Building yourself, one world at a time.

She’s describing her newest Playmobil family to me.

‘This is the dad, he works at the hospital. The mum works at a restaurant. And this is the kid. She’s just….a free kid, because she’s home educated.’

Can we pause for a moment, just for the collective joy swelling of our hearts when we hear our kids say something like this?

I find parenthood is interwoven with guilt and second guessing myself, much of the time. The top 10% of my brain is telling me I’m doing a great job, to trust myself and the kids. The other 90% is like, ‘Really? You think that’s a good idea? Have you thought about the 83920438 ways this decision (whatever it may be) might screw your kids up?’

I hope I’m not alone in feeling that way.

I do find that I’m better at propping other people up than telling them I need support. I like reaching out to people when they might need a boost. I like inspiring others. But in reality, sometimes, especially during gloomy months full of clouds, ear infections, and sad news, I’m just trying my best to get through every day.

And so it rolls on. Am I doing my best, as a home educating parent?

It’s a fine line, a high and dizzying tightrope, along the border of feeling you aren’t doing enough and feeling you need to leave plenty of free time for small miracles to happen.

My miracle today is right now. It’s 1:26 pm. I can hear the kids; they are in a very involved game of Playmobil that’s been going on awhile. They are building worlds, they are living in them.

I’m upstairs in the office, alone, writing. A lot of stuff elsewhere, a bit in this blog. I find my old anonymous blogs that grew so popular were probably that way because they were anonymous. I’ve never written an inauthentic word, but a great many words haven’t been written because they were too scary, too painful, too much for me to share.

So this little period – be it ten minutes or thirty – is my miracle. I’m thinking and writing and feeling instead of all the other ways I use to numb myself on days when things all feel a bit too much. I’m here, I’m trying. …And downstairs?

Downstairs are just two kids who are free, because they are home educated. Because they follow their interests, because they explore their joy, because they trust themselves to find their way. And really, who am I to second guess that?

They are building worlds downstairs, I’m building worlds upstairs. We’ve put a money tree leaf on soil, to help it take root and grow. Sheet music has been read, youtube videos have been watched, I actually did the breakfast dishes. This day isn’t yet over, but we’ve done enough. Building a world, building yourself, is work enough.

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. 

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?

Reevaluating, cherishing. 

It’s easy enough to judge each other, but lately I’ve been feeling the need to take a closer look at myself. I started this parenting journey before I got pregnant, as we went to many fertility appointments, as I lay back on a table with two embryos freshly returned to my womb, as my belly grew tight and stretched over many months.

I started with a set of ideals. Some have slipped away, some haven’t. Some I don’t mind losing.

Sure, I wanted a life of only wooden toys, of minimalism. Can I live with, and even thrive, in our world of chaos, clutter, and toys of every conceivable variety? Sure. Gladly. Other things I thought were so instinctual, but they slipped away almost without me noticing. And for those things, those important things, I’m having conversations with friends, reading books, journalling (a lot!), and thinking.

It’s good to reevaluate.

Children are resilient, thank god. I find they are more resilient  than my own sense of well being, of guilt relating to choices I make (or don’t), of my ability to forgive myself and live in the moment. I’ve lost patience and peacefulness a lot – still nothing drastic, but much more than I wanted to, or expected to.

I remember when I was pregnant. I envisioned being huge and happy, frolicking through fields. The reality is that I was huge and happy – once the endless vomiting stopped and I became hydrated enough to remember I had a bladder. And for frolicking? I frolicking in a mofo wheeelchair, unable to walk, unable to stand while holding a baby…or two. Pregnancy was not what I expected, and that was difficult. But that being said, I couldn’t change pregnancy. It was what it was.

Parenting, now, that I have some control over.

In the last year we’ve met a group of people who have reminded me what I wanted to be, what I was. Standing around a campfire, I’ve had the honour of making friends with people who are who I want to be. More thoughtful, more deliberate, more considerate.

So many times I’ve found myself embarrassed, imagining that I am being judged for the tiny moments my children act like normal children. I’ve worried more about what people think than what my children feel – not always, but enough.

When the reality is that I’m so, so proud of my children for being exactly who they are. I cherish them.

And so, I enter a new season of remembering that my children are individuals, are kind, are funny. That they have freedom and choices, and it’s my job to respect that. All the things that came naturally to me when they were younger have silently begun to erode, and that doesn’t feel right.

Recently we walked on and among endless sand dunes. Some parts were sand, but they were largely supported and enriched by the stout, small grasses and plants that held the sand in place. We wandered in the sun and rain, not entirely sure which path to take but knowing the general direction we wanted to head in. We stopped when we needed, to eat or rest or examine flowers.

As I walk forward in this life, as myself and as a tremendously lucky mother of two amazing children, I gather stout grasses around me. People I trust, a well worn and loved notebook, the ideas and practices of those who have come before me. I have flowers and dandelion clocks and some well worn paths leading surprising places. I may not always know which is the right path to take in any given moment, but I remember the general direction I want to head.

 

Growing tall and bright. 

I read this crazy article the other day. It can be summed up like this:

The school system is awful and needs a complete overhaul. Home education can be awesome.  Yet it is more important to go to school so people can learn to fit in among the mediocre. Many people flourish best when in someone else’s shadow.

Um, what?? 

I flourish in sunshine, with space to grow, with fresh air and fresh ideas. 

My goal is certainly not to have children who live in the shadows, functioning adequately. Being moderately happy. 

My kids are my kids. They’ll be whoever they are. 

Yet, how glorious if we all grew tall, faces toward the sun, and when we reached those heights we held out a hand and helped others into the sun, too. 

  

Tick!!

  
Every year I make a list of 100 things I’d like to do that year. Big, small, silly, dead serious. 

Every year for the last three years I’ve had ‘go on a mini break adventure alone with the kids’ and never managed to get around to doing it. 

While this may not quite count as ‘alone’, it does to me as Suzy wasn’t there and she’s definitely the more adult/responsible one. 

So that’s a big tick off 2016’s list.  We had such a good time I think I can probably backdate my tick to 2014. 

Score! 

Never say no to an adventure! 

About a week ago, a friend said, ‘Hey, do you want to go to Spain with us?’ A couple of days after that we were on a plane with her and her adorable kids. 

Today’s our last day here. After a few days of sun and heat, it’s cooler and windy. Obviously we feel at home on cold beaches. Ha. 

  
  
I was worried if I’d cope on my own with the kids. All the bedtimes, all the nighttimes, all the picky eating that new countries and food allergies bring. But you know what?

It’s been a joy. A time out from normal life which has reminded me a bit more of what I’d like normal life to be like, what it once was before all the classes and clubs and meet ups. 

A little bit slower, a little bit more joy and instinct led, a little more flexible. 

Of course, excellent company helps. So does Spanish sunshine and water with lemons picked fresh off a tree. 

  

Perhaps the biggest lesson (and reward) in these past few days comes from the reminder of how good it feels to say a resounding YES whenever you can. 

  

  

Doing the stuff I need to do to be the person I am/want to be. 

  

Today my meanest nice friend came over. We shipped the kids out to Nana’s, then Meany Nice Friend, Suzy, and myself hella decluttered my bedroom. 

I gave Meany Nice Friend a handbag she liked and now I’m panic attacking (sure, it’s a verb) because WHAT IF I SHOULD HAVE KEPT THE HANDBAG?!

I need to sort my mind out before I end up on one of those compulsive hoarder documentaries in a decade or two. 

I’m taking small steps to get where I want. Earlier this week another friend got a blue vase that I’m oddly attached to. I’ve started an art class – the first art class I have ever done in my life. I joined an excellent and affirming women’s drumming circle a few months back. (And I really really want a djembe drum now!) I’m looking forward to starting a monthly women’s witchy circle. 

I reread my blog about cool stuff I’ve done, and was wondering when or what I will add to that list. I’m getting there. 

In the words of New Kids on the Block… Step by step, ooh baby…

Now the trick is staying sane while taking these steps. 

Age six is hard, for grown up me and younger me.

I feel embarassment for me when my kids ‘have a moment.’ I feel worried for them that they will lose friends or fail to make new friends during these moments in time. Excepting one truly horrific trip to IKEA years ago, my kids never had a toddler temper tantrum. I was secretly smug.

Yes, I think I talk things through with people (aka children) more than others might – is it because I was a counsellor/therapist? Is it because I worked with children for so long? Is it because I liked attachment parenting, peaceful parenting? Is it because I’m a home educator? Yes, yes, yeah, probably!

I find myself infinitely less patient lately. Perhaps this makes the kids feel less safe, maybe I’ve made them feel shame. I guess I have to admit those things. We’ve all been less than perfect parents, and I actually think that’s okay. We can’t all be understanding and patient and perfect all the time.

But no one ever told me of the guilt and worry that accompany being a parent. You’ve got these small people who are still young enough that you are the centre of their universe. And it’s intense and scary, as well as being lovely and amazing.

About a year ago, one of my kids went a little bit crazy. Like stomping off in a black rage needing their ‘privacy’ every single time we met up with other people. That child has come through the other side, and it looks like their sibling is now entering the arena of crazy. This child is whining and screaming and crying. A lot.

I find this so much more difficult to deal with. Maybe because I can see it is having, or could have, a very real effect on that child’s existing friendships. Also I find it difficult that my kind, easygoing, not-a-bad-bone-in-their-body kid is freaking out about shit that I find it difficult to empathise with.

But while chatting with a friend this evening (Oh, where would we be without kindred spirits?), I was hit with a bolt of truth. I wrote something like this to her –

{this child} just reminds me so much of a younger me. I was very, very smart but socially I was very behind. I struggled with friendships. This is painful on a number of levels.

It’s hard as now most people probably see me as suprememly confident, as funny, as smart, as really clued in with emotional things and human relationships. Those things are all true; they were not ALWAYS true. I had a very lonely childhood, but I think – looking back – I was really bloody happy when I was alone. I didn’t really have friends, and I felt awkward about not having them, but when I was home?

Oh, I was running alone through the woods, imagining worlds I miss now. I was writing endless stories in those thin, cheap spiral bound notebooks. I was playing with Fisher Price Little People until I was probably too old for it.

This child is like me. This child is intensely bright, and that probably adds to their difficulties. Other people may not see the creative mind – no one knew the things I knew when I was little. I’m lucky to see into the bits of their mind they choose to share; this child is lucky to not be at school.

My friend said, So what? Maybe right now they prefer sitting with the grown ups. That’s fine.

And she’s right.

I weep for the little me who had no grown ups to sit with, and who always felt slightly out of sync with my peers. I grew and bloomed and now think I’m fantastic with people. I can see that will happen for this child; their humour and kindness and creativity will make it impossible for any other outcome.

But right now, at age six, it’s hard. It’s awfully hard.

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Cool stuff, check.

I’ve been mindful of wanting to both do more cool stuff, as well as appreciating the things I experience that are cool.

The night glow at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta:

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Everything about the fiesta is fun, but this was our first night glow. It was also our first time attending with a camp friend – and her daughter accidentally knocking my daughter’s tooth out!

Tape exhibition, Cardiff:

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This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s an interactive art exhibit – a treehouse/tunnel/otherworldly place suspended between trees….and made of nothing but sticky tape. The time inside this thing felt like a little bit of magic.

Arnos Vale Cemetery:

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Despite living so close to this place, we’d never been before last week. It’s a Victorian cemetery and woodland. I’ve been to old cemeteries thst have been reclaimed by nature, but this took it to the next level.

Graves are interspersed into old woodlands, with dark paths twisting around. I swear we saw a Leopard Cat, but I accept it may have actually been a Bengal.

Barleymow’s Maize Maze, Chard:

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I LOVE MAZES. And this one went on long enough to freak out both my father in law and son. All us women were laughing rather cruelly and helplessly at their worry we’d never escape.

The kids then climbed and conquered a mountain made of hay bales, before whizzing down the attached steep slide.