would go back, but that we would move our family to make his travelling easier and give him more time at home.

Sheffield was a fairly random choice for a new home! We all enjoy the outdoors and I suggested that we might enjoy living somewhere near the Peak District. Oliver said, "Well Sheffield is right by the Peak District", and I began a bit of googling! So, in July we took the boys for a weekend Youth Hostelling in the Peak District and one afternoon, we decided we'd take a drive to Sheffield for a quick look. We drove over a hill, looked down and there it was! Within 10 minutes we were down the hill and in the city; it seemed like a brilliant location for our family, and once we had established that it had a thriving home-ed community, we decided to make the move.

In 'The Alchemist' Paulo Coelho wrote "And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it", and it really felt like this was the case with our move to Sheffield. We decided to rent out our house in Margate and find a place to rent in Sheffield, but we had a list of things we felt we needed to do to the house first, so believed it would be early 2015 before we were ready to go. I told Oliver that I felt the process would be easier for me if it happened quickly, before I had too much time to analyse things or get nervous about it, and within days it emerged that a friend of ours needed a house, just like ours, in 6 weeks time! So, 6 weeks later we moved to a brilliant house in Sheffield! The thing I had wanted wasn't necessarily to leave our hometown and move what feels like a pretty long way away. What I had wanted for a while though was for Oliver to be happy in his work, and for us all to be together more. I had also been feeling like I wanted more space at home and on reflection I can see that I was becoming restless and itching for change, although I felt really content with my life, and had no idea what kind of change I was hoping for! Perhaps its a good thing that I had no expectation as to how these things would manifest themselves, or we might never have seen the opportunity that lay before us when Oliver was offered the chance to go back to his old job.

We decided that once we arrived in Sheffield we would spend our first week getting out and about, attending home-ed meets, and doing things the boys would enjoy rather than unpacking. The move had been hard on them, not because they showed any resistance or apprehension to coming, but because they had been without their favourite things and usual activities for what felt like a long time. Oliver and I had both been focused on packing up the house and making all the necessary arrangements, and so the boys had spent more time than usual away from us in order for all of this to happen. It took its toll, and in the days leading up to the move it was clear that they were tired and in need of our time and attention, so as soon as we arrived in Sheffield, that's what they got!

We've been here four weeks now, and the unpacking has happened around all the other things we've been up to. The boys have their favourite toys and activities around them again, and we've had plenty of time together. They seem really, really happy, and after a difficult few weeks leading up to the move, its great to see them all absorbed in play together again and enjoying the adventure of a new home. The more we evolve as a family the more I experience how connected we all are, and that if one of us is frustrated or struggling, then all of us are affected. It was difficult for Ollie to go to a job he didn't enjoy every day, and it was in all of our interests to find a way for him not to need to do that anymore. It was difficult for the boys to cope with the upheaval of moving, and it made life better for all of us to spend our first week 'holidaying' in Sheffield, before we thought about anything else.

The move hasn't been without its difficulties of course! Two days after we put a deposit on our house here we discovered that I was pregnant, and about a week and half later I was having worse sickness than I'd ever experienced with previous pregnancies. I was barely able to care for myself or the boys let alone prepare to move, and this put a great deal more pressure and strain on Oliver than it would have done otherwise. Eventually I was given medication to help and things began to improve, but on the day Oliver followed the removal vans and all our belongings up to Sheffield, I spent the day in hospital with Charlie while he was sedated for an MRI on a fractured arm. It was a pretty chaotic time, but we all made it here safe and sound!

Joseph says he likes living in Sheffield and all the opportunities he has to climb here, but this week he has told me that he doesn't like our new house. He says he has had bad dreams here, and that things are different, which they are. He is sensitive to change and can be anxious, so I expected tough moments for him. This house is bigger, it sounds and feels different and I've noticed that the boys like company when they go upstairs which wasn't the case before. I can see that Joseph is happy, full of energy and enjoying himself here, and he is excited to tell others about his new home and loved showing Ollie's sister around when she came to stay recently. Nonetheless this is a new and different place, and there's a part of him adapting to that, so I'm doing my best to watch and listen and give lots of comfort while he does.

By our 3rd week here I think the adrenaline had worn off and I was feeling pretty drained! I also began to notice that I was putting pressure on myself and feeling that guilt familiar to so many mums, that I should be doing more for the boys. Over the years I'm getting better at working out when these feelings of guilt are pointing towards something I need to change and when I'm simply being hard on myself, and in this case I'm sure its a case of the latter. I suppose when I'm tired, its easy to slip into thinking about the things we've moved away from which feel easy and safe, rather than things we've moved towards, which inevitably take more effort in the beginning. Every trip or outing requires greater planning and research, and even a trip to the GP surgery less than a mile away still requires the sat nav! I set off to take the boys to a home-ed get together the other day with the intention of visiting a cashpoint on the way, then realised that I had no idea where any local cashpoints were, or where I could find one along the way! It was fine of course, it turned out there were plenty! These are all small problems that will resolve themselves with time, but when you're a bit tired and everything is unfamiliar, they seem a bit bigger I suppose.

My tired week seems to have passed now, and again I'm feeling the excitement of being in a new place and having so much to explore. I can also see how in only a month, we've found many great things for the boys to take part in. On Mondays we meet other home-ed families at the park (or museum if its wet) and then the boys go to a PE club run by a dad who used to be a PE teacher but now home-educates his son. On Tuesdays we go to a group at an outdoor adventure play centre which is a brilliant place with dens, sand, water-pumps, big wooden climbing structures, old tyres, a zip wire and all sorts of other exciting things for the children to explore. It is swarming with home-educated children from babies to teenagers, and has been used by the Sheffield home-ed community for 15 years! Joseph has had his first session at a monthly climbing club and we've been to the roller-skating group where they all had a brilliant time. There is athletics in the pipeline for Joseph in the new year and possibly the others if they fancy it, and all three boys have shown an interest in trying out a local Forest School, which quite a few home-educated children attend for a few hours on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Believe it or not we've also had lots of quiet time at home doing whatever takes our fancy, as you can see on this blog that I use as a bit of a photo diary.

So far Sheffield has been great for Ollie and I too. We're both enjoying the Peak District, and Ollie's reduced commutes! My heart still sinks when he says something like, "I have to go to Nottingham tomorrow", until I remember that he can can get there in little more than an hour and that even if he can't finish the work in a day, he'll still make it home that evening. For me, it quieter here, and I'm enjoying that for now. Life had got really busy in Kent; I was doing a fair bit of acting, and juggling that with a husband who wasn't around much could be difficult. It was great that we had babysitters around, but it sometimes felt like we were asking for more help than people wanted to give, and imposing on people didn't feel nice. Going out to do things you enjoy becomes less enjoyable in these circumstances, and although I hope to be back on the stage one day I'm happy to take a break for now. With a new baby on the way I'd be taking a break anyway! I've been looking forward to more time for solitary creative pursuits and writing, and given that I have so far spent this Sunday morning in bed writing, I'd say I'm getting that! Ollie has always been brilliant at giving me time to myself, and loves a bit of time alone with the boys. We have few other distractions here....for now!

This move has given me a renewed gratitude for our way of life as Unschoolers and the flexibility it gives us. The home-ed community in Kent was vibrant and welcoming and it has been just the same in Sheffield, except on a larger a scale. I'm grateful too for Ollie's constant sense of adventure, and 'let's give it a go' attitude to life. I'm grateful that I reached a point where I could see beyond my own immediate need for comfort and security (a state I think I had necessarily been in for a while after having three children in a short space of time) and could embrace something new and challenging. I'm grateful that Ollie and I share a tendency to look for the possibilities in all that we have, rather than dwell on anything we don't. A little while after we moved here my mum asked if I was missing the sea, and I realised that I wasn't. I love the seaside and never wished to leave it, but I told her that it would feel pretty strange to spend my time missing the sea, rather than enjoying and embracing the hills and the valleys. I know though, that when I'm by the sea I'll appreciate it more than ever!

I'm grateful for all the wonderful people and places we have moved from in Margate, and for all those we're discovering here. We had a happy, happy life in Kent, but we didn't leave it there. It's ours to make the most of in Sheffield.


Sunday, 30 March 2014

What Mother's Day means to me...

When I was a child, I think I kind of understood Mother's Day as a day to spoil your mum and give her a rest, characterised by home-made cards, daffodils, chocolates and breakfast in bed! I think that's probably still the case, except that the gifts and money spent seem to have got more extravagant, not that that's specific to Mother's Day! Now that I'm a Mum myself I've found that I feel quite differently about Mother's Day, and use it personally for a different kind of reflection and gratitude. Of course I still spend time being grateful for my Mum and the grandmothers who mothered, loved and cared for my parents, but nowadays Mother's Day is the day when I particularly enjoy reflecting on and appreciating all the amazing things that motherhood has done for me, and here are just a few of those...

I've been a Mummy for almost six years now, and those years have been the happiest, most difficult, joyous, exhausting, emotional and wonderful years of my life. Motherhood has been a roller coaster, and very often I find that the extreme highs and challenging lows can be separated by only a few minutes! Nothing could have prepared me for the joy and difficulties of motherhood or the learning it has brought me. Its an experience I'm grateful for every day, but particularly on Mother's Day.

I didn't ever expect to be a 'Stay-at-home' Mum, and when I became one it was a bit of a shock. It felt as though many of the things that had made me feel like a competent, capable, successful person were now gone and I wondered whether now that I wasn't useful in an economic sense, if I was actually useful at all. Giving up work was a difficult decision and one that I felt forced into if I'm honest as a result of having twins. I had worked in a job that I really loved and there were times when I felt frustrated and resentful, but giving up employment has been more liberating than I could ever have imagined. Its ironic really that in giving up my economic independence I feel more 'free' but that's what has happened, and today I feel extremely grateful that motherhood (and Oliver's decent enough salary) has given me the chance to be at home.

Motherhood in the baby years took me into the private realm of the home where there was nobody to congratulate me on my triumphs and successes, not that I could define what 'triumph' or 'success' were anymore anyway! At school, University and work these things had been pretty clear and I could use 'success' to feel good about myself, but at home I found a deeper sense of purpose and worth that wasn't attached to what I was 'doing' in any given moment. It was an incredible experience to have everything that I had used to feel good about myself (career, money, independence, success) stripped away, and find that I felt worthwhile in a way that no 'thing' could take away. It isn't that I felt motherhood replaced these things and became my thing to feel good about - although motherhood does make me feel good - motherhood was simply the catalyst for appreciating myself in a different way. Neither do I live in a permanent state of feeling fabulous about myself, far from it! But I feel better about myself than I ever have before.

I remember clearly walking Joseph around the park when he was a baby and seeing him completely absorbed by something above him. I followed his gaze, and saw that he was watching sunlight sparkling through the leaves in the trees and getting very excited about it in the way that babies do! I recall another moment when he was a bit older and was picking up a ribbon and repeatedly watching it dance as he dropped it to the floor. On both occasions it felt like time stopped, and I too became completely absorbed in that moment with him. From spending time with Joseph and later Callum and Charlie, it became clear that this was their everyday way of being. Whether they were experiencing joy, upset or hunger, they were absorbed by that moment, and they wanted me in that moment with them. Anyone who has tried to get a small child back to a car while they are watching or bird or any other similar scenario will have experienced this! Taking the boys' lead and living more in the moment while finding beauty in everyday situations, has made me deeply happy. Never before becoming a Mummy did I stand beside building sites watching bulldozers and diggers, wondering at how powerful and majestic they are, but I've done that often with my boys and it was time well spent!

I'm learning different things from each boy all the time. From Callum, who is an extrovert like his daddy, I'm learning to understand Oliver better, and particularly how a person can be loud and high energy, and yet deeply sensitive at the same time.

From Charlie I'm learning to accept and enjoy my own introversion. He is a person who is very happy with his own company and really happy to assert when he doesn't wish to be around other people, while loving deeply and developing extremely important connections with people he cares about. He selects those he is happy to spend time with carefully, and I admire his ability to be so clear about his wishes. I aspire to be more like that myself!

Joseph and I share numerous similarities, and I see in him many of the characteristics I struggle to accept in myself. In loving an accepting these characteristics in him with ease, I'm slowly learning to love and accept them in myself.

I've learned how good it is to say sorry when I mess up, how wonderful forgiveness feels and how freely it can be given. I've learned that every day is an endless number of opportunities to be better. As motherhood evolves for me I'm constantly unearthing hurt bits of a little me that I didn't know existed, and allowing those hurts to be healed. I'm grateful to live in a part of the world where all of my parenting problems are first world ones, where I can enjoy my children and focus on providing a happy childhood and engaging life of learning, rather than praying for survival. Motherhood is hard, hard work, but I'm not engaged in a daily battle to keep my children alive, safe and healthy, so when Callum takes his trousers off and runs around home-ed group while Charlie pulls all the books off of a book shelf, its inconvenient and irritating but on the scale of problems that some mothers encounter, its no problem at all. I'm not as grateful as I should be for this, but on Mother's Day I make an extra effort.

I could write forever about all the things I've learned and the ways in which life has improved since becoming a mum, not that I believe for a minute that being a mum is the only way to learn or experience these things, that's just the way they have come to me. Perhaps if I hadn't become a mum I'd have learned them in different ways, or life may have taken me on an entirely different learning curve.

When the boys said "Happy Mother's Day" and "Thank You for being my Mummy" to me this morning it was really lovely, and I enjoyed my breakfast and gifts. Inside though, I was saying a huge thank you for the amazing gift of motherhood with all its highs and lows, and for all the opportunities to learn that have come with it. I genuinely feel that I get way more back from motherhood than I could ever put in, and I have these three grubby, gorgeous boys to thank for that!


Photos from Mother's Day 2014, at home and at our beach hut.