Perfect.

I posted this picture online, and I wanted to write the word ‘perfect,’ but I held back. I have so many problems with that word. Is it something we should aim for? Is it realistic? What does it look like, how does it feel, will I make others feel awful even as I feel suspended in the aftermath of a good day?

But you know what? There are perfect moments. And my children are lucky, perhaps, to not realise how perfect their childhood is.

Today we went to a friend’s house, and another family met us there. Three families, seven children, a few big fields and some time around a kitchen table. If that isn’t perfect, I don’t know what is.

My children have the freedom I felt every day after school and on the weekends, except I was mostly alone or with my sister. My children are mostly with other lucky children. And on this day, they strode through purple grasses taller than they were. They befriended caterpillars (and mourned unintentional caterpillar deaths), they climbed trees, they threw grass seeds at each other.

Of course there were small moments of drama, but there were these larger moments. Like the one in the picture. There they are, these small children in the picture, free and exploring and happy.

Perfect.

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.

 

Eight hours. 


Earlier this week we spent eight hours in the woods. I’m not entirely sure what the kids got up to – I didn’t see them most of the time. 

We try to spend one day a week at Forest School. We come early, we stay late. Way late. 

The kids climb trees, make dens, chase zombie farmers, play at the mud kitchen, get stung by nettles, cook over the fire, fight (and make up) with friends, swing on a tyre. 

What do I do? A lot of laughing by the campfire. 

Because at Forest School, kids are friends with kids who are friends with adults who are friends with adults who are friends with kids. We’re all on a first name basis. 

There’s some babies, some toddlers, quite a few kids roundabout M and S’s age, and some older kids too. And mums, dads, aunts, grandparents, dogs. 

The whole place is an autonomous romp through the woods and the afternoons- everyone chooses what to do, what delights them. 


It’s a chance for kids to be totally reliant on imagination and nature. 

They get to take risks – starting fires, using knives, drilling holes in logs. They get to do big stuff – giant net forts, huge screaming games of running wild through the trees and fields, collaborative projects like the ‘summer house’ that’s been being created over the last month or so. 

But more than that, it’s full of tiny magic moments. Those are the ones I think are the most important. 

Two kids side by side on a swing, chatting. Someone playing alone with a bowl of water and some sticks. Sitting surrounded by friends while we eat lunch on the ground. 

This week we spent eight hours breathing deeply in the fresh air. Eight hours laughing. Eight hours with campfire smoke and drama and sunlight. 

It’s days like that I feel so grateful and connected and at peace. These moments are not tiny pieces of their childhood, it’s what most of their childhood is like. 

As a friend said after this week, how lucky the children are. 

Really, how lucky we all are. 

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. 

  

That one time we disappointed science on an international level. 

You know those Pinterest memes that we all love in a schedenfruede sort of way? On one side is the goal – a perfect, giant, lifelife Cookie Monster cake. On the other is what actually happened – a melted Smurf-looking apocalyptic nightmare.

My life is sort of like that.

You see, I belong to a lot of great UK based home education Facebook groups. A few months ago someone posted a link that sounded awesome. The kind of link that makes you feel smug to be home educating, because your children are getting to do the stuff of dreams, the things schooled children can only dream of.

In this instance, it involves space seeds. Yes, the British astronaut currently residing in the International Space Station brought some seeds into space. Said seeds return to Earth soon. They needed schools and home educators to grow the seeds.

I was like, ‘Oh! How bloody majestic! How amazing! We like space. We like astronauts. Yes, we’ve killed a lot of plants in our time but these are effing space seeds. I am creating the perfect childhood. I hope they select us.’ I filled in the form, quietly writing as minimal an amount as possible because some part of me already knew The Truth.

And The Truth is now. A long ass email filled with a list of supplies and instructions. I didn’t get much past how we need to plant this stuff on an exact day and do precise measurements on specific dates and log them in some national database. I just inwardly cringed and forwarded the email to Suzy.

She didn’t reply in a favourable way.  We’ll leave it at that.

So now some seeds are winging their way back from darkest space, down to our magical and mysterious blue planet, landing right on my very own doorstep. And all I can think is, ‘Oh, fuck.’ I’m not a measuring on specific days, remembering to water shit sort of person. We don’t even have any compost. The little pea plants that started growing from Woodcraft Folk (why, yes, we are those sort of people) can attest to the fact that even the most hardy, friendly, survival-y plants come into our house and enter a season of neglect and potential abuse.

I’m trying to be positive. I mean, in the last month we met an actual astronaut. We watched what happens to troll dolls when placed in a vaccuum – and so should you. You’ve not lived until you have. But I digress.

We’ve touched components from the International Space Station, we’ve watched how a 3D printer is being built that will be able to replace things using fucking MOON ROCK as a printing material.

All that is awesome. But now these seeds are coming. And the emails that accompany them are all feverishly stern – DO NOT ACCEPT OUR SEEDS UNLESS YOU ACCEPT YOU ARE A SLAVE TO THEM FOR THE NEXT FEW MONTHS. Don’t go on holiday. Give them only exactly as much water as needed. Make sure your ruler or measuring device is the most accurate measuring device in the history of measuring devices.

I don’t function well under this sort of pressure, man.

Random strangers on internet forums are banging on about how blessed they are to have been selected. Meanwhile there I am, coldly assessing how many people post about these seeds and trying to decide if Planet Earth will have enough scientific data if our particular packet of Space Seeds languishes on the windowsill next to the free potato planting kit we received and never followed up, the poor pea plants leaning haphardzedly in a corner of the kitchen.

Yay. Space.

Science.

Oh, shit.

Car math. 

We have done car math for as long as I can remember, whenever the mood strikes us. These little oral challenges encompass adding, subtracting, multiplication, division, fractions, critical thinking, and even algebra. 

All the questions below were asked today, except the last two which I remembered being particularly amazed with correct answers about a year ago. 

No pressure or expectation to get things right, but they nailed every question. I need to up my game!!

——-

M had two pumpkin pies and gave you half of one. How much does he have left?

You had eight Spider-Men and gave one to A and one to B, how many left?

How much is four twos?

How much is three fours?

If you had two chickens and a cow, how many feet would there be?

If there were two cars, and one popped a tyre, how many tyres would be left?

If you chopped an apple in half, then each of those pieces in half, how many pieces would you have? 
Count the seats in our car. If we had A and B come on a ride with us, how many empty seats would be left?
How much is two fives? And five twos?
If you needed fourteen Lego pieces to build a set but only had eight, how many more pieces do you need? 

If you had twenty fish fingers and the two of you had two friends over, how many fish fingers would everyone get to make it even?

——

Who needs a curriculum. Not us. Ha. 

Excellent freebie for a rainy day!!

We get lots of great freebie and bargain ideas from local and national Facebook groups. One recently recommended was to subscribe to Everything Curriculum magazine. You’d think I’d not be interested in anything with ‘curriculum’ in the title, but this is fab. 

You get a free subscription to a magazine of resources – which admittedly I haven’t yet looked at – along with a big parcel stuffed with free games and activities. 

  
We received a colouring book about art, a maths activity book, two Brainbox games (one about the countries of the world, one about Roald Dahl books!), a Stone Age to the Iron Age snap game, a music snap game about sight reading, and a phonics game all about animals. 

Score!!

We all liked the animal game, which involves impersonating animals and has adorable wooden animals as the player pieces. You can play it in the easier mode or a harder option. S and I also had fun with both Brain Box games. 

We’ve yet to test out the other stuff, but everything is really well made and relevant. I’d probably order related things in future. 

So sign up! You must live in the UK and be a home educator, or a school employee responsible for ordering curriculum. This is exclusively for primary aged children…or so they say. 

Enjoy!

  

The antithesis to settling. 

  
I like to think that my children won’t ever settle for an okayish sort of life. 

They aren’t learning that they have to do stuff every day that they hate. 

They aren’t learning that they have to squelch their creative ideas to better fit in with the norm. 

They aren’t learning that they need to just ignore their own needs and wants, otherwise they will potentially get in trouble. 

No, because they have this childhood of freedom and choice, they are learning that it is possible to live this way. They can pursue their passions, they can work hard at what interests them, they can create meaning from play. 

They’ve got a lot of joy, and no one is taking that away anytime soon. 

The ‘before’ picture.

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Two minutes after this was taken, you both were stripped of apparel and running in the sea. Rain poured down so hard and fast the line of the horizon was hard to see.

I stood there, slightly miserable in my soaked through trousers and dripping hair.

But how you laughed, how you screamed in delight. Running up the beach in the cold, kicking water and oblivious to the ‘bad’ weather.

It never occurred to me to say no. I’m glad of that.

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.