Not Back to School week 2017!

Because it’s a bit of a tradition, and I like being able to look back, here we go. Usual caveat that every week is different, etc.

Monday

This week is when many classes and groups kick off again – and thinking about how this upcoming term is going to be the most scheduled term we’ve ever had (half hoping it’s great, half expecting it to break us so we all agree to go back to a more relaxed pace!), we thought we’d stay in.

Then we discovered Spider-Man: Homecoming was on in our local cinema, and it’s cheap ticket Monday, so that was much of our morning.

M is obsessed with Spider-Man lately (again); S was less keen and brought a book along to read in the cinema, but alas, she forgot a torch.

(S has become obsessed with graphic novels – the longer non-comic book ones aimed at 9-12 year olds. She heavily recommends El Deafo as well as anything by Raina T. If you have cash to burn, send an Amazon gift voucher. Our libraries and finances cannot keep up with her pace!)

Afterwards we came home and much Lego/Playmobil fun was had. Mondays from now on will involve S going to drop off educational provision in the woods, so it feels special to have time for the both of them to just play!

Late afternoon M had gymnastics class with a friend, while S played with hers. She then had her first non-recreational gymnastics class; she was on her own with girls much older than her, and it was much more intense than the recreational classes she is used to. She survived.

Earlier in the day M ran round the block with hand weights, pumping them up and down while running (lots of this sort of tiny thing happened this week – I didn’t document it as it would be too crazily long!)

M suddenly asked for ‘muscles training’ in the evening so I found Tae-Bo videos on YouTube (#billyblanksforever!) and he did two full length videos aimed at adults. He did these two weight lifting videos every day this week.

Tuesday

First day back to a very busy pottery class after the summer break. Clay, glaze, inspiration.

Afterwards we all had a picnic/play in the park. Was nice to be back! We were there till around 1:30, when I had to take S to Spanish class. A friend offered to have M round her house – he and his friend had some quality Lego time.

S and I arrived ridiculously early at Spanish, so we went for a walk. Happened to stumble across an awesome music store – she played some broken chords on the various pianos until we discovered there was an entire room devoted to percussion instruments. She’s thinking of giving up piano to have drum lessons, so it was great to get to try out some digital kits.

Spanish was Spanish – learning how to describe circus related stuff, this week. She really enjoyed it.

Then back off to pick up M – it was my birthday, and my gorgeous friend made me a cake (which she unfortunately dropped on the floor.) She left me and the kids alone while she ran to the store to get milk, and the four of us promptly fell on the cake pieces like wolves. Bare hands and all.

Wednesday

Normally we’d be at forest school on a Wednesday, but this week our lovely friends from London were down and staying in the local area.

We met them at Slimbridge Wildlife and Wetlands Centre – or whatever it’s called. We spent a full day in the soft play, welly boot land, and somehow missed out on seeing the birds – except for the geese and swans near the entrance, who swarmed the children once they realised the kids had grain to feed them. One of my friend’s kids may now have a permanent bird phobia. Whoops.

Driving to and from our meet up, we listened to Short and Curly. It’s a podcast about ethics aimed at children – and it’s totally awesome. Ethics is a fascinating area of study, full of critical thinking, morals, debate, challenging our own ideas. We all LOVE it.

Thursday

Thanks to Groupon and the friend who spotted a deal on there, we headed off to the Mendips winter sports centre with five other families. The kids got an hour of tobaggoning on the dry slopes – which were much faster than I thought they’d be.

Everyone loved it; no one broke their skulls open.

Afterward, we went to the top of the ‘alpine lodge’ for lunch. Very unfortunately, M had an airborne allergic reaction to … something?

He responsibly asked for meds and took himself outside for fresh air. It was minor at that time, nothing out of the ordinary.

About ten minutes later, my friend looked out the window and saw him gasping for air/coughing.

Queue a very tense twenty minutes. No epipen was given – and luckily a nurse was on the trip with us.

M proceeded to give all his friends a lesson on how to administer an epipen.

We elected to head home rather than carry on to Chew Lake with friends – closer to hospitals if needed.

Thankfully he was fine. We cancelled our emergency GP appointment, and Suzy took both kids off to Woodcraft Folk for the first session of term. Luckily it was an outdoors session with plenty of fresh air!

That evening S and I spent a good chunk of time reading our own books in her room. Was very cozy.

Meanwhile M took proud ownership over a new Spider-Man costume, courtesy of Grandma! Lots of running around outside with it on.

Friday

Crack of dawn piano lessons were cancelled as their tutor was ill – God help me, I was so relieved and happy for a chilled morning!

Back to Capoeira late morning. I cannot recommend this more – miles better than our previous martial arts experience. Kids remembered their moves from before summer, which was great. Lots of fun and excellent music on a very rainy morning!

S wanted to have friends back to ours after class, but honestly I was too tired! We went home – kids played, we watched Night at the Museum, etc.

Just a chilled out way to end the week.

I found during this week that car rides, as ever, are where kids continue to request maths challenges. M’s mental maths are off the chart – you know, if we used them!- and he particularly has been requesting more and more difficult problems. I’m still loving how we can cover a variety of topics within one thing – maths, ethics, language – and not even realise we are doing so until it’s reflected on later.

All in all, a great week -next week even more things start back up. I have a feeling I may revert back to drinking caffeine!

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The cool kids. 

We all knew those cool kids. Perfect hair, always in the right clothes, walking down the hallway like they owned the place. It was a relief to say goodbye to them. 

And a joy to usher in the new wave of cool kids. 

Clothes they picked themselves, wandering a museum (often independently), little treasures traded and freely given. 

These are the kids who roam these halls, who walk freely in the city in the middle of the day, who can talk about whatever they want with whoever they want. 

These kids, these deeply cool kids, don’t have to do anything more than be themselves. They are celebrated for that, and they accept each other. They’ve achieved the sort of self confidence, empathy, and freedom   (most of the time, anyway) that many of us don’t know about till at least our mid thirties. 

These kids don’t know how cool they are. They don’t fully understand how joyful, exploratory, and full their lives are – at least when compared to being in a school setting all day. They (usually) don’t have a lot of outside pressure put on them, they have the chance to explore internal motivation, they are all in the same place but might be doing different things. 

These kids are sketching. Or looking at mummies. They are playing in the children’s area, marvelling at ores, hiding around corners to jump out and scare each other. 

They do what they do, they are who they are, and really, what could be cooler than that? 

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. 

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.

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. 

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. 

  

  

Who are the Muslims we fear?

I’ve always thought that it is hard to maintain hate in the face of actually knowing someone. You know. Saying hello, learning a name, maybe having lunch together.

That’s why I’ve always been very open about being queer – it’s not always been easy or pleasant to be out, but I like to think it helps others who might not be ready to be open about who they are. It’s one thing to hate an anonymous person or group – but once you know them? My, it’s hard to hate that nice fellow you chat with every day.

So for my family and friends that fear Muslims, let me tell you about a few I’ve known.

In London, I worked in a very diverse team. I always felt happier sitting with the black and/or Muslim crew, and it wasn’t until a friend pointed out that I was probably happier there as I was also a minority (albeit with white privilege and able to pass as a heterosexual). So, here are some scary Muslims I met.

One was one of the smartest people I’ve met. She was very serious, thoughtful, and insightful. She studied for her MA at the university where Suzy would attend for her MA the following year, and gave us the lowdown. She was always someone to have an interesting, smart conversation with. She laughed easily and had a gift working with young people.

Another spooky fearsome Muslim was a woman who had a dirty laugh and loved any excuse to use it. She was so authentic and funny and irreverant, and I knew any time I was working in close proximity to her I’d almost wet myself from laughing multiple times.

While I worked there, I also had a lot of young Muslim clients, some male, some female. One particular young woman I supported emotionally for eighteen months. I saw her three times a week, sometimes more, and she was a gift. She was in her late teens, an adult really, and she was exploring what it meant to be her in this world she lived in. A year after I stopped working with her, we saw each other on a random London street. She ran across the street to embrace me, and I squeezed her so tight…if only to let her know, in some way, how much I had cared and still cared for her.

Now I live in a different city, which is also marvellously peopled with people from around the world. Our home education community is large, and we are lucky enough to know (and be getting to know!) Muslim women and children …who oddly enough, haven’t threatened us or made me fear for my life.

One of these women, my children refer to as ‘superhero _____’ because early on in knowing her, one tripped over a brick on the pavement. He fell and ripped up his knee quite badly. I was rather far away in the park and heard the screams. I also heard when they stopped. She’d stopped to comfort him, and that small act of kindness has impressed itself deeply on my children.

Another woman we’ve only just met was deep in the woods with us earlier this week, and some of the adults and children were talking about ISIS. Cue a great opportunity to talk about racism, stereotypes, judging other people.

And on Tuesday nights at gymnastics? My bestie there happens to be a Muslim woman addicted to ice lollies. We’ve chatted occasionally over the last year, and she’s often seen rolling her eyes at her children, smiling and chatting with whoever she’s sat next to, etc. We’ve not talked every week, and we’ve never talked about deep issues – but do we have to? We are both tired mothers waiting for the day to be over so we can go to bed.

Sure, you may say, my friendly misogynist. These are all examples of women. Women aren’t scary.

What about the guy who entertained my children today while they waited for a Christmas present for their other Mummy to be ready? He laughed and joked and made them howl with laughter.

Not all people are good. I get that. But a lot more people are good than bad. A lot more people are here to say hello, to make connections, to help each other out rather than to hurt each other.

And I can say that while I’ve got a lot of shit from (mainly American, not UK) Christians about my sexuality (not all of you, not at all, but perhaps more broadly from the Catholic church I no longer belong to….and yes, some people I know who send long emails about my sins), I’ve never got shit from my Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, or Pagan friends (and of course, some Christian friends!). Not once. I’ve been met with grace and kindness and friendship.

I aspire to meet others in grace, kindness, and friendship. I’m thankful that I moved abroad, that I had a chance to meet people who were different (and yet so similar) to those I left behind. My horizons have been expanded, I (usually) challenge racism and the like immediately, I am living with two children who don’t comprehend disliking someone because they are brown or wear a head scarf.

All these terrifying Muslims I’ve known, they’ve given me friendship, lots to think about, laughter (and once, some AWESOME bread that I can still taste now. Thank you, superhero!). These women (and men!) have been beautiful, smart, sunny, angry. They’ve been naughty partners in crime, colleagues in study, someone to gossip with in the playground. I don’t hesitate to be openly horrifed by policiticians or ordinary people who spew hateful language and ideals.

Once, at the university where I gained my first degree, we had a rally. A rally where everyone ‘other’ was welcomed. We stood in the darkness, holding candles, and listened to each others’ stories. Stories of gender, of religion, of sexuality, of race. Sometime in that evening, looking at all these other magnificent and gorgeous people, we all realised how much stronger we are together.

I was nineteen when I learned that, really felt it to be true, and it’s not stopped being true yet.