Being beautiful

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Hello friends and fellow bloggers. It’s been a while since I decided any of the ‘thoughts that fall out of my busy head’ have been worth sharing. Mostly because they have been miserable and dark. No one wants to hear that shit.

However since the storm cloud of depression has lifted from me, I have found myself obsessing on something that many people of our generation seem to obsess about- how I look. How clear my skin is, how natural my makeup is, how small my clothes are, how I look in a bikini. All things actually that in the grand scheme of things I don’t care about at all. So why does it enter my mind so much?

I remember Kate Moss stating a few years back that she always felt best when she was at her skinniest. For a while I agreed. who doesn’t love it when they can fit into tiny clothes and have everyone notice? It is after all what is expected of us, no matter how old we are, where we are from, how active we are, how many children we’ve had etc etc.

I volunteer with young people and I was talking to a gorgeous girl who told me that everyone at her school calls her a hippo. The girl has a few curves and that is how she is growing up viewing herself.

How do we teach kids like her to feel beautiful inside and out without comparing themselves to each other? Or worse, without comparing to those that make a career out of looking pleasing to the eye.

I don’t want my children to surrender to the kind of competitive and self depreciating pressure that we are all burdened with. I want them to feel beautiful, confident and capable no matter what.

I have spent the past few years (after my more recent pregnancies I suppose) trying really hard to look ‘good’.

To be able to enjoy food, I worked out with weights and cardio on top for 1.5 hours four times a week. FOUR TIMES A WEEK. When I got really depressed and could no longer summon the energy to do that, I simply stopped eating. There was a point where I could hardly get out of bed (and often didn’t) because I was so low on energy. I stopped seeing people. I stopped bothering with the kids. And I was 7.2 stone. Which is for me very small. And I did not feel my best. Come to think of it, I felt the worst I’ve ever felt.

So after seeing various professionals and a couple of years of a high dose of antidepressants, I started to become happier. I got my appetite back and most importantly my energy back. But something happened, I could no longer fit into my tiny clothes. So of course feeling enormous, I joined the gym.

But now, I have a much busier schedule and I simply cannot fit working out into my daily life (unless I was to go at 6am which trust me after waking up 10 times a night with each child would be a very bad idea).

Things change.

I read a book by Margaret Atwood once called ‘Oryx and Crake’. It was a few years back so I can’t remember the full story but one scene really stood out to me and I try to remind myself of it now and then. The book is set in a future where we are so advanced we can all look however we please. We are all ‘perfect’. Women all have tiny waists and big boobs. Men are all ripped and hair free. The main character chooses to live alone outside that world because he chooses not to conform. He misses variety. He misses character. He misses nature. All those things are beauty to him.

I want to be beautiful in that way. I want my children to want to be beautiful in that way.

So today, when I was beating myself up about once again not finding the time to go to the gym, I had a small epiphany. I do not want to conform. I’m not a model, my appearance doesn’t matter at all.

I’m not saying I won’t wear makeup, have fun with clothes and all of that. I am saying I intend to alter my standards of what I expect myself to look like, and learn to feel beautiful and happy with what I am without feeling guilty if I fluctuate in weight, when my hair greys or when my wrinkles deepen. I am after all ageing and I have given birth to four wonderful children. And I look freaking good. Without all the extra effort.

When I die, I don’t want the most memorable thing people say about me is how flawless I looked in a bikini or out of one. I don’t want it to be mentioned at all.

Here are the things I want people to see me as right now:

  1. A good mother
  2. A good friend
  3. Kind
  4. fun
  5. Happy
  6. Adventurous
  7. An animal lover
  8. A musician
  9. A creative
  10. A home maker (Not in a housewife sense, in a way that everyone feels welcome in my home and I will always make room for anyone I care about who needs it)
  11. A student

I’m sure there are many more but these are the things that jump to me now.

So please children, friends, fellow bloggers, throw away your bastard torturing tiny outfit memories and make room for what is now. A beautiful, more mature, wiser version of yourself who has much more important things to put their efforts into. Like so many other inspiring people out there, let’s reset our standards and learn to feel beautiful, no matter what we look like.

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The vows I never said at our wedding

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The vows I never said

Muzz,

When we got married, you were quite in favour of the idea of us both writing our own vows. I said no. Not because I don’t have a million things to say (you know me better than that), or because I didn’t want to share these thoughts with you or others, but because I knew I couldn’t tell you this without wailing like a baby all the way through. Our wedding was a sob fest enough as it was! (Still not letting go the fact you hid behind your shades by the way). So here are my vows. Please do not write any in return, I know that’s not your style. But it is mine, and to tell the world (or my few friends who might take an interest). This being one of the many things you have learnt to accept about me.

As you know I had a somewhat unconventional upbringing. This made me yearn one thing. A solid family unit.

My little family had already begun when we met and I was sceptical about letting you in.

You were pushy.

I pretended I didn’t like that, but I did. It was not only very flattering, it was romantic.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but I’m a bit of a fan of romance…

I didn’t know how or when to introduce you to my two year old son who was undergoing a diagnosis of epilepsy, autism and adhd.

I told you that it would happen when I felt ready.

But being you, you showed up at my door uninvited when you knew I was with him.

My instinct was to be upset and turn you away but I was curious to see how the two of you would react to one and other.

You brought a pack of cards with you and in no time at all you were helping him line them up.

This was the first time I realised you really wanted something with me. And, that you were a foolish romantic, ready to give your heart to anyone. (As was I).

Your life had always been fairly simple until I was introduced to it.

Oscar had his challenges and tested us immensely. In our third year together we almost turned our backs on each other.

That was the worst time of my whole life.

We needed that small time apart though to realise that even at our most miserable, nothing was as unbearably devastating as not being together.

So we worked it out and moved forward.

Since then you have constantly surprised me, enlightened me, excited me, made me laugh, irritated the fuck out of me (in the kind of way that would be hugely missed if you were gone…), you’ve believed in me, confided in me, comforted me and taken the time to truly understand me.

And of course given me three more beautiful children.

I am hard work.

My family are hard work. (Many of us any way, sorry guys if you are reading this but look at us? Love you!)

You have always understood that our home is open to anyone who needs to stay.

You have always encouraged and accepted my wild side. (One of the many things we have in common.)

You have forgiven me for the most outrageous and impulsive decision making possible. (cough, horse for a week, never even rode it, gave it back cause it was a demon, and never got the money back…cough).

You support me when I publically open my mouth in ways that often makes you uncomfortable.

You never judge me.

You nurture my need to learn, and to understand people.

You stayed strong when I nearly gave up.

You work like a crazy person because you want our children to have the best.

You are the greatest father and friend a person could be.

You are my everything.

I am fucking crying now.

But I am alone thank god.

See why I couldn’t tell you this stuff out loud?

Because our life isn’t average.

We have been tested more in our seven years together than most are in an entire lifetime. Hell we were in the first two.

It’s exhausting and relentless sometimes.

But you are consistent.

You give me that stability I always wanted.

You give our children stability.

Not to mention non–stop laughter and kindness.

I don’t need anything more.

It’s only human to dream bigger, but we have it all right now. I really believe that.

Thank you.

Also…

…I don’t get it, but thank you, for picking me.

Vikki x

The truth about watching my special-needs son being raised by strangers

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Oscar was diagnosed with epilepsy at 2 years old. By three it was also confirmed that he has autism and ADHD. His father and I split when he was about 18 months. Though apart, we maintained a good friendship and parented Oscar together but separately. Within the next year, I met Muzz (my now husband). Through many ups and downs, the three of us did our best by Oscar and communicated well with each other during the process. 

Oscar was approaching 6 when I had my eldest daughter Susannah. Though he struggled to begin with, I received quite a lot of care (in our home) for him and plenty of family support from my aunts and Oscar’s father so we made it work. We had rough days of course but mostly, we coped. The next year, I fell pregnant again. This time with twins. From the very beginning the pregnancy was hard. I was very sick, anaemic and constantly drained. Oscar’s anxieties increased as I was not able to deal with him in my usual way. His violence was severe. Oscar would fall asleep (exhausted) between 6-7pm every night. By midnight (often before) he would be wide awake. That would be all he slept for the night. I would try to leave him to play but he would trash his room and his things and throw his belongings down the stairs. I also received a number of complaints from my neighbours because of the noise he was making during unsightly hours. To say it was a difficult time is an understatement.
Oscar had been building up to stay over night in the local residential care home (which is actually part of his school). It was to be arranged he would stay there a couple of times a week to give me a rest. In July 2013, my social worker moved him in on a 52 week basis after hearing news of him kicking me repeatedly in the stomach (while I was pregnant). I didn’t fight to keep him home because at that point, I was desperate. No one in our house was coping and nobody was happy.
Since his move, Oscar has blossomed in ways I at one point never could have imagined. His anxiety levels are so reduced now that he is progressing in school. He is able to match all the letters in his name and he is even starting to try and copy the sounds as he does it. Oscar is pretty much toilet trained. Though he has to do it on a timer, he is mostly dry and so pleased with himself for it! My time with Oscar is only positive now. We cuddle, laugh, play. When he comes home he tolerates his sisters and the noise because he knows he can ask to go elsewhere when he has had enough. I am slowly building the time up but I will never force him to spend longer here than he can manage. I am hoping one day he will be ready to stay overnight again. Most importantly, Oscar is now happy. He is content with his every day life, beaming when he comes home and from what I hear, has a great relationship with his dad still. Rationally, I know that this should be enough for me to accept what has happened.
Sadly, and perhaps selfishly, for me this isn’t the case.
At the end of last year I hit a pretty dark depression. I am on my way out of it now I think. There  many factors of course but my feelings about Oscar are the ones I am struggling to come to terms with the most. I am trying very hard to recover. Sometimes my blogs really help with questionable emotions. So I thought I would share my daily struggles.
Here is a list of the things I find troublesome about our situation with Oscar:
1) The automatic shame I feel when people ask about him. I hate talking about him because it just makes me feel sad. And like I have failed as a parent.
2) I feel guilty about how little of me he gets compared to his sisters.
3) I have no control over his diet. I am fairly into nutrition. All of my children eat healthily. I have always lived by the philosophy of ‘if it isn’t in the house, they won’t ask for it’. And they don’t! Oscar was happy to eat what ever snacks and meals I gave to him. Now I have to sit back and swallow my words as I observe him eagerly consuming huge amounts of cereal bars, biscuits, crisps, white toast etc. The actual meals the children are given are fairly balanced as they are delivered by a kind of ‘meals on wheels’ type company but it’s the snacks and amount of sugar he is allowed to eat that upsets me. I just wouldn’t ever have him eating things like that except for the occasional treat. Now he will insist on those foods because he sees the other children in the house with them. Of course they can’t deny him what they have and I don’t want him being treated differently. Some won’t eat anything else so it is of course great when they eat anything at all this is I suppose why they stock such items. Oscar has always loved food and now he chooses sugar constantly throughout the day because it’s an option. Who wouldn’t? I simply have to smile and bare it.
4) The same goes for his wardrobe. I shouldn’t get upset by this but I do. I said to Oscar’s key-worker from the day Oscar moved in that if he needs anything then I want to get it. I am still his mother and want to provide his clothing. The problem is, they now receive the allowance I used to get for him so they have to spend it on him. Sonia is a wonderful person and I couldn’t have asked for a better carer to work with my boy. She really does go above and beyond for Oscar. She does try so hard to buy things she thinks I would chose, and some of them I might. But it’s not the point. I want to feel like I am my son’s mother. At best I feel like a really close aunt. The last batch of clothing I bought for Oscar was handed back to me the next day by one of the members of staff after they rather non-emotionally explained “None of these fit, you may as well take them back.” Of course the person didn’t realise, but that hurt. I don’t even know the right size clothing for my child these days? Ouch.
5) I adore my visits with Oscar. I like to spend time with him at the home and build a relationship (and trust) up with all the staff members as well as take him out and bring him home. There are certain tasks however, I struggle to hang around for. The kind of things that used to be part of my every day life and now I have to watch strangers perform. Like administering his medication. Giving him a bath. Changing him into his bedtime clothes. Putting him to bed. The real I suppose, mundane, parental and necessary duties. I feel actual pain when I watch other people doing these things. True heart ache.
6) I find it very difficult to make myself heard if I do have any complaints as the house is quite understaffed. I actually very rarely have any upsets but over the 2 years, the odd thing has arisen and when I have voiced these issues, they have pretty much been laughed off, like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I like everyone there so much that I don’t want to cause any friction so I generally just leave it. It’s very awkward sometimes.

7) Oscar’s father can not forgive me for allowing Oscar to live there. I understand. He is not a well man so cannot have him full time. And in his eyes, I have a cosy new family and Oscar is conveniently out of our hair. Part of me justifies my new life and embraces it. A larger part of me agrees with him, we all have choices in life and I chose to have more children and risk my abilities to look after my son who needs at least one-on-one with him at all times. I have four children (the girls are 3 and twin 18 months). The maths does not add up. I find impossible to forgive myself for the way things have turned out so how can I expect Oscar’s dad to? This does of course contribute to my unhappiness because in my eyes we are all still family and I care about him deeply.

8) If I envision a future without the belief that Oscar may not one day come home to me it makes me think terrible (some would say irrational) thoughts that I can’t control. Quite frankly, I don’t want to go on if that is to be my future. All I need to be happy is all my children, under one roof. I picture us somewhere self sufficient where we live of the land and our animals. Somewhere quiet and safe. It may be a romantic thought but it’s a dream that I use to get me through the days. Not entirely unachievable. One can live and hope.
I’m sorry if this is coming off bleak, but it’s reality. We are living a very complicated situation. I don’t know of anyone who can relate to my yearning. I don’t know if I will ever be OK. Maybe I won’t?
I just need to hang on to the truth, Oscar is happy. It may not be because of me or anything I have done for him as a mother but he is. The way he has advanced over the past couple of years, proves that he may one day achieve anything he desires. And he might come back to where I feel he belongs. Until then, I have to clutch on to any beautiful moments we share together and use that warmth to smile when I talk about him instead of cry. Until then I have to be grateful for how much fantastic support we receive as a family when so many people out there are struggling. Until then I have to remind myself that it’s better that I continue with a lugubrious hole in my heart than Oscar not gladly thrive and grow. It is a sacrifice. One that benefits him for now. That is of course what matters the most.

Homeschool follow up

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So it seems I have caused a bit of a stirring with my controversial views and I wanted to set some things straight…

Firstly, I am not meaning to cause offence to anyone who has chosen (or is intending to) to send their children to school. I have friends who are far better parents than I could ever hope to be who have children in mainstream schools and they are doing just fine. I also know there are brilliant teachers out there, the best. We all long for these teachers and if our children were lucky enough to have one for each subject, along with more one-on-one time and a intellectual and emotional connection with each one too, then they would sail through each subject. But how likely is that?
Like any choice that is different from the ‘norm’ my thoughts are bound to raise some eyebrows. I do believe that the school system is outdated and is no longer designed with the best interest of the pupils’ individual needs. I think things were bad when I was at school (twenty odd years ago), and that it has got worse, and will continue to do so. I am generally talking about high schools. There are many amazing primary schools in my area. However I have a lot of friends with children in secondary school and not one of them has a happy story to tell. One just the other day was telling me about how her daughter got stabbed with a pen (quite severely) and the school denied any responsibility for this as ‘no-one saw what happened’. I have another who’s child is being hugely bullied; she has met with the teachers, head teacher and parents of the children causing problems. The school say that the bulling isn’t ‘severe enough for them to take action’. They have more serious issues to deal with like weapons, rape and drugs. I could go on, I have tons of examples. The thing is, if my children have a super time in primary school and the hit these kinds of troubles in secondary school, how can I tear them out of the system then? How I can I justify pulling them away from any friendships made and dividing them so consciously and brutally? This will cause so much difficulty for all of us. I genuinely believe these problems will arise at some point and there will be nothing I can do to stop them. So I feel that homeschooling from the very beginning is the only fair way it can be done. It will be ordinary to them and I will work hard to meet others where that is also their normality so that they don’t feel like they are missing out.
My experiences of school have affected my views of course but they have not tainted them. I experienced many school settings as I moved a lot as a child. My main two examples of teenage educational settings (both of which failed me as a student) are interesting. One was a large comprehensive (2500 kids) split over two buildings. And the other was a small, country private school.
The first was intense. I was bullied from the start. Many people were. It’s fair to say I’ve always been fairly eccentric and people at that age don’t like it my experince. The girls would all buy the exact same pairs of shoes and hair bands and wear make up and smoke. I was ridiculed for not doing any of those things. Really, hugely ridiculed. So much so that I needed a distraction. I soon discovered that if I was ‘naughty’ and acted out to the teachers, people would laugh at me instead of picking on me. I then had people saying ‘Vikki, dare you to do this’ and I would! I was now likeable. I also would make fun of people less popular than myself (only in front of the mean kids which is worse than all the time really) so I looked tough. I learned many life lessons, none of them good as I was shaping to be a not very nice person. I learnt hardly anything when it came to school academia.
So concerned at my behaviour and bad reports etc my family decided to place me in a private setting. As far as my image went, this was fantastic for me. I was now able to become whoever I wanted. I made meaningful friendships. However, the school had no hope for me from the moment I began. A school like that is very precious about ‘success’ and ‘results’. They were worried about me lowering their averages. Not many people pay for a school that don’t offer excellent averages. So with every given opportunity I was suspended and at one point they tried to expel me over very little. Fortunately my family prevented that from happening. So I made it out with to quote one of my teachers, ‘surprisingly good results’. They were so convinced that I was going to fail that they didn’t want to teach me. In some classes, all I would have to do was walk through the door before being asked to leave. Sure I had a cheeky attitude but I was not a bad kid. I did leave school believing that I was though. In fact I thought I was pretty worthless. And that did not give me the courage to really try anything else educationally.
I know that not everyone’s experiences mirror mine but I can’t help but think my children are bound to have (already do) possess some of my (and our family’s) eccentricities. I want to embrace them rather than make them feel ashamed of who they are. I don’t want them to conform to the standards that someone, somewhere has decided is correct. I want them to grow into well rounded, helpful and kind people with an open mind and a passion for learning. Give me a school that can guarantee they will try their hardest to achieve this which each and every student?
Secondly (back to my last blog), I definitely allowed my anger at the growth and horror caused by capitalism to take over my main points. My fears of schools changing for the worse are caused by this, but I do realise it is a separate issue. I also suffer from anxiety so it’s safe to say that these thoughts may overwhelm me and keep me up at night on a regular basis so I know I have to evaluate them frequently. It does not make them all completely irrational though.
Thirdly, I am not intending to shelter my children from anything; quite the opposite. My eldest daughter is only three so I am only just starting my research and plans for our educational journey. I am reading heaps of books by fascinating and inspirational authors such as Alfie Kohn, John Holt, Maria Motessori and Rudolf Steiner to name a few. There are many home ed groups in my surrounding areas and I am planning to meet as many like minded people as I can and help develop the community. I feel there is a higher chance of building something wonderful for education locally outside the grip of school than in it when there are so many people to go through. I am planning to offer free music and cooking classes to children in the same situation as mine once a week with the hope to inspire others into sharing their talents with our children. I plan to bring accomplished friends in for days here and there to teach my children skills such as knitting, sewing, shooting, fishing, climbing, sailing, horse riding, building, carpentry and what ever else might be on offer. I also intend to en-roll my girls in any groups they wish to join. Susannah is starting a dance class next week. There are also drama groups, gym classes, sports teams and all sorts that we can look into depending on their interests. There are also local forest schools that we can attend every now and then to develop their nature skills. That’s the social side of things explained.
As far as the life lessons school gives: let me be clear, I am not at all wanting to raise my children wearing blinkers. But what kind of lessons of enormous value will they be missing out on exactly? The only one I see is how to survive (if they do) under huge amounts of unnecessary pressure. As far as knowing about the troubles in the world, to start with, we already have a lot of stories in our direct life that proves how different  one life experience can be from the next. We are also going to do community work once a month to meet all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds with the intention to teach my girls that anyone can end up anywhere and to never to judge. We are going to keep a daily journal for ‘random acts of kindness’. They will have to take it in turns to think of something kind we can do each day for another person. This will hopefully show how easy it is to be there for others when one puts their mind to it. A valuable life lesson that schools most certainly do not focus on.  I want compassion to be their main attribute to anything they do. I feel it’s the most important trait any person can possess. Without compassion there is no room for growth or change. Without compassion, everything else one does is inconsequential. Without compassion, the world and everything in it has no worth.
A last huge pro to home-schooling is being able to chose how we learn. We can take trips, meet people from around the world, any time, any where. I will be there to help with every struggle educationally and emotionally. Not only will that make my understanding of my children a deeper one but I will be able to be actively involved when we hit any walls (which of course we will).
I have no doubt that my gorgeous, intelligent and funny girls would survive with Muzz and me as parents through the manic school system. (Which compared to many countries I accept that we are extremely lucky to have). We could guide them the best way we know how.
But to me, survival is not enough. I want my children to reach their full potentials, intellectually and as human beings. I am not saying I can absolutely do that, that is a massive assumption. But I am willing to sacrifice everything to try. Because I think I have a better chance of achieving that than anywhere or anyone else as far as my kids are concerned. Maybe I am crazy, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Why I intend to homeschool my younger children

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It’s probably easiest to start this post with a list of what I think it is most important that my children learn:

1) Compassion
2) kindness
3) The ability to reflect and grow
4) The acceptance of others
5) The skills to forward think (anticipate political, educational and environmental changes etc and have an opinion on these things)
5) The art of debate
6) Respect for other living things, and for the planet we live on
8) To listen and be open minded
9) How to live off the land
10) How to care for animals
11) To be inquisitive
12) To forgive others and themselves for wrong doings and learn from regrets.
13) To look after their body, mind and soul (by soul I mean the desires inside that are often ignored i.e the individual’s personal path to happiness.)
14) To be patient.
15) To appreciate the input of others and not compete at life.
16) To be able to express and understand their emotions.
17) To appreciate the beauty of art, drama, dance, music and literature.
18) To be confident.
19) To be spontaneous but not reckless.
20) To appreciate the beliefs of others.
21) To make clothes.
22) To nurture the born desire to learn in their own way and in their own time. There should be no race to knowledge but one should understand what they have learnt and find a way to make it interesting for themselves what ever the topic.
23) To confide in others.
24) To be approachable
25) To always help others in need.
26) To be brave enough to stand up for what they believe in.
27) To laugh and have fun and enjoy every moment they can.
I’m sure there are a million other things that I will think of after posting this. But you get my point- I believe that teaching our children to be compassionate, helpful, and respectful of the planet and everything on it should prioritise any other kind of learning. Knowledge of other subjects is of course valuable, but it is not helpful alone especially if not taught well. If all children enter this world with a passion to learn, it seems to me that the factory setting of a school annihilates that yearn almost immediately. The pressure ‘to do well’ by the teachers coincided with the demand ‘to fit in’ by their peers is a recipe for disaster for most sensitive human beings. And most human beings are sensitive in my experience. I don’t ever want that to burden my kids with those unrealistic and meaningless expectations. That’s why I will never force, only gently encourage them to learn in fun ways, and I will learn with them. I will embrace their individual flair, aptitudes and talents. Or I will try my damn best to anyway.
We will tackle each subject like a game and make sure that everyone is enjoying the work and absorbing the knowledge. I know this is easier said than done but I will of course take on the challenge. I will not be authoritative, that is part of the respect. If they are having trouble with a subject, I will cross that bridge when we get to it. Even if it means hiring a tutor for certain parts. I am not saying I am capable of teaching all topics but I do want to work with my children’s personal strengths and weaknesses, and make decisions with them as they go along; as they start to process more about themselves, and what they are most keen to excel in.
To learn is a beautiful gift that makes us human and I want my children to realise this. I will urge them to discover that there is no limit to knowledge. I want them to be hungry for it and feed that hunger for self satisfaction and not because they are told to.
There should be no such thing as failure. Failure is a word I will not tolerate. It is a destructive word that offers no advice. It is a label. If something is not understood, we will find a new way to approach the learning of that field. One that suits their wavelength and pace of learning without making them feel stupid. Schools have many ways of making a child feel useless without even saying the words. Putting a child in ‘sets’ for example: anyone put in a ‘bottom set’ may as well be told not to bother because they are too stupid. Anyone put in the ‘top set’ may as well be told “go on kid, prove yourself or you are going to fail like the people below you.” Worst of all, the childrens’ abilities are so often misjudged because of a lack of confidence, or different approaches to learning that don’t fit in with their standards, or simply because they did not gel with their teacher. That in my eyes is unacceptable. And potentially mis-shapes our childrens’ future.
I don’t believe in grades however I also know that I would never want to limit the options for my children as they grow up. I also want them to be able to communicate with other kids they meet in clubs or at the park without seeming like they are from a different world. That is my only reason for deciding to follow the national curriculum and enter exams (only the big ones though I suppose some how we will have to practice for those but definitely not until they are in their teens.)
All though, deep down, I have no idea where our country will be at that time and whether I will want us to stay in it.
Possibly the main reason I am in anguish for my children is because of their undeveloped mental health. My family has a long list of victims of pretty much everything you can think of when it comes to mental health issues and addiction problems. Also, It seems to me that as time goes on, more children generally are suffering with anxiety and depression, self loathing, body issues, addictions, crime, even psychotic episodes. I do not think that the children or the parents are to blame. Our culture is. We have created something too big for most people to live in peacefully and right mindedly. Half the people I know are on medication just so they can survive this insufferable rat race that is every day life.
People regard ‘sucess’ as being wealthy and in a high-flying job. It sounds crazy but I feel sick every day by how much people seem to ‘need’ material things. The business, the noise, the smells, the anger, the bullying, the expectations, the poverty, the sickness, the ignorance, the loneliness and suffering. Money, things, money, things. I can’t bare the reality that we are living in. I don’t want my children to be a part of something that I consider the opposite of natural.
I read a couple of weeks ago that the 85 richest people globally possess more than it would take to wipe out world poverty. I honestly lost sleep mulling over this for a while. How can anyone be ok with having so much money when there are people dying every day from hunger and ill health because of being so poor. I know it sounds cliche, but it is happening and people ignore it. I hate that people justify this. The guilt and sadness this truth fills me with makes me unstable. I’m sure I’m not the only one. It will never be ok to me. Why it is to anyone else is beyond me. I just don’t understand it.
People are so strange. We all have the same fears, but the way I see it is that we focus on the wrong precautions that ironically contribute to the problems. We are terrified our children will succumb to bullying, drugs and crime so we ram exams down their throats and judge their ‘intelligence’ on a daily basis and most of the time tell them they need to do better. We fear war so turn to the government for support with weapons and armies instead of preparing for a life after mass destruction. We are already destroying our planet and each other every single day but we condone every moment of it. And we pretend it won’t affect us even though it already is. We tell ourselves that there is nothing we can do about it.
Imagine if we lived in a world where everyone literally looked after their neighbour.
Imagine if we all followed our basic instincts and turned away from the monstrosity we have created around us.
I don’t want to be a part of it but sadly, I am. We all are.
I can’t control my children but I can give them all the tools I think they will need to survive as healthily as possible in this hell we are all part of. That to me is success. Everything else is a bonus.

Let us feel!

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This morning, my three year old daughter susannah had a cry. It was over a strawberry. It was my fault entirely, I wasn’t thinking. I know perfectly well that she receives huge pleasure from biting into the biggest strawberry in the punnet. Yet I cut it in two. She is very expressional, (I try to encourage that, being an very sensitive human being myself, I am well aware that my children might be the same way), so when her large brown eyes fill up with tears and she looks at me I say: “Oh Susannah, are you sad because I cut the big strawberry?” She nods frantically and the tears race down her cheeks. I give her a cuddle and add: “I am so sorry! I know you like the big ones and I cut it up! How silly I am to forget.” Susannah replies: (as her eyes start welling up again) “Yes because now it isn’t big or massive anymore it’s small and there are no more big ones left.” Her feelings have been acknowledged, she is now on the mend- I know what I have to do to uplift things completely. I pick up the strawberry halves and put them in my eyes and say “Ahhh but with two pieces I can be mrs strawberry eyes! (I put on a funny voice) “Hello- pleased to meet you, I’m mrs Strawberry eyes!” Susannah’s tears subside and her face is now filled with glee and she jumps off her chair and asks me to hand her the strawberry pieces. She imitates me and laughs so much even the twins join in with the giggles. What could have been a huge meltdown has been turned around into fun and silliness.

 

This technique works most of the time and it is rare that Susannah has any kind of giant meltdown. If it does happen it is usually because I am irritable so not thinking properly about how she’s feeling. This is the key really. I hear myself saying on some days (for example) “Susannah, it’s just a strawberry and you are going to eat it anyway so who cares. Just eat it and be quiet.” This will upset her enormously and quite rightly really; by saying that, I have basically told her that what she is feeling is irrelevant and she should feel what I tell her to.

 

But who am I to devalue a person’s emotions like that?

 

The thing I think is so important, and that is so easy for any of us to forget is how small our children’s worlds are compared to ours. Susannah knows nothing about hunger or war or financial stress. Susannah is usually thinking about drawing or clothes or riding her bike. That strawberry and the complete excitement of biting into it’s giant, juicy shape was a big part of her morning. It probably is equal to the excitement I feel when the weather is warm for the first time all year. Cutting it up was like a wind and hail storm arriving just as I make plans and pack a picnic to enjoy the lovely weather. Horribly disappointing and ultimately changes my plans ahead.

 

I remember when Jim (the eldest of my three younger brothers) and I were about four and three years old and we were driving home from somewhere. Our mum promised us that we could stop at Little Chef on the way for some dinner. We were ecstatic! Not only did this prospect contain the adventure of eating out, but we were also given a lollipop after we had finished by that particular chain of restaurant. That was probably going to be the best thing that was to occur on that day, or possibly for all of that week. Sadly, we fell asleep in the car and mum didn’t want to wake us. I will never forget the overwhelming sensations of sadness, regret, disappointment and anger this (what felt to me was a tragedy) sparked for me. The devastation I experienced in that moment from missing out felt as painful as a break up. That’s how big it was to me. Because my world was so much smaller that it is now. But that shouldn’t mean my emotions were any less valid. It’s just different things that triggered them. As my world grew, so did my ability to control my responsiveness as have the things that make me respond.   That’s what I try to remember when I think my children are over-reacting.

 

How often do you hear parents say “It’s not a big deal”, “Get over it,” “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” “There are far bigger things in life to worry about” and that kind of thing? But if we think about it, children react to things just like we do, except they have not yet learnt to understand these intense feelings or how to manage them. So how do these phrases help a child determine these things?! I think reacting to a child this way teaches a child that to feel is incorrect and to be ignored. How incredibly lonely we would all be if we were all treated this way?

 

Even as adults, we expect a certain emotional etiquette from each other in everyday life. We belittle the way others feel just because we don’t accept that it’s reasonable to feel a particular way over a particular thing. If we don’t share the reaction, we discount it. Surely that is the gateway to depression? Feeling isolated with our emotions.

 

You know that other expression “life is hard”. Couldn’t we, instead of using it to shut others up and expect them to deal with their challenging emotions in silence,  use that as a reminder of how we all find things difficult at times? As a way to unite us as human beings and normalise any negative reactions to the everyday struggle we call life? Why is being sad, angry, lonely, disappointed is nothing to be ashamed of. We all feel this way from time to time and we all have our own reasons. Let’s stop expecting everyone to respond the way we think they should. Let’s accept their responses as theirs and be there for them.

 

Muzz and I have been together 7 years so we have had long time to grow together and understand how the other deals with certain things. Muzz’s family are some of the most wonderful people I have ever known and I am so thrilled to have them as family now. But they are not emotional. That is of course acceptable! Everyone deals with things in their own ways. But Muzz did not understand how sensitive and over emotional I am as a person because he had never really seen it before. It does not take a lot to make me burst into tears and at first Muzz would often resort to telling me to ‘dry up’. I am very over the top so you could hardly blame him. Sometimes I just get sad about how beautiful things are and how people let the exquisiteness pass them by. Did you ever read ‘the secret life of bees’? There was a character in that story called May Boatright- she would feel such heartache that she would write about it in little notes and hide them in a wall at the end of the garden. I am like a (slightly less dramatic) version of her. I feel so deeply and care so much it is a stirring. It keeps me awake. It is a pumping through my body that could quite frankly tip me over the edge if I didn’t monitor it frequently. Not everyone experiences emotions this intense on a daily basis, many people simply react to particular circumstances. And that’s what we like to expect from people, a bloody good reason to feel something. But why? To feel something is not a choice, it just is. So with time, Muzz learned to tolerate and relate to that side of me. And I have figured out many distractions to keep me from spending an unhealthy amount of time on one particular emotion. Tit for tat. And perhaps we could all think about limiting how much we compare ourselves to each other. Muzz has accepted that I am very extreme emotionally and I have accepted that he isn’t all the time. Both are common and respectable.

 

I spoke to a doctor recently that gave a good analogy for how people deal with their feelings. He said that not everyone in concentration camps experienced depression, but most people did. Meaning of course that in one of the most extremely bleak scenarios imaginable, still some people cope mentally, and others don’t even need to be in a severe situation to fall apart. We all have our breaking points and we don’t choose where they are. Conclusively, there is no right or wrong to these feelings, they just are and we should all try to respect what another person might be going through emotionally, even if we don’t understand it.


And when it comes to our children, I think we should do this will bells on. Surely it will help them develop a healthy understanding of their own emotions and a compassionate approach to others. If we can normalise their emotions by acknowledging how they are feeling and allowing them to talk about it  then it will be easier for them to work out how to anticipate these feelings and cope with them. Often, that is all any of us need to feel instantly uplifted. Time, respect and compassion from the people around us.

A new years resolution that did wonders

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A new years resolution that did wonders

 

So a few years ago my friend Tessa (who seems to be coming up a lot in my posts, probably because she is one of my most thought provoking friends) introduced me to the idea of living without competition. To the possibility of raising our children without teaching them to think in a competitive way. Intriguing…

 

Naturally I got defensive to begin with and said in response:

 

“Well I don’t think there is any harm in gentle competition”

 

But as soon as I uttered the words, I began to doubt that they were true. What I love about Tessa is that she never pushes these things. She plants the seed and leaves it with you. Being a naturally obsessive person I spent a few sleepless nights mulling this concept over. When I thought about it that much, I could not find a single example where being competitive did me any favours. In fact, it brought out my ugliest traits.

 

I suppose my first introduction to the antagonistic drive of needing to win was introduced through good old sibling rivalry. My brother Jim and I were always compared and spent many of our childhood years, fighting for the spotlight when it came to school and home. I remember the intense emotions so clearly. A mixture of pure awe at a person and unshakable jealousy. I don’t think this is a healthy way for anyone to begin their life. Yet so many siblings start off the same way.

 

This feeling whatever it was; this melancholy fervor that made me need to be better than others, remained with me. It never made a ‘fun’ evening of board games end well. I was often compared to Monica from friends. Sticking it to the loser if I did well and raging if I didn’t. Embarassing.

 

There are two sides to being competitive: One where you behave obnoxiously and are desperate to beat everyone (and have that be noticed) to feel good about yourself. The other where you know you have no chance of winning so you give up before you’ve even started. I have definitely experienced both, most of my life so far. And neither bring out the best in me.

 

I honestly think this is why so many kids loathe sport at school. Rather than teaching children the art of the pastime fairly and indeed the true, noble path to competing, schools generally search for kids with ‘potential’. Because they want their cabinets filled with trophies. All the average children are ignored and below average in my experience tend to irritate the teachers.

 

I was never picked for any team, ever. So I hated P.E. It made me feel bad about myself. So naturally I rebelled. Imagine a scenario though where teams were not the important part of school sports though? Where children are all being taught fairly and filled with the spirit of friendly competition. Where they are given the opportunity to take part and develop a passion for a sport even though they aren’t the best. Imagine all children being at ease with losing sometimes. And more importantly being used to that without it being and kind of tragedy or personal failure. Surely that’s a valuable lesson for us all to learn? And where better than the sports field?

 

I’m not going to bang on about educational settings here but i do want to give one more example where they often (I think) encourage children to perceive each other as rivals rather than peers:

 

Placing children in ‘sets’ for classes.

 

In my opinion, most children don’t actually know what they are ‘good’ at. They are told. By their parents and by their teachers. Placing a child in a ‘bottom’ set for anything is code for saying “You are shit at this”. I remember the feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing that came with being placed in one of those lower settings well. Most teenagers are familiar with these emotions. I think this is one of the factors. Again, for me, it made me give up without even trying- my philosophy being “why bother if I’m crap? I’ll just mess around until I enter a class that I’m good at.”

 

I also realise that my reasons for misbehaving in these classes was down to feeling incompetent. Making people laugh made me feel better about myself. So rather than sitting there sadly hating myself for being ‘stupid’ (which is what I thought I was thanks to the set placings), I was ‘naughty’. The looks of hatred and yells of impatience from the teacher confirmed these two things- 1) I was indeed a bad kid 2) And a stupid one. A vicious cycle that did me no favours in those classes, or for my well being as I developed as a person. If people view you as ‘bad’ you start to see yourself that way. Same with intelligence. So I think this idea helps create the kids with low self-esteem and attitude problems and often, it doesn’t change for them.

 

This was the environment that first made me resent learning. And all kids are born with the desire to learn, are they not?

 

In the higher sets I liked the work. But this is where the atmosphere was most competitive. We were all secretly thinking, “We are all great at this cause we are in here, but who is the best?”

 

Who could get the best grades?

 

Who could answer questions first?

 

Who could answer questions the best?

 

Etc etc.

 

The amount of straight A friends I have that suffer with huge anxiety is very interesting. They can’t sleep during exam time. They shake, cry, sweat with panic and work, work, work. And if they don’t get that A, they hate themselves. Completely. They are ashamed! What kind of world are we living in?! Shouldn’t learning go back to being that drive and passion we were all born with? Not a constant strive to do better than last time? Or better than everyone else? It’s not healthy.

 

So after tossing and turning for nights on end. I decided that being competitive for me (and probably most) is a horrible trait engrained by nurture, not nature. Therefore, I could eliminate it from my personality. I could retrain my brain to no longer think that way.

 

You know what? It worked.

 

Obviously the people around me have a lifetime’s worth of evidence to contradict me here, but with any change, it takes time. It’s been three years. In another ten, people will no longer see me as a maniac that needs to win. I am confident of that.

 

The way I did it was by focusing on the feeling after winning when ever I started to feel the gut stab and horrendous desire to ‘outdo’ others. I concentrated on the fact that no-one actually cares. The axiom that I can’t scroll back in my mind and work out who won which game and when? Because ultimately it doesn’t matter, it has never mattered. I realised the people I am drawn to are not people that need to beat others at things but people who want to learn throughout their lives regardless of what others think of them. That is the kind of person I long to be. Someone who is at ease with my intelligence and feeds my intellect at my own pace and relishes it. I strive to grow into someone who admires others without envy. Someone who can laugh at myself if I do a bad job at something. I want my children to possess this qualities too. And I am a main influence to them!

Since this revelation, I am actually growing more secure in my own abilities. I now embrace this strange, relaxed freedom that comes with not needing to be the best, or funniest, or skinniest, or smartest etc etc. I am definitely less judgemental of others which makes me more compelled by people. I genuinely want everyone to succeed! It feels so warm and wonderful. I even have a better body image and expectation for myself and others. All in all, I am a happier, healthier person without competition.

 

Also (I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant) my eldest daughter, she is glowing from these changes already. Susannah is three, so she came just at the right time. If she loses at a game she still enjoys it and wants to play again! I hope I can keep this going for her. I feel so proud when she sings “wah wah wah wah’ with a big smile on her face as she slides her playing counter down a snake rather than up a ladder.

 

Another thought that occured to me is that most things are subjective anyway. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and all that. If we apply this logic to most situations, no-one is bad or great at anything. We are all different and interesting. So next time a friend shows us a painting that we think is terrible, maybe we should try and see it for what it is, a little piece of them, instead of trying to rate whether it is any good. If it makes the person doing it happy then who bloody cares?

 

Anyway, there is a reason that people often die before anyone appreciates their work. Because people are stuck in their ways. So I reckon, what ever we enjoy we should do it with bells on even if the people around us, the critics, our parents or teachers tell us we are terrible at it. They can all go jump. Because we are all entitled to revel in things regardless of other people’s standards.

 

If we could all learn to love what we do and cherish doing it, and feel the same to the people around us, maybe we would all be more confident, laugh more and take bigger leaps. Because honestly, who are we to judge anyway? We might not be right about everything…