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.


Monday, 24 March 2014

Day 25 - 100 Happy Days!

I've been joining in with 100 Happy Days, taking a photo a day of something that makes me happy and posting it on Facebook. Today I'm writing about my happy day here, because it doesn't fit into a couple of neat sentences, because there are a few photos and because it seems relevant here.

This morning I was in the garden alone pulling up weeds and getting ready to plant a few seeds, while the boys were indoors doing their own thing in various parts of the house. Only a few short months ago this would have seemed like an impossibility for many reasons that arise as a result of having three small boys who are with me all the time, but they are growing and things are shifting all the time too. It was nice to notice this one little part of life where things have become 'easier' and a little more manageable because the challenges still exist as the boys get bigger, they just shift too! At various points while I was outside the boys came to join me, help with the planting and in the case of Callum, take his wellies off and enjoy having his feet in mud! We watched some slugs, and talked about how plants reproduce.

There's a physical space around me sometimes now, for a short amount of time, that there hasn't been for almost six years. That's not what I'm happy about though. I'm really happy to feel myself enjoying each phase as it passes, and happy that even in those most difficult times with a toddler and two babies, I didn't ever wish any of it away. I found something happy every day, and then before I knew it I was in the garden alone, pottering around...

....until someone called and asked me to help him turn into Red Riding Hood! :-)

Which made me happy some more!


Wednesday, 22 January 2014


Charlie has a fascination for statues. This seems to have begun after I took the boys to see the film 'Frozen' at the cinema a few weeks before Christmas; I think it started with the boys pretending they had been frozen into ice statues immediately after we left the cinema! Because they were all statues on the side of the road and weren't interested in getting into the car, I pretended that I was buying them from a statue shop, and then picked them up and strapped them into the car while they all maintained a statue pose! They all thought this was great fun, but something about it captured Charlie's imagination and he has been a statue at some point on almost every day since!

The statue game goes like this: Charlie will come to me and strike his statue pose (its always the same one) and hold up one of his hands to show me how much he costs. I then say how much I'd like to buy the statue, and pay an imaginary shop keeper for him. If I am with a particular friend, he likes us to pretend to squabble over who will buy him, and then eventually we decide to share him! After I have bought Charlie, he always turns into a baby saying "pretend the statue turns into your baby, and you love your baby!" Then we have some play where I am mummy and he is baby.

I have no idea how statues and babies are connected for Charlie, but I can see that he is thinking a lot about being a baby (or perhaps the fact that he is now growing up) at the moment. He likes to talk about being in my tummy and breastfeeding, he asks me about the things I did for him when he was a baby and we have looked through some baby photos together. Yesterday he drew a picture and told me that it showed me with he and Callum in my belly, and Oliver with he and Callum in his arms.

Last week I took the boys to our local cemetery where I knew there would be plenty of statues, and some Commonwealth War Graves that I thought Joseph would like to see. I remember walking around the same cemetery with my grandad and being fascinated by the big horse statue on one of the graves, and the statues surrounding it, and being told that they were the graves of a circus family.

Anyone who would like to read about the Sanger Family and their circus can make a start here.

The boys enjoyed the visit, but these statues didn't interest Charlie in quite the way I thought they might. Then, last Thursday lightening struck the thumb of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro! Oliver and I showed Charlie the BBC article, and he has been fascinated ever since! He has been asking all sorts of questions, and loves to pretend that he is Christ the Redeemer, I am the lightening striking his thumb and Oliver is the builder who repairs him! Yesterday we had a trip to the beach and took the boys to see the Lifeboat Man statue on our seafront, which is a memorial to a crew who were lost when a surfboat overturned in 1897 (more information here).

All across the beach and even beside the Lifeboat Man, Charlie was Christ the Redeemer!

Although I don't think I completely understand what Charlie's interest in statues is all about, I know that he loves stories and enjoys taking on characters and re-creating those stories, so when I explore statues with him, that will be the angle I take. He doesn't just like to be statues of course, he spends a good amount of time dressed as Superman, and loves to be Obi Wan Kinobe too!

There are lots of obvious things that Charlie is learning as a result of statues; he usually asks what material the statue is made from and we chat about why it may have tarnished or changed colour over time, we flew from home to Brazil on google maps to find Christ the Redeemer, we've looked at online news and there has been a lot of local history discussed around the Sanger graves and the Lifeboat Man. I can see though that there is so much more he is learning and experiencing that is not obvious to me and perhaps never will be. That doesn't matter. When Charlie asks me to strike him with lightening for the tenth time that day I know there is something wonderful going on inside of him, and I enjoy being a part of it. He is having a lot of fun, and where there is fun, learning thrives.


Thursday, 2 January 2014

Hello 2014!

Its a new year!

A few weeks ago I was reflecting to a friend that 2013 had been a bit of a 'nothing' year, and it felt as though it might just be the year that linked two others together. After we had chatted for a few minutes I could see that this isn't the case and while 2013 may not have been full of big exciting events it has been quietly important, and has consolidated many of the good things in our lives. It was our first full year of Unschooling, we have forged some lovely and supportive relationships with other Unschooling and Home Educating families, and we now have a full year and a half of experiencing how well Unschooling works for our family under our belts, and that feels really good!

Our sons are all a year older and things have shifted. We started 2013 with two toddlers, and I'm starting 2014 with the definite feeling that we now have three little boys! We stopped needing a buggy early last year and it became much easier for me to take the three of them out and about alone, meaning that a whole range of new possibilities opened up to us. Just before Christmas I spent a day in London with the boys while Oliver worked. We had a cable car ride, rode around on the DLR, visited the Cutty Sark and went down the river on a Clipper to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.

At the beginning of the year this wouldn't have seemed possible, but as the boys grow and shift so do the possibilities and opportunities for all of us. I performed in three theatrical productions between September and December, I can't imagine that this would have been possible a year earlier either. So, in January 2014 the big double buggy in the hallway has been replaced with scooters and bikes, and as much as I feel sad that a cherished era of their lives has passed, I can see the joy that lies ahead.

A life of natural learning has taken strong roots here over the past year, and one of the things I love most about Unschooling is that I can never predict in which direction interests will flow! This time last year life was all about Dinosaurs for Joseph and had been for some time, I even dedicated a blog to the subject (Day in, Day out...Dinosaurs!) At some point last year he developed an interest in WW2, and this has taken us in all sorts of fascinating directions! He loves aircraft and likes to see how they have changed and developed from WW1 to the Cold War and present, comparing their features and thinking about the type of campaigns they would have been best suited to. He enjoys watching documentaries about specific battles and campaigns, and has become very interested in the strategy of warfare. He appears to be a great problem solver and loves to think around and question issues and offer his own solutions, and role playing war scenarios gives him a brilliant opportunity to do this. Joseph's love of all things War-related deserves to be written about separately and I'll do that soon, its something that has provided the whole family with a great deal of fun!

Oh, and Oliver graduated the week before Christmas, which was a brilliant end to the year!

Oliver and I aren't the sort of people to make grand plans, so as it stands 2014 is pretty much a blank canvas! We have a wedding to look forward to in August, and Oliver is hoping to continue working towards his Walking Group Leader Award, which means we'll need to spend a fair bit of time in parts of the country that offer him the chance to practise his navigation skills! We'd like to spend a bit of time Youth Hosteling around the North of the country, and to do some camping, but we have no set plans. Callum and Charlie turn four this year and become 'school-aged', so we'll be looking forward to their first day of Unschooling in September! I have a few things I'd like to pursue for myself too, but I'll be working quietly on that for now.

I'm thinking all the boys' legs will grow a little bit longer this year, and they might walk (or scoot) a little faster, so I might lose a bit of the weight I've gained walking at the pace of two three year olds rather than power walking with a double buggy! I do recommend walking at the pace of a three year old fairly often though, I've discovered an awful lot that I've been missing, and it was worth the extra pounds!

Right now, I'm enjoying the end of Oliver's Christmas and New Year break, and all the food and drink we still have left! We've had a peaceful week and a half at home, being together and with the friends and family we love. When I'm at home playing with the boys and helping them explore the things they enjoy, I feel a deep sense of gratitude that when the Christmas break ends we're not atomised back to our 'usual' lives. We'll be sort of rolling into 2014; eating chocolate, enjoying our Christmas toys, playing on the PS3 and trying to make the most of each precious moment as it passes! :)