Amended titles. 

My daughter changed the title of this book. I’m so sad that she needed to. Who said girls can’t love pirates?

This particular book company are notorious for the ‘girls’ book of this’ and the ‘boys book of that’, but stories? Good stories are good stories. They aren’t aimed at a person’s genitals, but at their minds and hearts.

I ordered this book for my seven year old daughter, I’m proud she changed the title, she loves the stories. But never a sighting of this book goes by that she doesn’t rail against the idiocy of the title. Maybe I should be grateful that it gives us scope for conversation and feminism, but instead I’m sad these conversations need to happen from such a young age.

I hope my children never say shit like, ‘But some of my best friends are black!’*

Driving home today, we heard the news on the radio. It was discussing the American football player who refused to stand for the national anthem; it was discussing black people being killed by police in America.

And so the questions came.

‘Mama, what did that say about the police hurting black people?’

‘Mama, why are police hurting black people?’

So we spoke. I told them if a white person and a black person committed the same crime, the black person was likely to be more harshly sentenced, to spend longer in prison. S started to cry – she said we need to speak out and get these people released.

I told them how people of colour are more likely to be treated unfairly in daily life. How they might be denied the same opportunities white people had.

What a hard thing to say to my children, but how easy it was to say it. If we are allies of the human race, we cannot deny racism. It exists. My children could quickly grasp the idea of racism on an institutional and individual level. It was easy to have this discussion (don’t be afraid), but so hard that we had to have this talk.

I said, I hope the two of you grow up to be people who stand up against this sort of behaviour. You might be able to challenge racism in your future jobs, you might be able to reach out and include people that might be left out. But don’t wait till you are grown up. You can make a difference now.

And they talked about how they could help make things better. They spoke as children do, ignorant of the centuries of enslavement and oppression, but so sweet and pure and ideal.

‘Mama, _______ is kind of sort of black and he’s so nice! Mama, ______ is black and she’s very, very kind.’ They went on, naming names of children they knew. Using these children as examples of wonderful people of colour – but not yet realising their friends might be hurt now or in future because of their colour. Not understanding they themselves might be hurt one day because they are raised by two mothers.

But they named names*.

And I sit here, home after a morning walking through thunder and lightning, thinking that the most important thing is connection. Putting names and faces and stories to real people instead of buying into stereotypes.

I’ve had emails from people saying they’ve used our family, me, to discuss with their children about queer families. I don’t mind. I come out, I am who I am (trying to have) no hesitations because I know it’s important to the world to be a real person. Not just a label.

So, my sweet children, go on naming those names. Go on questioning the system. Go on planning how you can make a difference.

And, my sweet friends, go on thinking about this stuff. Consider discussing it with your children. They are capable enough to handle the hard stuff, and really, aren’t we all responsible for challenging racism? One way to do that is to teach the next generation that inequality exists. It’s real. But diversity is wonderful; cultures are deep and rich and powerful. They are worth defending, worth learning about.

These conversations are worth having.

 

Around the kitchen table. 

Around the kitchen table, we can cry, we can laugh. 

One might be feeling emotions they think are too wide, one may feel too prickly, but here we are. 

Around the kitchen table we honour ourselves by telling our truths. We love our friends as we listen, as the children run in and out to whisper secrets in our ears or deliver treasures, as our words and stories ebb and flow. 

Sometimes we say too much, sometimes we don’t say enough. But here, in this space, we can try to hold and embrace – even when we don’t know the right way to do it, even when we want to do more, even when we feel so deeply the truth of another’s words. 

Around the kitchen table we gather as women, nurturing our children, ourselves, and each other. We are beautiful. 

It helps. 

You don’t have to have hot air balloons bright and dancing on the day you turn seven, but it helps.

The smell of food stalls lining the paths, the glow of lights in every direction, music pulsing deep and loud as the balloons light up in beautiful rhythm.

You don’t have to spend the afternoon stretched on a picnic blanket, or eating lukewarm chips, or running in circles laughing on the day you turn seven. You don’t have to stay up late to watch balloons dance.

But it helps.

Getting there. 

A little less than a year ago, S picked up a Dr Suess book and…just read it. Yes, she needed a bit of help, but she read all sixty pages of Hop on Pop like a mofo. Was I relieved? That was the understatement of the century.

Sure, all the unschoolers who came before me said to just relax and trust things. But, you know, literacy is a bit more complicated than potty learning. I was relaxed about that, I did no ‘training.’ (Though I had potties everywhere, explained what they were for, and made myself available if needed. Much like books and reading!) At age 2, S decided one day she was through with nappies. Three weeks later, M followed suit. I think each had one accident in the two days following getting rid of nappies, and never again. They were ready.

So I clutched our urine free carpet memories to my chest, I held tight to the words of those with older children and teenagers. I read the blogs of adults that had been unschooled. And I held tight.

What does unschooling look like when you are learning to read? We’ve never done lessons or anything formal. And that, my friend, takes courage.

Did I go nuts and order like four different sets of beginning books? Sure. Did I download Teach Your Monster to Read (WHICH IS AWESOME!)? Of course. But did I ever make the kids do any of those things? No.

S learning to read was a quiet event, right before my birthday bonfire. She read a book; we went outside and made s’mores. I wasn’t too surprised as she’d been writing for ages, had begun to sound out searches for youtube videos, etc. But still. Relief.

She’s read signs and various things over the past year with this sort of prideful glee, but not cared too much about books. But in the last three weeks? She’s bringing books to read in the car. I’m finding her in various corners of the house, reading. She’s showing me books for older children in bookstores and double checking she’s reading the sentences right. BOOM.

So we were 50% there. I relaxed quite a bit – now I had proof I could see and touch, it was easier to believe. But M is very different to S. He doesn’t do a lot of fine motor things, he doesn’t care about writing things down, he rarely draws. We recently read The Neverending Story to the kids and it totally captured his imagination. He’s always liked advanced books; his bedtime book for a good few weeks was a history of WWII book written for adults.

So how was he to ever match his intellectual brightness with the stupidity of most beginning reading schemes? I kind of thought he’d be one of those unschooling kids who doesn’t read until ten, but then is suddenly reading Ulysses in a single gulp.

Then I heard about another set of books recommended by another home edder. And because I hoard books and love getting stuff in the mail, I ordered them. He picked up the first one AND HE JUST READ IT.

What?!

What the actual?!

No stumbling, no hesitation. Then he read the next one.

Today in the car, S offered him one of her books. And he read that puppy, too!

MY GOD I CAN FINALLY EXHALE. Thank you, gods and goddesses of literacy, thank you books illustrated with stick figures sitting on each other while a freaky deaky sun looks on in horror.

It’s easy to retrospectively trust in the process, now that we are there. But getting there? I’m here to say it’s okay to worry, it’s normal to doubt – but my god, is it worth it to hang on. Because it’ll happen. And when it does, it’s truly at the right time for your child. They can do it.

But you know, YOU CAN TOO. Stay strong. *love to you all*

Now I’m off – probably to worry about when they’ll start reading more and more and more…at higher levels…with greater ease…It’s not easy to step of the merry go round of parental worry and guilt, but each little joy and success makes it easier.

Adventure day. 

We’ve been so busy lately. Busy with all sort of ‘enriching’ things. Classes, time with friends, busy busy busy. Even though during the summer most groups and classes are off, we have been alternating our normal ‘busy’ with total crushing downtime.

Last night I thought it was time to get back to what life has always looked like for us – at least before the busy bug struck.

Time to explore new places, with no constraints to rush back to anything else. A day with just the three of us (though Suzy was missed); no friends to consider when we decided what to do.

Last night I had a little google, looking at English Heritage, the National Trust, the CADW, and plain old ordinary maps. That’s how I discovered we don’t live that far from a big ass chalk horse carved into a hill in Wiltshire. I decided that could be a loose destination, a way for us to be pointed in.

This morning I told the kids it was Adventure Day. As we drove, if we saw anything cool we’d stop. We did – at a garden centre cum pet supply shop, with a cafe charmingly named after the camp where Suzy and I met. We marveled at cactus displays, venus fly traps, compasses and swiss army style cutlery. Then we got back in the car.

Oh, white horse on the hill, how I love you. We drove up a very narrow, winding road to the top of a hill. The whole carpark was chalk; it was so white. We pulled out a blanket and had a picnic on the flat grass expanse, looking at books, chatting, laying back in the sun.

Eventually we headed off to see what we could see of an Iron Age fort and a white horse.

There were grasshoppers singing, blue skies, a gentle breeze rippling the long grasses. We had pastels and oil crayons, scavenger hunt books and a kite, and all the time in the world.  With nowhere to be, we found we were in exactly the right place for exactly the right amount of time.

We stood on the hill and searched for the other two white horses visible from the peaks. We walked ages along a chalky path (which made me feel sick at points, so high and steep were we!). We saw a train pottering along in the distance and wondered if the people onboard would notice the horse.

And I felt happy. Happier than I’ve felt in ages. It was just me and the kids, just me and this wild, gorgeous place, just me and all the time in the world. Never have I felt so enriched.

As we move towards September, we are rethinking how our days and weeks will be ordered. We are leaving some things behind, trying one or two new things, but largely – we will hopefully be exploring, be adventuring without having a specific day set for that purpose, wandering and thinking and making art.

We’ll invite friends along, and gladly go along with others, but I think we’ll try to have more time just us. More time drinking in the beauty of wild spaces, time lazy and ripe. Because, really, what could be better?