And every day you cry over the deaths of the flowers. Why are they dying? I don’t want them to die. Can we have the exact same flowers for next spring and summer?

I say, Oh, I know, it is sad. But this is the cycle of the seasons, the wheel of the year. It will get colder now, everything will rest to get ready for spring. The leaves go back into the earth, to help replenish nutrients. And some flowers do come back, year after year.


Your sister accepts these small deaths, she tries to explain to you. Still, your mourn for all the colourful little souls, for those things you attach life and meaning to.

And we are in a season of questions.

Do you miss your Grandma Annie? Were you sad when she died? Is our Nana dying?

Why is Great Nana so old? What day will she die? Will you watch her die?

I don’t want to die.


And the gift in this is my own healing. Death has troubled me greatly, and as I try to impart to you what I realise I believe, I find a sort of quiet peace even as I muddle my way through these sometimes painful discussions.


Because the truth is, life is full of seasons. How much you have both changed in four years. How much I have changed in 35. Sometimes we weep, sometimes we laugh, always we grow – even when it hurts, even when it seems unfathomable that we will come out the other side. You haven’t known that sort of pain, and I hope you remain in this world of possibilities, of theoretical deaths, for as long as possible.


The old leaves have to fall, I say, to make room for the new. Each generation nourishes the one to follow. And in this season of deeper questions, powerful discussions of conception and birth and death, I feel ancestors stretching behind me, hopefully nodding in approval.

And looking at the two of you, I finally see the generations ahead.



How they are developing…

S and M are different people with different focuses.

S is into a lot of ‘academic’ stuff. Today, for instance, she spent hours playing maths apps and has mastered symmetry, furthered her understanding of fractions, and continued working towards consistently knowing the difference between right and left. She’s been able to do oral maths problems (that she creates, and that people around her do) since age two, and these are gradually gaining in complexity and her speed in solving them.

She has been desperate to learn to read and started begging me to teach her about six months ago. I’ve gone along with her, but also tried to emphasise all the stuff she’s doing already is helping her learn. She started with a fascination for road signs and recognising a handful of basic words. She somehow learned every letter of the alphabet, and three days ago discovered that each letter makes a sound. At dinner yesterday she pointed to most letters on her alphabet placemat and made the correct sound.

She’s done all this herself – obviously I’ve strewed interesting things in her path and explored them with her when she wanted, we read books of all shapes and sizes together, etc – but there have been no school like sessions of memorising sight words or formally doing phonics.

S also delights in medical things – skeletons both human and animal, organs, the senses. She has said she wants to be a vet and adores animals; she has a knack of making them like her very quickly. She’s very musical and into horns; she makes up tuneful songs all day long and narrates what we are doing through them. S loves doing ‘shows’, both with her as the key performer, and making shows with her toys for us to watch. She also insists on being called Baby Kitten about 98% of the time, and acts accordingly. She spends a lot of time upside down, trying to fully master headstands, and taught herself the perfect forward roll at age one. She loves her Bunny above all other things (and recently has discovered a love for soft toy animals), and Bunny now wears pyjamas just like S (think of pyjamas as her uniform). S knows her mind and is not afraid to be very clear in expressing her opinion…sometimes quite fiercely.

I often think of M as a creative engineer or film director. He likes making things, and delights in watching YouTube videos relating to Angry Birds and Minecraft, then replicating things he’s seen in physical form in our house. This often takes the form of directing us to do his bidding. He adores YouTube in general, and calls a kid on there who does product reviews his friend.

As a toddler, he saw a bike rack on a car for the first time. He came home, found some sticks, and put them on the roof of his Little Tykes cozy coupe. Ditto windshield wipers. This has not changed; his basic, shining belief that we can make whatever we wish. The recent project has been making Minecraft guys and worlds from Lego, though he also makes fantastical creations from pipe cleaners…and…well, anything he can get his hands on.

He is a collector and wants all of whatever it is he is interested in. His current joy lies in Angry Birds Star Wars telepods and mystery packs. Often he is satisfied if we make whatever it is – a superhero house of out cardboard boxes, a Frank combine from Cars out of yogurt containers and toilet paper rolls, an Angry Birds Death Star out of tinfoil. He is a visionary thinker, and his confidence in relation to his creativity astounds me.

We have collaborated on making a CD of Minecraft song parodies, and he has learned all the words. He begged us to let him get chilli pepper seeds when he loved the chilli pepper on Plants vs Zombies (and we ended up with a HUGE crop that none of us really ate!). He has two stuffed dogs and one stuffed cat he really likes, though only as good friends. He loves babies and will often zero in on the baby or toddler left alone at soft play, remaining by their side as protector and guardian until their parent returns. He is tender hearted, loving, and the first to rush over and ‘blow’ on someone’s body if they get hurt. He doesn’t like the cinema, and in fact often doesn’t want to watch new DVDs at home as he gets too upset when characters are in peril. Yet he stages grand battles between piggies and birds, creepers and Steve. He is now deeply into road signs and often hangs around when S and I are discussing reading related things. M is very, very outgoing and will happily to speak to anyone of any age. He delights in roughousing and recently made two friends who do, also. He loves Christmas decorations with a grand passion. He dances frantically and while laughing.

Both love playing together and independently. Likewise, they love their friends (including the grown up ones, and children of all ages), but also love just hanging out at home, too. Each can play for hours in created worlds using small figures. S often ropes me into hide and seek, while M wants me to sit with him and play Minecraft.

I’m interested in who they are, what they enjoy, how they learn. I wonder what their adult lives hold in store. Whatever the case, I hope the things they are learning now always hold true – it is worthwhile to discover your passion and pursue it, it is okay to try something different or stop doing something you no longer enjoy, the world is full of possibility and adventure.

Fingers crossed.

Our house is still standing.

Well, our flimsy scarecrow is still standing.

I was unable to sleep last night in expectation for the storm, but finally succumbed around three am before waking up at six. Our area wasn’t hit too badly, though apparently 7000 homes in the wider area lost power. I slept through the storm.

It’s still happening now, in London, which is where my sister lives (her Facebook statuses are rather bemused and focusing on the fact that it just seems like ‘a normal windy day’). A tree was just downed by winds in South London, causing a gas line rupture and explosion. I hope the picture of the house tweeted by the London fire brigade was empty, because it is gone.

One fourteen year old boy who was playing in the sea was swept away last night. They have given up the search. This morning, a seventeen year old girl was killed by a tree falling on her static home, where she was sleeping.

Wind speeds of 99 mph were documented in certain areas of the UK. Flooding has happened (and with the rain currently chucking down here, I would suspect it will get worse) and lots of tree branches have been blown off.

So, that’s the summary. A few really awful things, including loss of life, but by and large the UK suffered minimal damage. I hope all of you, and your friends and family, are okay. We all slept through what was the worst of the storm and a glance out our windows shows nothing out of the ordinary. I know other areas weren’t so lucky.

The great storm of October 2013?

For the past few days, all I’ve been hearing about is the storm that is about to hit this evening/tomorrow. Multiple reports from good sources predicting hurricane force gusts, localised flooding, etc.

The American part of me quietly rejoices – of course I don’t want people to get hurt, buildings to get blown down – but I miss storms. Some of them, anyway. At the same time, I find myself skeptical.

In what now feels like another lifetime, I lived and worked in the woods. As a camp director at a large summer camp in the middle of nowhere, I found myself addicted to checking hourly weather predictions. This one website would say a storm would start at 3 pm, and at 2:58 black clouds would roll in. I took to printing out a little forecast for every day so we could adjust activities accordingly – though life at camp went on pretty much as normal unless it was a prolonged thunderstorm, severe thunderstorm, or tornado.

You see, I grew up in a part of the world where we were hit with severe thunderstorms multiple times a summer…often more than one per week. The winds were strong enough to uproot massive, old trees, leaving six foot craters behind. Hail was heavy and large enough to break windows and cause bruises. I personally knew one child (though this did not happen at camp, thankfully!) who was struck by lightning and had both kneecaps blown out at the age of five.

Thunderstorms, even severe ones, were my secret delight – especially at camp. Elsewhere, you had a chance to just enjoy booming thunder so loud your teeth would vibrate in your head…for hours on end. At camp, as a part of the supervisory staff, we rode golf carts around, wildly careening to make sure each and every child was safe in a building or basement. We tied down tent flaps to try to save possessions. One on memorable occasion, I went into a platform tent that had a downed tree on top in order to get the kids’ stuff out.


Tornados were another matter – they hit the area I live a good few times each summer, leaving more uprooted trees, damaged buildings, power outages for days. It was just part of my life to notice when the skies went green, when the air went deadly still in the middle of a howling thunderstorm, when the leaves on the trees flipped upside down to reveal the silvery undersides.

I spent hours of my childhood in the basement of our family home. Where I’m from, you see, every house has a basement. While they have evolved into awesome rec rooms, extra lounges, and storage spaces – they exist because of the severity of the weather. And it should be noted I’m not from a part of America that gets totally destroyed by tornadoes.

One of my earliest memories is being shoved in a cardboard box under the stairs with my baby sister, my mother throwing a mattress over us and lying on it to hold it in place.

One year while I attended camp as a child, a tornado hit my neighbourhood. My sister and birth father were locked out of the house, holding onto the handle of the door in the garage that led into the house, and they were literally lifted off their feet and almost sucked into the tornado. The large RV parked a foot from our house was lifted, and twisted like a wet cloth being wrung out, before being thrown hundreds of metres away in a neighbour’s garden. A huge tree was thrown through our roof and my parents’ bedroom was full of leaves and branches….a real live treehouse.

So you can see why I am a bit skeptical about the UK. This started my first year here, with snowfall. I lived in South London, and we had less than a centimetre of snow AND THE WHOLE CITY SHUT DOWN. My father in law was scared to drive, workplaces were closed, and I was just amazed. A few years later a ‘bad’ snowstorm caused people to be trapped on a motorway for hours, and food and water had to be airlifted in.

I don’t wish to minimize people’s suffering. Certainly a country that has year round moderate temperatures (compared to where I grew up, which was much hotter in the summer and MUCH colder in the winter, with snowdrifts that seemed miles high) and minimal experience with severe weather cannot be expected to deal efficiently with bad storms. Of course people who hear thunder MAYBE twice a summer get excited about the ‘thunderstorms.’

The storm predicted for tonight/tomorrow seems to consist of gusts of gale force  and heavy rain. Like many in the UK, we have cleared the garden of (most) toys in preparation. Unlike other people, we have not bought extra food, batteries, candles, etc. I don’t doubt severe winds could cause absolute upheaval in the UK – and I also imagine a power outage would take a considerably long time to repair, compared to America, where we had storm related power outages around the year. But I can’t imagine a storm so bad that we’d be trapped at home for days, unable to get supplies if needed.

I don’t want anyone to get hurt, to lose their roof, for a flood to damage a business. But I wouldn’t mind some real storm action.

We’ve planned to stay in tomorrow, to wear pyjamas and watch films and play. To basically hang out and watch the rain and wind.

If the storm is as bad as predicted, much of the country will be facing what the UK terms as severe weather. I hope those of you living in this country remain safe, your homes and loved ones secure. Suzy will be going to work tomorrow in all likelihood, a half hour drive on narrow roads along massive drops, up and down hills. I secretly hope the weather is obviously bad enough for her to stay in and play with us, as I will be genuinely worried during her drive to and from work.

But assuming we all stay safe….well….the truth is, I wouldn’t mind a big storm. They are one of the things I get homesick for.




Sticky spider webs!


We like making stuff, and we really like Halloween. The start of the month kicked off with a flurry of crafts that are now tapering, but this is one of the coolest looking.

We chose square webs – so four sticks of roughly equal length we collected. The kids collect sticks and rocks (and pine ones and….and….everything) so we always have stuff going spare. Tie the edges together.

Then let them loose with sticky tape. Organised pattern, wild web spinning – anything goes.

Our spiders are just black paper and some googly eyes – as many as desired, obviously.

Finally, scrunched up balls of tissue paper make great bugs and are easy to stick onto the tape.

We added some black netted fabric as a ribbon hanger, and these bad boys are now adorning the stairs in the lounge, which always seem to be the home of seasonal/celebration all artwork.

This is one craft that the kids can take the lead on, and it always looks great. Enjoy!

Just say yes – and then watch what happens.

‘Yes’ is the most powerful message you can give to your children. Some things are direct requests.

Can we sleep outside?


Can we go see that horse?


Can we play Twister before bed?


Sometimes your child makes a decision to try something that is new, or seems interesting or worthwhile. You don’t need to say anything, then. You just stand back and watch….and sometimes, you fetch whatever they need to help complete their scheme.



‘Yes’ really means:

You are capable of making good decisions.

You can choose things based on what you find exciting or are curious about.

I trust you.

Sometimes it is a small yes. Sure, we can make cookies. We can pick up endless sticks and rocks while we walk. We can opt to skip going to gymnastics to stay home and all watch a movie together in my bed.

Often it’s bigger – and means having to stand back while they assess risk, solve problems, or get incredibly messy.

We are lucky in that we have lots of time. Nothing is so pressing that we cannot explore things along the way. We have lots of space to just be, to choose what to do as we go along. So that makes things easier for us, but not impossible for people with busier schedules, or school, or …well, whatever, really.


So try it. When your child asks to do something, or just goes ahead and does it – and your natural inclination is to say no or hurry them along – just pause. Do you have five minutes to let them do this thing? Are they safe? Then say yes.

Have that wild dance party in the kitchen. Watch them collect fifty conkers and spend ages ‘washing’ them in a stream. Laugh to yourself as they wear costumes out of the house.

And this is the most important part: look at their face. Really pay attention to those moments when a child is learning about joy, about passion, about curiosity.


Just now…aka WTAF.

S: Hey, let’s play that game I like! You say, ‘Hmm, I think I want to buy a new kitten. I’ll go to the pet shop.’

Me: Hmm, I think I’ll go to the pet shop to get a new kitten. Now, where is the pet shop?

M: deep voice The pet shop is over here.

Me: Oh, you’re like my sat nav.

M: I’m not. I’m the shopkeeper.

Me: oh, okay. Aw, look at this baby kitten. She looks lovely. S meowing and cuddling up to me. I’d like to take her home.

M: You have to give me money.

Me: okay, how much?

M: you do not have enough. You only have two pounds and she costs a LOT of money.

S purring and doing various kitten things.

Me: I’ll go to the bank.

M: no. The bad guys went to every bank, and every house, and there is not enough money anywhere. All the banks only have two pounds.

S: Baby kitten forgot! I have money. I don’t need it, you can have it and use it to buy me.

M: No. I need to fix her body.

Me: what’s wrong with her body?

M: she’s a robot. A robot kitten.

Me: I…oh. Uh, are you a robot?

S: I’m not. I’m a kitten.

s and I make various sad faces and plead to the shopkeeper about how we want to be a family. M refuses. It’s all very lighthearted and m and I are laughing. S is staying true to role and does not deviate from being a sad, affectionate cat. Excuse me, a baby kitten.

S: very sad face. Maybe you’ll have to buy a different kitten. Baby kitten is sad because she likes you.

Me: No, I want you to be my kitten.

M: No! You cannot buy her!

S makes claws and a terrifying mean cat face at M.

M bursts into tears.

I bet you had gendered comments about your kid when they were still in utero.

When M and S were tiny, a relative complained about S’s crying. ‘She’s so demanding,’ was said with extreme disapproval.

In the next breath, this relative cooed over M’s crying. ‘What big, strong cries!’

Almost from the minute they escaped my womb and entered the wide world, gendered statements like this have been aimed at them. Expectations that M would be tough, strong, wild, while S was bound to like ballet, dolls, and be quiet. Blue clothes and pink clothes. Blankets and books for him that were exciting – spaceships, robots, etc, while S was given flowers and ribbons.

I don’t claim robots are better than flowers.

But surely every child, every person, deserves the opportunity to discover their own joys, their own motivators, their own sense of aesthetic beauty and wonder?

S had short, curly brown hair for a long time – it didn’t begin to grow until she was nearly two. Whereas M had long, blonde hair. As babies, as toddlers, their gender was often confused.  We never dressed them in colours that were supposed to signify who they were – rather, M was very into pink as a baby, and S liked bolder colours. Enter more gender confusion.

About a year ago, I let the children pick new, larger backpacks. He chose one with a bunny he liked the look of, she chose one because she liked the owl. It just so happens his bag is pink, hers blue.

And this totally harmless and simple ‘switching’ of ‘appropriate’ colours? Not a week goes by when we don’t get comments. Queries as why they are wearing each other’s backpacks, helpful comments letting us know boys shouldn’t have a pink bag and girls shouldn’t have blue, etc. I hope I lead by example when I keep patiently repeating, ‘We let them pick what they like.’

A few months back we went to a food festival, and there was an awesome face painter there. M asked to be Spiderman (the first time we had faces painted, he asked to be a butterfly. The old woman painting them could NOT wrap her head around this, and tried to make him a brown and black butterfly. Man, did I get a LOOK when I brightly explained that he liked colours.), and S was planning on being the Green Goblin.

As M climbed down from the face painting chair, the lady turned to S and said, ‘And I suppose you want to be a beautiful fairy? Or a butterfly?’ S’s face showed a second of crumbling, of confusion, before she backed away and said she didn’t want her face painted anymore.

Why shouldn’t she be the Green Goblin? Why shouldn’t he be the one who loves real babies?

Why should (often well meaning, I’m sure) random adults get to tell them who they are and how they should be in the world?

I don’t have one boy and one girl. I have one rambunctious, caring, sensitive, creative thinking kid. And one who is a natural performer, a musician, science minded and into skeletons. Neither of these kids has any particular colour or gendered behaviour attached to them, except perhaps for their chosen favourite colours (red and yellow!).

And yet yesterday at soft play, S pointed up at an ad for a spa treatment. ‘Do you want to be a beautiful lady, Mama?’

‘I am beautiful.’

‘But you don’t wear lipstick.’

And yet last week when we discussed joining a new home ed dance class, M said, ‘But dancing is for girls.’

‘ love to dance!’

‘Only at home. I don’t want to dance in a class!’

So I struggle with where these stereotypical gendered notions come from, but most of my struggle comes from trying to honour who my children are – trying to robustly support them in their expression of their identities, even when they gradually say things like this that alarm me. Part of being four is figuring out gender – who they are, how they relate to other people and objects, how they perceive the world and imagine they are perceiving. What does it mean to be a boy, a girl, or a gender in between? Playing with roles, pushing boundaries…and sometimes, slotting right in to the place society wants them to be.

It’s tricky for all of us.

But these odd conversations are not happening often – more often than not, thankfully, we are still running joyfully wild outdoors, pretending to fish with sticks, wrestling with friends, making cookies to share with others.