Tag Archives: children

Join Me in More Parental Confessions

Sign that says "Confessions Booth"

While browsing through some of my past posts I came across one I had written in 2012 – Three Parental Confessions. In there I confessed to three times where I felt I had fallen a bit short of being the perfect mother. I now need to unburden myself of a couple more such incidents, and give you the opportunity to confess too.

French Lessons

When my son started secondary school three years ago, he was doing just fine in all of his lessons except French, where he really struggled. I spent a lot of time trying to help him with his French homework, but he just couldn’t grasp any of it. In the end I was just doing the homework for him and he would copy it into his book. I told him that at the parents’ evening, I would speak to his French teacher, and see if there was any extra help they could give him. He didn’t really want me to do that; he said that he had already decided he was going to drop French after Year 9 when he picked his options, so there was no point. I insisted that there was a point because he still had to do French for two and a half more years until he could drop it.

When the parents’ evening arrived, my son and I walked over to the French teacher’s table. As we approached, she had a huge smile. Before I had a chance to tell her about his struggles, she said “I’m SO pleased you’ve come to see me because I want to tell you how well your son is doing in French!”

Toy of teacher at desk

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, and went on to tell me how he was grasping concepts that the rest of the class weren’t, and how he was much more advanced that she would expect from a year 7 student. I sat there lapping it up, a little confused, but delighted.

Finally she pulled out a book. “I’ll show you what I mean,” she said. It was his homework book. She began leafing through it, showing me all the pieces of homework I had done, saying things like “Look at this! 10 out of 10! Nobody ever gets 10 out of 10 for this,” “And look at this, I didn’t expect anyone to understand this so quickly!”

After the discussion we had just had I felt far too awkward to say “Oh I see, no, I did all that.” So I just sat there smiling, saying things like, “Wow, that’s great! I’m so pleased!” and “Wait, why is that one only 9/10? Let me see that.”

As we walked away my son said “Good job mum, telling her how much I’m struggling with it.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I told him. “You’re dropping French after Year 9.”

Raffle Prize

On one occasion when my kids were at primary school, we went to a quiz evening at their school. My son was 8 and my daughter 11. They were also doing a raffle. The raffle tickets were sold at the start of the evening and the draw was at the end of the evening. Those who won were able to go and choose whatever prize they wanted from the prize table.

I bought three strips of tickets, one each for me, my son, and my daughter. When it came to the draw, one of my son’s numbers was drawn. “Ooh, what are you going to pick?” I asked him.

Used raffle tickets

“I’m going to pick the travel game!” he said, and began walking up to the prize table while people applauded him. I tried to let it go, I really did. But I had seen the travel game earlier and it was one of those rubbishy little sets that quite clearly came from the £1 shop. He almost made it to the table when I couldn’t take it any more, I leaped out of my seat, ran up, practically shoved him out of the way and grabbed the case of beer instead. I’m pretty sure there were a few shocked gasps from the other parents who had all witnessed my behaviour.

As we did the walk of shame back to our seats I muttered to my son “I’ll buy you a travel game, it’s just that this is worth much more.” I like to think I was teaching him something about value. In case you’re wondering, yes I did buy him a travel game, and no I didn’t enjoy the beer; it was too tainted with my guilt.

So come on, fess up, what parenting mistakes are you ashamed of? You’ll feel better if you share.

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Photo credits:
Confession booth sign
Toy teacher at desk
Raffle tickets

Last Week My Children’s Dad Died

Candle and flower

We married in Las Vegas in 1997, eight days after we met. I was 26, he was 50. Twelve years and two children later he was sentenced to ten years in prison for a violent attack on me. He served half the time and was then deported. He carried out what I can only describe as a hate campaign against me, beginning in prison, and continuing from afar following the deportation. Last week he died.

I finally understand what people mean when they say “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.”  The usual response to that is “There is no supposed,” and of course that’s true, but it’s nevertheless an accurate reflection of where I’m at.

This isn’t a post where I want to say bad things about him – I was just giving the background so that you can understand why I would have conflicting emotions about this. My overriding emotion of course is for my children; I know what to feel for them, but I don’t know what to feel for myself. I’ve tried to focus on the fun times we had during the early years in Vegas, before everything went very bad, because holding on to negative feelings helps nobody. What’s the point in any bitterness now?

My children have been through such a lot. They were 9 and 6 when it happened, they’re 17 and 14 now. While he was in prison here in England they visited him many times, but since he was deported they’ve only seen him once. They still kept a close relationship though – emailing, messaging, speaking, a few times a week. Whatever he did, he was still their Dad and this is incredibly hard for them.

The news came early last Tuesday morning. We spent most of the day just sitting on my daughter’s bed watching the TV, interspersed with me messaging people to tell them the news, and leaping up to do little bits of housework which is my default when I’m not sure what else to do.  Every so often I would ask them a question, or share a memory about their Dad, just to give a prompt if they wanted to talk about him.

During that afternoon my daughter decided she wanted to go out with her boyfriend that evening as a distraction. So I asked my son if he wanted to go out too. He did. He chose the cinema. I took him to Five Guys for a burger first, and we were served by an extremely friendly and enthusiastic young man. After taking our order, he looked at us with a huge grin and asked “So, have you two had a good day?” and then stood there beaming at us, waiting for an answer. My son and I stared blankly at him for a couple of seconds and then both instinctively laughed. In my family we’ve always had the ability to find humour, even in the gloomiest of times, and it was nice to have that lighter moment then.

Saturday was the funeral. He had been living in the Philippines after remarrying a young woman there, so there was no way we were going to be able to travel out there. Instead we lit a candle for him at home.

It was crazy marriage from beginning to end. I wasn’t simply a blameless victim, I made plenty of mistakes too along the way, and at times I behaved badly. But we have two wonderful children out of it, and that’s the most important thing. As you can imagine there’s far more to the story than I’ve summarised here. But right now there is nothing more to say.

 

How Vivid the Painted Rainbow Stripes Were

Vanessa and Emmanuelle

Me (bottom) and Emmanuelle. France, 1976

There were rainbow stripes painted on the upright canes. So pretty. Magical almost to our young eyes. There were four canes, wedged firmly into the ground, and they formed the four corners which supported the makeshift roof. The whole thing was no wider than the width of my arms stretched out, or rather Emmanuelle’s arms, as she was the one that took the measurement. And probably half the depth, but I can’t be sure because we didn’t measure that. The canes were of the type that might be used in gardening, for plants to know which way to grow, thicker though than the ones my Dad used for his tomato plants. The sides and roof had been made from branches and grasses that must have been found close by. It was difficult to tell though where the structure ended and natural growth started, because they had become intertwined over time.

We pushed through the growth and sat inside. There was just enough room for the four of us to kneel in there. We looked up at the sky through the gaps in the branches of the roof. We knew there would be much fun and adventure to be had here, but not today. Today was for sitting and looking up and around and feeling happy at our new discovery. We imagined children such as ourselves must have made it, maybe with grown-up help too. We were sure it must have been made for playing in though, we couldn’t imagine grown-ups having a use for it. This was a place for make-believe.

It must have been there for some time because nobody lived in that part of the mountain any more apart from us. It had somehow withstood the adverse weather that is prone up there, and still it stood. Perhaps more surprising was how vivid the painted rainbow stripes were still. Yellow. Red. Orange. Green. Blue. It aroused the curiosity of young minds. We wondered whether the children would come back sometime to play in it again. Or just to see if it was still here. Perhaps we would get to meet them. What fun that would be. New people to play with. But maybe they were too old to play now.

We had ventured a little further than usual today, probably further than we were allowed if we were to check. Sometimes it’s best not to check.

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This is my third memoir piece from the year I spent as a child living self-sufficiently with my mother and another family in an abandoned village in the French Alps, with no electricity, or any modern conveniences. If you missed the first two parts, they are here: A year in the French Alps

When Kids Go Out Alone

Child with dog

I usually keep my posts fairy light and amusing (they are fairly light and amusing, right?!), but today I want to tackle a more serious issue. The issue of kids traveling around without adults.

Recently, my 10 year old son took his first bus trip without an adult. It was just a 20 minute trip, he was with a friend, and they were put on the bus at one end, and met off the bus at the other end, so it was all very controlled, but I still felt a bit anxious. What if the bus broke down on route? What if a stranger tried to lure them off at an earlier stop? Over the last few months, he has been going out and about in our village with friends and no adults, and I still feel a bit anxious about that, but I allow it because I do believe it’s necessary for kids to be allowed some freedom in order to develop independence and general survival skills. When I was his age I was already confidently zipping around London on buses and underground trains on my own. People say that it was safer back then, but I’m not sure whether it actually was, or if it’s just that we are more aware of the risks these days. One thing is for sure, kids were much more streetwise back in the 70s and 80s when I was growing up. They were out there without adults and they learned to be resourceful and figure things out if something went wrong.

When I was five, my Mum moved to France and my Dad stayed in England. From the age of five, I started regularly traveling between England and France on my own. Of course I wasn’t just left to my own devices, I was put in the care of the airline staff and handed over from parent to parent. Most of the time it went smoothly, but sometimes it didn’t. There was one occasion when I was six, I had to take two flights, changing at a Paris airport. Something went wrong at the changeover airport and I was left wandering around the airport on my own. I remember feeling quite scared and alone, trying to figure out where I should go for my connecting flight. Eventually I approached a member of staff at one of the desks and they sorted me out.

There was another occasion when I was seven. Rather than fly, I was to travel from England to France by ferry. I was put in the care of the coach driver who would look after me on and off the ferry and get me back on the coach in France, to travel across country some way. All was fine on the ferry and getting on to the coach, but then the coach broke down. We were apparently told we would have to find our own way of making the rest of the journey, as the coach driver had to stay with the coach. A couple of adults took it upon themselves to take me the rest of the way, and so they took me to a train station and we caught a train. This was mid 70s, so it was pre-mobile phones. Waiting at the coach station, my Mum was told that the coach had broken down and that passengers were having to make their own arrangements for the rest of the journey, but nobody was able to tell her anything about me. All she could do was wait at the coach station, and hope that I eventually turned up, which I did. As a parent, that just makes me feel sick imagining what she must have gone through waiting there!

I think it’s a really tricky balance for us parents, protecting our kids, but not over-protecting them so much that they never learn how to manage on their own. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to what age children should be allowed out on their own, each child is different, and parents have to make decisions based on their own children’s maturity, and other factors such the area in which they live.

I’m interested in any thoughts, from parents or non-parents? Or if you don’t like me tackling serious subjects on my blog, then lighten it up yourself and tell me a joke, and make it a good’un.

A sink with a view

A sunny view from my kitchen window

A snowy view from my kitchen window

Brace yourself here as I have something to tell you. Ready? Ok. We don’t own a dishwasher. Yes, you heard me right, in our house we don’t own a dishwasher and must therefore wash our dishes by hand. It’s not so bad though, because of the view. As you can see, the view from our kitchen window is rather pretty, whatever the season. There is often some entertainment provided through the window too, mostly by cats and children. Sometimes, when it’s my turn to do the dishes, I forget altogether about actually doing them, and just stand there with my hands in the dish water, watching my own personal reality TV window screen…

– I’ve watched snowball fights, and water fights, and cat fights.

– I’ve watched a group of teenagers, determined to put up a tent in the pouring rain and howling wind, laughing, and shouting, and eventually admitting defeat.

– I’ve watched cats chasing leaves, and cats chasing birds, and children chasing cats.

– I’ve watched the younger of my two cats cautiously follow a hedgehog across the lawn and back again, and the older of my two cats bravely (some may say stupidly) approach a large fox. Did I say large? I meant HUGE.

– I’ve watches birds eating worms and children eating ice-cream.

– I’ve watched ball games being played on the lush green grass, and board games being played on the beat up old blue table.

– I’ve watched leaves fall and snow fall and night fall.

Yes, I’ve watched a lot through that window, but mostly I’ve just washed the dishes, admired the view, and allowed myself to get lost in my own quiet thoughts.

Guest Post: Author, Nicola Baird

Nicola Baird with dogHomemade Kids front cover

This week I am delighted to welcome my first guest poster: Author, Nicola Baird, who is going to share with us some ideas for getting the most out of the school summer holidays. Nicola is a writer with two daughters (11 and 14 years), three hens and a dog. She lives in London where she blogs about low-carbon family UK travel http://aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com and thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children, http://homemadekids.wordpress.com. Nicola has written seven books, see her Amazon page here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B001K7R1UY and her website here: http://www.nicolabaird.com/

Over to you Nicola…

5 ideas for getting the most out of the summer holidays

When the school term ends everyone in my house takes a turn suggesting about 10 things they’d like to do during the holiday. Lists may include big wishes like going to see a show, eating ice cream every day or getting a new-to-you outfit (i.e, in a secondhand shop or from Ebay). By the time there are 40+ ideas it offers loads of choice about what might be fun to plan, or do “spontaneously” on a free day when the sun’s out (or rain’s coming down!).  We pin this list on to the fridge, knowing our youngest will keep reminding us if something still needs tackling.

Holiday activity list

We try to adapt the ideas to fit into the thrifty and eco-friendly way we try to live our life (mostly one long staycation), so no mini-breaks which need an aeroplane get added. With imagination these travel restrictions are no problem at all, see my family travel blog at http://aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com

Generally this family wish list can be bundled into categories –
•    Have fun
•    Learn/practice a skill
•    Stuff with animals
•    Trips
•    Time with friends/granny

Chores (eg, gardening, jam/chutney making, mending/sewing and cooking) don’t make it on to the list but I try to work improved life skills into daily acitivites without us really noticing.

Here are some ideas about how this summer you too could turn a family wish list into inexpensive, memorable treats or a full-day extravaganza – which don’t break the bank or damage the planet.

FUN
My guess is that climate change is going to have a big impact on my children’s adult lives. That’s why I’d love them to have a heap of survival skills, and ideally the ability to be generous too. To build up these skills, see if during the summer you can use the garden/balcony for a night sleeping under the stars. Try it in a hammock (can you borrow from a neighbour/friend?).
£-saving tip: Start or join a neighbourhood e-newsletter so you can get to know your neighbours and local area even better. This also makes it much easier to lend/borrow equipment that you might only want to use occasionally.
Eco-friendly skills learnt: Weather nouse, plus cooking and sleeping outside.

LEARN
See more Shakespeare – this was on my list (as a nod to the 2012 http://www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk/). Lots of Edwardian and old-fashioned children’s stories include shows at home (e.g, Christmas with the Savages). If you can act out some of the best scenes or start using dramatic phrases around the house before you go it makes the play much more memorable. Here’s a full list of your nearest Shakespeare this summer: http://www.touchstone.bham.ac.uk/performance/shakespeare%20productions.html
£-saving tip: Joining The Globe, in London, being a family member lets you book tickets early (important if the talented Mark Rylance is in the cast) and also allows you to go free around the Shakespeare Exhibition – a wonderful exhibition and a great way to be a histronaut (explorer of past times).
Eco-friendly skills learnt: Worst case scenario, it’s time away from Facebook and gives a GCSE leg-up. DIY entertainment is a big part of green-living – could this fire up your kids’ imaginative play? Theatre is also something to look forward to, important in an age of instant gratification.

DR DOLITTLE
Animal training seems to be a new craze – from dancing dogs (Pudsey on Britain’s Got Talent) to rehoming hens. It’s also a great way for children to learn bravery and responsibility. Improve your child’s animal know-how by visiting friends with pets, talking to dog walkers, playing “spot the dog” with toddlers in the park, offering to pet sit when a neighbour goes on holiday, visiting or volunteering at a city farm (or equivalent country set-up), going to a county show or maybe adding a sheepdog training day or llama trek into the experiences you have during the school holidays.
£-saving tip: Learning to ride (or even to keep a dog in food, vaccinations, worm and flea treatments for a year) is more expensive than you might think. Is there a granny who’d be willing to subsidise lessons/pet-care expenses? This might make a great Christmas present, but would need some explaining now.
Eco-friendly skills learnt: Low-carbon ways to get around (riding) and planning (caring for a pet).

TRIPS
My kids love ice-cream, so where better to eat a cone than by the sea? Our dog loves it too (though many beaches ban dogs from Easter – September). Before you go, find an i-spy seashore guide (in a charity shop), check when it’s high tide and have a go making your own ice-cream (perhaps by borrowing a machine or getting a friend with the equipment to demonstrate).
£-saving tip: Go by train using a Family & Friends railcard. Or set yourself a challenge: could you bike to the beach?
Eco-friendly skills learnt: How far you live from the sea, tides, DIY cooking and learning how to cook a recipe with a friend and possibly bike maintenance.

VISITS
Could your child make a trip to Granny on their own? Or could they invite Granny to their home and be responsible for all the catering from the first cup of tea to the last spoonful of pudding? Or could they devise a treat grandparents or a favourite relative/godparent might enjoy?
£-saving tip: Not sure there is one, instead spend time making sure your children know all the travel methods they can reach their grandparents/relations (not just in the back of a car). Study maps, look up train times and even cycle routes and see if they can turn it into an adventure?
Eco-friendly skills learnt: Empathy, local knowledge, travel skills.

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Thank you very much to Nicola for guest posting today, and sharing her great ideas. Do you have any ideas for low lost, eco-friendly ways to entertain the kids over the summer?

I’m SOOO Embarrassing!

Vanessa being cool

According to my 13 year old daughter, I am THE most embarrassing parent in the world. I know most teenagers think that about their parents, but apparently they are all wrong, because it is me. I actually think I’m a pretty cool parent, you can see how cool I am from the picture right? Right?! Apparently though, this is the problem, parents shouldn’t try to be cool they should just be, well…parents. The thing is though, I didn’t realise I was TRYING to be cool, I thought I just was cool.

I completely understand though, because I do rather a large number of embarrassing things – I talk, I smile, I laugh, sometimes I wave, and once when we were in the car I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel in time to the music in front of her friends! It’s surprising she can ever show her face anywhere considering this ritual humiliation that I constantly subject her to.

My son seems to be a bit more accepting of my presence in public for now (unless I try to give him a hug or kiss in front of people), but I’m sure that will all change in a couple of years when he’s at secondary school. For now, however, I am permitted to go out without having to walk six paces behind him with a paper bag on my head.

I wonder why it is though that so many kids/teenagers find their parents embarrassing. I lived with just my Dad from around age 7 till 16, and I don’t remember being particularly embarrassed by him (and I’m not just saying that because he subscribes to this blog, teehee), maybe I was and I’ve just forgotten, but I don’t think so. Ignoring the photo at the top of this post, I’m genuinely baffled as to what I do or don’t do, or what I could do differently to make things easier for her. I’m generally fairly quiet and in the background when her friends are around, I’m pretty easygoing about what they do. She hasn’t cited my clothing or hair as being a problem (mostly). I do sometimes tell stories about things she did when she was little, and I guess that can be a bit embarrassing. Maybe that’s it. The stories. Hmmm. And sometimes I might dance around and sing a bit when she puts some music on. And I do like to try silly hats on in shops. But overall, I really do think she could do a lot worse.

Does anyone else have experience of being an embarrassing parent? If so, any tips on how to deal with it?

Two tales about my children’s hair

TALE ONE:

This is my daughter. Note what a good head of hair she has…or should I say had? (Don’t worry, it’s nothing THAT bad).

Glasspainting with lovely hairRunning with long hair

A week or so ago, she mentioned that she had a bit of a knotty tangle in her hair. I’m ashamed to admit that I completely dismissed it and told her to just brush it out, despite her protestations that she couldn’t. Over the course of the next two or three hair washes, she kept mentioning that the tangle was getting worse, she couldn’t get a brush through it, all she could do was grab it and twist it all round into a big bun. Finally I had a proper look at it and, oh my goodness me, I’ve never seen such a matted mass of tangle! I made her sleep overnight with half a bottle of conditioner in her hair, and in the morning I set to work. I kid you not, I spent three hours painstakingly working through the matted mass. Quite a bit of hair was lost along the way – despite my best efforts to be gentle, some of it just ripped and came out. Some bits I had to cut. Mostly, she was very patient, but all the pulling and tugging was clearly quite painful. I felt awful for not having attended to it sooner, but finally she had smooth tangle-free hair, albeit a little less of it. This is how much hair I gathered up from the floor after we were done:

A pile of cut hair

Despite the rather shocking appearance of this mass of hair, you wouldn’t know about the ordeal that her hair had gone through to look at her. She just looks like she’s had a bit of a trim. Phew.

TALE TWO:

Looking through some old photographs recently, I found pictures of my son’s very first haircut, which I did for him myself. I have no hairdressing training, but that has never stopped me from cutting my friends’ and family’s hair. With some of them, it’s just the once; honestly I don’t know why they make such a fuss, it’s not like it doesn’t grow back. Anyway, much as we loved my son’s tousled look with his blond hair and big blue eyes, we eventually decided that it was time for his first cut. Like most little boys his age, he wasn’t known for sitting still for long, so we had to catch him whilst he was strapped in his high chair after eating.

So this is him prior to the haircut. The expression on his face says that he knows something is about to happen…

Son prior to haircut

Then here he is part way through the cut, clearly resigned to what is happening.

Son during haircut

And the end result. Do you think he likes it?

Son after haircut

It’s Official, I’m a Limebird!

Limebird writers logo

That’s right, I am delighted to now be one of the writers on the Limebird team. You may now call me Limebirdvanessa. I know that some of you who follow me here, also follow the Limebird Writers blog, but if you don’t, and are interested in the subject of writing, and all its facets, then why not pop over there and check it out, and not just because I’m one of them!

My first post for them went live yesterday – I wrote up a few suggestions for games that can be played with groups of children to help stimulate their interest in creative writing and storytelling. You can find it here: http://limebirduk.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/childs-play/

I will still be blogging my general blogs over here, but in addition will be blogging on writing related matters at Limebird. Hope to see some of you over there!

More than just a tree

Child's drawing of a Christmas tree

Whilst my children and I were putting up our Christmas tree yesterday and unpacking the motley assortment of decorations we have collected and made over the years, I felt a tinge of sadness as I thought about how much of parenting is about looking backwards and looking forwards rather than enjoying the current moment. It starts almost from when they are born and continues throughout childhood. We look forwards to the future and talk about how much easier things will be once they start sleeping through the night, and eating proper food, and using the toilet, and walking, and talking. Then once they reach all those stages, we look backwards and think about how much easier it was when you could just put them down somewhere and they would stay there, and they didn’t answer you back, and you didn’t have to worry about what you would feed them, and you didn’t have to have a mad panicky search for the nearest bathroom when they suddenly need to go at the most inopportune moment. The truth is that nothing about parenting is easy. As they grow and develop we are faced with new and unexpected challenges, but also new joys and it is the joys that we should focus on because all too soon they are passed. We scarcely notice it, but every time they grow up a bit more, they become like new people and when we look back at old photographs of them and memorabilia we realise how much we miss all those people they were along the way.

Yesterday, as I looked at the slightly disheveled angel with the crooked smile and foil dress that my daughter had made when she was six, and the pom pom Santa with the missing foot that my son had made at nursery school, I thought about how much our Christmas tree was a catalyst for these poignant memories. The ‘Baby’s first Christmas’ bauble, the Disney character ornaments, the millennium tinsel decoration; every piece brings back a memory of a different time in my children’s lives, a time that I fear I didn’t properly appreciate until it was gone. Woven into all this are also the memories of my own happy childhood Christmases and the longing to feel again that almost unbearable anticipation and magical excitement about Christmas which has now been replaced by grumbling about the cost and work involved in putting a Christmas together.

But hark at me! Looking backwards sadly rather than enjoying the present. Even whilst we were decorating the tree I was thinking about whether we should buy some new lights next year and wondering about how many more years it would be before the children stopped getting excited about decorating the tree. I shall make it my resolution for the rest of December to think about the wonderful memories we are creating this year, rather than those from the past and those that are yet to come. And if you hear me complaining about the mess my children have made in the house, please remind me that in years to come when they have grown up and fled the nest, I shall pine for these days of cleaning mud off the stair carpet, and finding orange peel and dirty socks behind the sofa.

Have yourselves a very Merry Christmas everyone!