Yet another reminder to stop

We’ve been forced to slow down this week, as littlest had a stomach bug. She has been remarkably cheerful during it all, and stoic during the gut-churny bits, amazingly so.

Only in stopping do I realise how frazzled we’ve all been. Despite approaching Autumn as a relaxed continuation for Ro (and us all) rather than a mighty leap into home educating, I see I’ve put myself under a lot of pressure to get everything ‘right’. Getting a new drama group going, seeing lots of people each day, going on holidays and weekend trips, acknowledging the worry that she’d actually prefer school (that particular furball deserves some full bloggy consideration of its own, soon).

So we’ve been racing around trying to fit everything in. And my mind’s been going round and round it all, all the damn time, as though Violet Beauregarde’s tagged me in.

This bug has been a blessing. We’ve had to cancel everything and see where the moment took us. Here’s where it took us today. We:

  • watched lots of Octonauts
  • made dens
  • went shopping with the play kitchen stuff

    finger knitted scarf for George Pig
    Dapper, blurry George
  • learned how to finger knit (At least, I did, at Ro’s request. And now George Pig has a scarf)
  • watched Mister Maker and found all the countries he visited on the globe
  • read a lot: Everyday Blessings, the Rainbow Magic fairies, Fox’s Socks, On The Way Home all featured heavily
  • baked fairy cakes for Ro to take to her friends’ house (one of which returned iced and sprinkled for me!)
  • napped

It was far simpler than I always expect – I still assume the time that’s ‘just us’ is when the girls are getting the thin end of the wedge. That they’re missing out on seeing the world, seeing other people. I underestimate how much of their worlds they create, and how much fun they have doing it. And aside from all the stuff we do – there’s that sparkle in both Ro’s and H’s eyes when they know they have your full attention. So simple and worth everything.

And the other part of this slowing down story is being thankful for friends – those that took Ro out the house to play or go to a group, those that brought food round, those that texted to ask how we’re all doing. Noticing and being grateful for the community around us.

Yet another lesson in what unfolds when you don’t over-schedule and choose to keep it simple. I’m learning. Slowly.


Why I’m not brave to home educate

What with school starting here this week, and Ro being of the age to start reception, we’ve had a lot of conversations with parents-in-the-park about where she’s going. They start off something like this:

Parent: Which school is she going to?
Me: She’s not, we’re home educating.
Parent: Wow. You’re brave.
Me [cheery smile]: No. No, I’m not.

There’s loads I could write about this, and some of these conversation-openers have sparked genuinely interesting discussions. Both of us have learned something about what’s important to the other as parents, and often they’ve heard for the first time that home educating isn’t illegal or requiring you to follow a curriculum or necessarily much to do with being at home.

But I want to focus on the brave thing, because it’s started to get to me. In the way it got to me when I planned (and had – very joyously) home births with each of my daughters.

Here’s a definition of brave I just plucked from t’internet:

‘endure or face (unpleasant conditions or behaviour) without showing fear’.

It’s the Oxford Dictionary one, so I’m going with it.

This is in no way a description of what my family is doing.

I confess I was a little scared by the speed she was coming towards me
I confess I was a little scared by the speed she was coming towards me

A big reason for us choosing home education is because we feel (and have witnessed) how very pleasant, nay, delightful, it can be. Days spent going at the children’s pace, following, unpacking and supporting their interests.

Today, for instance (our first ‘official’ day I suppose), was a cycle ride into town, then reading and choosing books in the library, then climbing trees and rolling down grassy slopes with friends. Then finding conkers and a pigeon eggshell on the way home. Then a few episodes of Peppa Pig while I crashed on the sofa. Nothing unpleasant (depending on your views of Peppa Pig).

Happy hill rolling
Happy hill rolling
No enduring unpleasant situations here
No enduring unpleasant situations here

And as an example of how learning does indeed happen everywhere – it was the pig herself who prompted Ro to expand her vocabulary at dinnertime. “What’s appetite mean?”. Cue a discussion about feeling hungry versus wanting food, and how sometimes people (and George Pig) can want some types of food but not others.

The days we spend are not unpleasant (most of them, anyway. Of course we have bad days). As to the behaviours, I confess we all display unpleasant behaviours sometimes – H can really let rip with voice and fist at the moment, she gets frustrated a lot as she’s learning to assert her identity. And I shout more than I’d like when I’m tired. And we need to be courageous about working those things through.

But that’s nothing to do with our choice about school or not.

And finally, showing fear. We came to the decision to home educate from a position of fear – unease about what school held. That’s really not what it’s about for us any more. I do have worries – particularly that we’ll get to play with enough different children during the school day (as an introvert I’m observing Ro’s emerging extrovert tendencies with awe). But we’re excited and going into this with our eyes open. Not afraid.

The other thing I don’t like about ‘brave’ is that it hints at recklessness, or doing something dangerous. But having researched and discussed the benefits of school (and for the record, I think there are quite a few) and the benefits of home education long and hard over some time now, I’m very happy to say we are not being brave in the slightest. Nor reckless. This is a considered, joyful decision.

My driving, however… That’s another matter.


Autumn 2015 – the start?

Autumn is here!

We turned our foraging into crumble this evening. Plums and blackberries from the local wood:

Autumn in a bowl.
Autumn in a bowl.
Crumble chef
Crumble chef

September feels like we’re officially getting on the home ed train, in some ways. There are back to school/starting school pics everywhere. We’ve chosen something else.

People keep asking when we’re going to ‘start’. I do understand the question, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a start or an end or anything. We’re carrying on doing what we’re doing, maybe mixing it up a little as we get interested in different things. And that’s exactly as it should be. It’s not as though the living and learning’s been switched off over summer.

Happy days

Our decision to home educate has been 18 months of researching and being with the girls and thinking through what’s best for them (more here on on all that). And making fab new friends who don’t do school either. Relaxing into it.

And, while there are questions, and unknowns about how things are going to work out, and fears and what-ifs… Most of all there’s peace. It feels right. And excitement. We don’t know how it’s all going to play out. But we’re so up for it.

Making space for everyday magic

I’ve written before about  avoiding time on our own, just the girls and I. Given the choice I’ll want an activity/play date/trip to anchor the day. I’m not sure where that comes from. Because every time we’re home alone, so long as we spend time together, quietly remarkable things seem to happen.

This morning it was play dough. We emptied the pots, shapes, cutters, rollers onto the table. We were instantly absorbed. All of us.

H spent a lot of time squishing dough into shapes and making them all go ‘woof’.

Ro has spent the last few days counting EVERYTHING. So she started cutting up dough into blueberries and counting in groups of five, up to thirty. Then she started shaping letters to make words: “How do you spell ‘tickle’?”.

I got my 80’s vibe on and re-lived my fimo days, making roses, then horses to join H’s dogs.

None of this seems particularly noteworthy. But the beauty of all being sat round the table, in harmony, doing our own thing as equals, sharing tools, showing each other when we’d made something we were particularly excited about. Enjoying each other’s company.

play dough cake
bonus birthday cake

It was a magical hour. And not that it needs saying, but all that learning too, without a single thing being forced. Just giving time and attention to each other.

And when I was making our lunch, they both told me not to look, and made me a very special birthday cake (note the blueberries!).

How to Get Through a Fear of Driving

I’m squaring up to this now, after 18 years. I’m sick of how it makes me feel about myself. Plus it’s stopping me doing things with the girls – going to the seaside, swimming pool, visiting friends. And a joy of home edding is soaking up all that fun whenever you feel like it.

Disclosure up front: this is a work in progress. There’s a way to go, but I do think I’ve swung to the ‘can drive reluctantly’ bit of the pendulum and away from ‘shit-scared’. (For a brief history of how to nurture a fear so it dictates your life, here’s a fun read). Anyway, I need a bit of accountability in my life. So here are my top road-tested tips for the licenced-terrified:

  1. Get in the car and find your Goldilocks
    I’ve recently read about the Goldilocks Effect re education. It holds that children (people) best learn in circumstances that are ‘just right’ for them, and that these tend to be circumstances that dance on the edge of their comfort zone and matter to them. In my experience, this is spot on. I wasn’t going to deal with my driving thing until I really cared about it. Then there were steps to take that were just right for me – I needed to tune into how hard to push myself: not letting myself off the hook, not inducing instant panic. Seriously, just sitting in the driver’s seat was a big step for me at first. If this is you, I’d say spend some time behind the wheel, turn the engine on, drive up the road if that feels ok. Do what you can to get just beyond what’s comfortable and see that it’s ALL OK.
  2. Do something every week, or more. Don’t stop
    A bit like the bear hunt, there’s no getting round this, there’s only going through it. Your hands may get so slimy you can’t hold onto the wheel, but get on it. Even if it’s driving to the end of your street and back. Keep going. Squelch, squelch, squelch. It gets easier and you will do a happy dance every time the scary things become not-so-scary things.
  3. Find some practice routes (with incentives)
    Over to a friend’s for cake, to the local shopping centre, to an evening class you couldn’t go to otherwise. Pick some and get familiar with driving on routes that you come to know well. You’ll have different mini-challenges each time anyway: the traffic, rain, giving way to an ambulance, watching out for cyclists/drunks/badgers/zombies.
  4. Be gentle with yourself
    You will make mistakes. This is OK. Other people are making mistakes all the time and not beating themselves up about it. You don’t need to either – focus on the 100 things you did right instead. And, I keep trying to remind myself, making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. Having said that, if you’re feeling dangerous, see below…
  5. Book refresher lessons (and don’t be scared to ditch your instructor if they’re rubbish).
    I’d had such a gap in my driving that I didn’t know where the brake was. Time to call in the professionals. The first one was neat, prim, held all the answers and told me she could fix me given a goodly amount of time. We didn’t get on. I fired her. The second one made me feel like I could do anything. She was funny, calm, treated me like any other normal person. She told me she didn’t want to take any more of my money after our second lesson – how’s that for integrity?
  6. Filter out whatever it is you worry everyone’s thinking 
    One of my biggest problems was embarrassment at holding other people up or looking stupid in front of them. I’m hardly a Margaret Thatcher fan, but there’s a fab (probably fictional) quote from ‘The Iron Lady’ when she’s teaching Carol to drive:  “The only thing you should remember is that everyone else is reckless or inept. Usually both.” Point is they don’t have to have power over you, they are no better than you (as people at least, and probably not as drivers either). And if they notice any mistakes you make, it’ll be off their radar by the time the song’s finished.
  7. Learn to relax
    I struggled with this when it comes to driving – I’ve got so much from meditative breathing and mindfulness recently. But one of my biggest difficulties when driving was coping with the masses of stimulation. I wanted to feel pepped up, aware of everything that’s going on, not focussed internally. My familiar techniques didn’t seem right. What’s helped is deeper breathing to keep me out of panic mode along with positive self-talk. Cheesy confession: I say out loud ‘I am a calm, confident, competent driver’ every single time I’m driving. It helps. I also had some reflexology. It was as an intentional act of self-care. A very soothing experience. I did my first solo drive the next day.

I don’t think I’m ever going to call it quits with this fear. I’d hoped I could dedicate summer to it, and bang, done. But that doesn’t seem to be how it goes for driving and me. So rather than be ashamed, I’m (trying to be) grateful for the opportunity to push myself, every day, if I want to. Some people have to climb mountains for that.

Surprise potatoes and first solo bike ride

We’ve let our garden do its own thing this summer, mostly.

The lawn’s turned to meadow, which is great apart from the cat-toilet aspect. The raised beds were wildly sown back in May and all sorts of veg have gone into battle for resources. The bamboo canes have littered the garden and been turned into (sometimes treacherous) dens.

den building in action
den building in action

We’ve tended to fill summer seeing lots of people (Ro loves playing and I can’t quite quell the whisper that she’ll be lonely when many of her friends go to school). But today H was totally zoned out with a cold, so it was just us.

It was great.

We made pancakes, then improvised fairy cakes with the leftover banana. We were going to do some painting but it was sunny so we headed outside instead.

The veg beds have been ignored through several camping trips (most of them have been rainy, so the veg has looked after itself – silver linings). We set to harvest and got the last of the broad beans. And rootling around in the soil came across some potatoes.

This was something of a surprise as we’d not planted any. But – we’d used our own compost and I’m lazy at riddling out the big bits. The girls loved the magic of it. They loved feeling around in the soil, spotting potato pebbles. They loved pulling the bean pods off the tired stems. And they loved cooking them for our lunch (then ignoring them in favour of cheese sandwiches.)

beans and potatoes
Harvest remnants

In the afternoon, H just wanted sleepy, milky cuddles. Rich was at home so he took Ro out on her pedal bike, at her request. She’s had it a couple of months, tried it out, wobbled and not been in the mood to persevere. But this time, all hopped-up on having daddy to herself, she totally got it. Her look of  joy when she demo-ed her new skills made me want to explode.

How to Develop a Fear of Driving

This started out as a ‘how I’m tackling it’ sort of post, but I realised there’s quite a lot to say on developing fears that change (diminish) your life. So the conquering bit will come next…

Most people take driving for granted. I’m writing this for the handful of people who totally *get* the terror of manouvering a hunk of metal at high speed just inches away from other hunks of metal. Those people who feel so overwhelmed behind the wheel that they talk themselves into a cold sweat just sitting there. This is for you (though you driver-pros: you might identify with some of this if you’ve got your own personal demons… public speaking, heights, whatever).

SO. I passed my driving test half my lifetime ago. It was after a year of eager-to-please driving lessons because I was 18 and it was the thing to do. I never cracked it. I felt like I fluked the test, then went to live in Hong Kong, then York and forgot about the whole deal.

Then everyone got older, stopped being students and started driving. And slowly, slowly, slowly I started to feel less like a grown up and more steeped in shame that I just couldn’t do it. I tried a couple of times, driving round car parks. Nearly crashed into Sainsbury’s trolley park in first gear through nerves. I learned that I couldn’t drive. And I really didn’t want to, or need to, but I didn’t like myself either. Driving was what grown ups did and I didn’t do it.

I spent my twenties trying to brush it off. Richard and I didn’t have a car for ages, which was fine as we lived in a small, walkable city.  I told myself that car non-ownership was an ethical stance, we were happy living without one. (And that would have been great, were it true – rather than being an excuse. An acquaintance of mine once likened cars to guns: “You need to know how to use one, but never want to have to.” Extreme but not even something I could identify with, what with NOT BEING ABLE TO DRIVE.)

When I was pregnant I had refresher lessons, and my instructor was diplomatically but noticeably shocked by how in-pieces I was. Anytime another car came by I would shake and sweat a very distinct ‘about to kill-or-be-killed’ sweat.  I got to 38 weeks pregnant and unconfidently driving on A-roads when we called it quits – he was understandably worried about imminent labour (and, I felt, quite glad to let go of this rather strange client).

So it all went quiet again. Another half-hearted attempt during my second pregnancy, this time with a very nervous Richard in the passenger seat. I had a panic attack trying to park at a Homebase car park (we didn’t even want to go to Homebase, it was just an easy drive).

Why did this happen? How did I become so convinced that I was incapable of doing something that other adults took for granted?

  1. I never wanted to drive. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons: because everyone else was, because I felt I should, because I wanted to please people. So I never took charge of the learning process and got comfortable with what *my* needs as a learner were.
  2. I catastrophised. Everytime I sat behind the wheel I pictured everything that could go wrong, and the worst possible outcome. So turning left became a high stakes game of crash and burn and turning right didn’t happen at all. This froze me. Totally unfixable until I was prepared to face it.
  3. I only noticed the bad. If I drove and everything was fine apart from stalling at a hill-start, well, that was a write-off. No matter that I’d negotiated roundabouts, slow moving traffic, gear changes, tractors, the dreaded right-turns onto major roads and parked cars without incident. I’d stalled and therefore I couldn’t drive.
  4. I credited everyone else with absolute competence. It didn’t occur to me that (at least some of the) other drivers might feel uncertain about what they were doing. And that made the gulf enormous: us and them and I was evidently useless and could never become one of ‘them’. More than this, far worse, I began to sub-consciously associate the ability to drive with competence. And my sense of self-worth quietly eroded.
  5. I was terrified about what everyone thought. Making a fool of myself by not overtaking at the right time, or holding up a line of traffic by not spotting the gap to turn into. That mattered. So much. So much that it kept me off the road. Never mind that to them it would’ve been fleeting irritation at worst. And that, really, if they were that unhappy about someone else’s driving they were seriously in need of a new hobby or some meditation or something.
  6. I didn’t do anything about it. At first it because there was no need, and then it was because I was embarrassed and scared. But I let the rot set in and it grew rottener and rottener.

It was so readily done. Half a lifetime of talking myself out of the ability to do something. I’m working on fixing it (coming soon!).