Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bug, bats, books

Everything got a bit knocked out of whack by Allie being so ill in the middle of the week. Amazingly, none of the rest of us have come down with it, despite it being clearly a thing that’s going round our social circle.

I took Wednesday morning off work, and gave the kids the minimal help they needed with stuff they were doing in the house – Pearlie was knitting, I think. Can’t remember what Leo was up to. Later on we did our usual Wednesday afternoon round of library, swimming and capoeira, while Allie slept off the bug from hell.

Thursday had Kids Club for both kids – more work on the houses project. Leo and I made an apple pie in the afternoon. Pearlie had a good time at Woodcraft Folk, as usual. She really seems to be enjoying that group at the moment – it’s great that she’s got somewhere that doesn’t rely on us to organise it in any way.

Allie was well enough for me to go back to work on Friday, and she took the kids to the big fortnightly home ed group. Both kids helped with the vege shepherd's pie that was being made there - Pearlie with the chopping, Leo with the eating.

Yesterday was a bit up and down. Sometimes these Saturdays with no work are lovely, but often we seem to fill the sudden gap in commitments with pointless bickering and bad moods. I think we all have different ways of dealing with the change in pace, and it leads to tension. Despite that, both kids’ rooms got tidied and hoovered, with the new hoover Pearlie and I went to buy in the morning. I finished a knitting project and prepared for my next two rota sessions at Leo’s Woodcraft Folk group.

Today we were all back to our usual busyness. Allie went back to a stack of work, Pearlie played with her cousin in the morning and took herself off to the local swimming pool in the afternoon, and Leo and I made a cardboard Tardis in the morning. In the afternoon we went to a very interesting bat event in a nearby park – we met some real bats, heard their echolocation sounds through a bat detecting device, listened to a lovely bat expert, and Leo made a very fine wooden bat box.

We’re all onto new bedtime story books now. Allie is reading The Lost Barkscrolls to Leo, and Pearlie and I are enjoying The Secret of the Indian.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Boys and girls come out to play…

I’m still feeling very weak and shaky after the vomiting bug, which is probably partly to blame for my general gloomy feeling. But I have been harbouring a gloom for a while. It is something to do with gender – gender and identity and belonging and homophobia and a load of other stuff.

I don’t think this gloom has been prompted by any single event IRL, more a build up over time. I'm not having a go at anyone, except perhaps myself. A while ago I wrote about how we came to leave the lgb parents’ group – didn’t feel at home there any more really. But, for a while now, I’ve been feeling less and less at home in a lot of the circles in which we are currently moving. Just feel like I’m moving in a different orbit, which is no new feeling, and not always a bad one. But at the moment I feel like I’m often calling across a chasm when trying to communicate with people – and am often being misunderstood (and no doubt misunderstanding others) because of it.

Gender is a big part of it. I was very much a young, and ardent, feminist in my late teens and early twenties. For those who care about the distinctions I identified mainly as a socialist feminist, but felt that I learned a lot from the radical feminist writings of the 70s and early 80s too. Feminist is not a label I’ve ever really abandoned but a lot of things happened to me over the years that made my views more sketchy and harder to define. I was knocked sideways by separatists (some of whom I encountered in Leeds as a student) and the SM and Porn wars too. I even met a political lesbian along the way (these were pretty rare by the end of the 80s!) who informed me I was a ‘below the waist lesbian’ – which had me bursting into spontaneous giggles for weeks. It all seemed less important once I graduated with my first degree and D and I had kids – and everything changed, or so I thought.

But some things didn’t change. Some things that I hold very dear inside me did not change. I do still believe in the patriarchy (how could I doubt it) and I do still hold that gender is largely a straight jacket in which we all exist. I feel that I have spent a decade biting my tongue over every gender based generalisation I’ve heard around children. From the moment P was born it started – and suddenly I’m all out of patience and my bitten tongue is biting back. I think that part of it is just sadness, real sadness that the same gender based bullying and control exists in all the kids around me – the same stuff I knew as a child and the jolly spin-off homophobia among the teenagers. I’m damned if I’ll just sit back any more when my boy is scoffed at for his ‘girly’ taste in something – and steadily pushed into a box where he thinks that to be a boy is to hit people hard and glory in it. Damned if my daughter has to come to me full of concern about why her peers are trading homophobic insults.

When I was at HESFES I was sitting in a tent full of home ed folk. Two men hugged on the stage and the teenagers beside me exploded into the kind of homophobic banter that I knew so well from school. The ‘urrrgh! homo bum fun going on…’ kind of comments that I have not been around since. I said nothing – why the hell I said nothing I do not know. But, then, maybe I do. I didn’t want my kids to notice. I wanted a fun evening when they just didn’t hear it, and I didn’t hear it, and I didn’t respond. I wanted to feel like we belonged.

But, I’ve been lying to myself. My children are old enough to hear it all. They hear every little gender based generalisation too. I have to keep up the opposite view – I have to keep saying, explicitly, that a shell covered box is not a ‘girly’ choice, that two boys touching each other are not ‘perverts’, that the crap on the TV is crap. Because the armoury is still there, *everywhere* we go. The assumptions that cast some people into a world of ‘freaky’ are still well at work. The kids who merrily call each other ‘gay’ in my hearing are not getting the message from anyone else, so maybe I’ll just start pointing out that I find it offensive. What the hell, I couldn’t be feeling much crummier than I do today.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I am just surfacing after a hideous throwing up illness, which started in the middle of the night on Tuesday. I haven't been sick like it since pregnancy! I spent most of Tuesday night in the bathroom and most of Wednesday and today asleep. I have no idea what it was and am rather hoping it was an atypical migraine and not a bug. If it was a bug then someone else in the family is probably about to start...
Couldn't really have been a worse week to have to take time of work - first week of term. Ah well, I wouldn't have been any use at work unless I'd had a bed and bucket at the desk!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Catch up

Catching up again…

I worked both days of the weekend – and felt a bit out of sorts with some sort of vague illness.

Pearl spent a large chunk of Saturday playing with her cousin S – in the park and round at her house. Leo had one of his friends round to play – one of the many J’s he knows! This was a fine Dalek and toy rat fest in his room and L was very pleased to see his friend.

Dani and I had been planning to go out on Saturday night to a women’s club night. I felt too crap to enjoy that, so we stayed at home with a takeaway. We got curry from one of our favourite places and it was a bit disappointing – seemed like packet naan bread!

Pearlie went out on Sunday too – a cinema trip in honour of cousin S’s birthday. They saw the Simpson’s Movie again, which P enjoyed. She came home tired out and well fed on pizza, chips and cake.

Dani and Leo went into town in search of Car Free Day events. Leo was really looking forward to riding on a Segway – as the Doctor rides on one in The Runaway Bride. There he was, in full Doctor Who costume, and they turned him away because he was under twelve. He had a good cry about that but there was no way round the rule, so they came home again.

Monday was another open session at MMs – with loads more new people. The venue we use had just had a new bouncy castle delivered and the staff asked if we’d like to try it out for them. So we did! I hope the new families don’t expect such things every week.

I had to go on to work from MMs. Now that term has started I work until 8pm – and I was pretty tired by then.

Pearlie went to Kids’ Club where one of the kids brought in a magazine about an acid desert, which sounds horrible! She then went on to the grandmothers’ house, where she did some French.

Leo went to Woodcraft in the evening. He did some map making there, which he seemed to enjoy. His map included the Tardis at regular intervals!

Today has been a good day. Dani went off to work and the kids and I cracked open a pack of balsa wood and got making. They both made little beds – Leo for his newest toy rat and Pearlie for a Sylvanian creature. The kids appreciated the softness of the wood and the ease with which they could saw and tack it. Leo rattled out creations (a bedside table for his rat and a ‘community table’ for all the rats to share) and also enjoyed just banging in tacks and playing with the wood. Pearlie took accurate measurements and took great care in producing her bed (with headboard) and then a ticket booth for entrance to Sylvania.

I played them selected songs on You Tube while they worked. We all like Mika’s Grace Kelly. I had a moment of despair at all the rampant homophobia in the comments – but decided not to let it bring me down.

The kids had a fantastic session at Squeezebox. Their band has recently started playing without the support of their teacher – and they have really come into their own. Three out of the four of them are singing, which means less pressure on one of them and really fills out the sound. They were told that they have a guaranteed place in the gig so left on a high.

We spent the afternoon in the park with an assortment of other home edders – lots of chat and play.

Bedtimes at the moment feature The Magicians of Caprona for Dani and Leo. Pearlie and I finished the MEP maths book on linear equations and are now doing word puzzles out of an old Nelson spelling book that I acquired in a stock weed at work. P and I got on really well with the linear equations book – certainly ended it far better equipped to tackle such things than we were before. The only sticky moments were around negative numbers – and we’ve decided to do a MEP book on that at some point soon.

Oh, I keep meaning to mention a little conversation I had with Leo the other day. Leo is not really a one for puzzle or work books – unless they overlap with a current passion. This means that we’ve done very little in the way of maths books with him. He still isn’t interested in adding things in columns, for example. However, the other day he told me that he knew that 50% was a half, which was the same as five tenths or four eighths or ten twentieths. He also knew that 1.5 was one and a half and that eight was half of sixteen. He tends to do quite a lot of calculations in his head as we go about in the world. These often relate to time or money – and are sometimes quite mysterious. Today, as he was sitting on the bin in the park, he said:

“Do you know how old I am in Ducky Years?”

“Erm, no.”

“Forty two.”

So, that’s Leo’s approach to maths!

Pearlie went to swimming club tonight, where her usual elderly teacher was absent and a girl of about sixteen took her place. Sad to say she was quite hopeless – lacked the pace and direction needed to keep everyone focused and active.

Anyway, must drink tea and sleep. Sorry it’s a rambling catch up – such is life at the mo.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Thanks Heavens for Captain Jack!

The Doctor wears Converse baseball boots, no matter what. L is now the owner of a new black pair (as worn in The Lazarus Experiment and The Age of Steel, apparently!) but they are not great for a child who must be equipped to walk in the rain. Luckily, Captain Jack wears smart, brown, leather boots. L now owns a pair of, very fine, brown DM boots. Just the thing for this morning.

Shoe expedition not so good for P - as predicted. We got walking shoes from Blacks but they are troubling her - something about the tongue. She's trying a whole day in them to see it if gets easier. The good thing is that she is now a size four, so all her rejects can find a home with me. She needs to live in a climate where trek sandals and no socks are suitable footwear year round.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Busy bees with birthdays

It’s way too late to start blogging but I suspect I won’t get round to it tomorrow. I’ve just spent an hour or so getting on to Facebook and trying to understand what the hell it’s all about. I feel more and more like my mum in the mid 80s when we got a video recorder for the first time… Anyway, blogging I get.

Monday was a very busy session at MMs – one of our home ed groups. MMs was first started back in the summer of 2004 and has grown, shrunk, grown and changed since then. We were having an ‘open week’ – where new people come along to see what they think – and five new families turned up! After MMs I took Leo over to the grandmothers’ house, where he treated them to taped episodes of Doctor Who.

Pearlie went to Kids’ Club (another home ed group that runs at the same time as MMs) where they started a new project on deserts.

Dani and Leo went for a walk in Stanmer Park with his Woodcraft group in the late afternoon/early evening. It looks like Leo’s Elfins group will be folding but we think it won’t do him any harm to drop a group commitment. He can go back to Woodies when he’s old enough for Pioneers (9) if he wants to. He is generally pretty tired on a Monday as he rampages at MMs for hours.

Tuesday was my birthday, so I was woken by kids bearing gifts. They bought me chocolate (can’t go wrong there) and Dani bought me a lovely shirt (charity shop find!) and The Writers and Artists Yearbook 2007. (It’s great browsing through the list of magazines but I don’t think I’ll bother submitting anything to The War Cry.) I had lots of other lovely gifts from family and friends – so thanks to you all. Our kitchen looks like a rather swish florist shop.

The kids had Squeezebox (music) sessions around lunchtime. They are both practising a lot at the moment and their band is sounding good.

We had a brief moment all together at tea time for the consumption of Dani’s yummy courgette cake and then she took P off to swimming.

Pearlie has been battling a cold this week but has, true to form, been quite determined to stick with all her usual activities. Yesterday night she ended the day cuddled up in her bed with me – attemping linear equations with her eyelids drooping!

Wednesday was a day of very swift ‘mummy change over’ at lunchtime. Dani finished work at 12pm and I had to be at work, happy and helpful on the enquiry desk, by 1pm. The kids and I decided on a game of Monopoly in the morning. Pearlie pulled a master stroke during play. I bought Pall Mall and duly placed it in front of me on the table - she suddenly whipped out a rather filthy old Monopoly card bearing the same name. Turned out ‘her’ Pall Mall was a skip find! She claimed that it entitled her to 10% of whatever rent I managed to rake in for the real Pall Mall. We liked the idea so much we have decided to keep it in family play – The 10% Pall Mall!

Once I’d left for work, Dani and the kids managed a packed afternoon of activities – library, swimming and capoeira. This pattern is rather tiring but the kids love the opportunity to go swimming every week. I’m not enjoying the fact that I miss the library trip – so I’m working on the kids for another trip on alternate Fridays to a branch library. They also managed to fit in a quick visit to cousin S to drop off birthday Sylvanians. (These were penguins! Sylvanian Penguins??)

Thursday was Kids’ Club for both P and L. Dani was on the rota as parent helper so she went too. They are working on a project on houses, which today involved model making. Leo was working with two boys of a similar age and that seemed to work well (he wasn’t sure last week!), which was very encouraging. Pearlie was working in another group – also happy and productive. Dani said that the atmosphere was calm and focussed. One of the boys from Kids’ Club, and his mum, gave a talk all about the Earthship they have been building in France.

I went to town to browse in Borders with birthday vouchers. I found it extremely difficult to make any decisions at all and had to be very disciplined to stop myself looking at things the children would love. I bought two books of short stories in the end – one by Jackie Kay and one by A.L. Kennedy. I’ve still got some money left to spend, which is a wonderfully rich feeling! It was painful to stop reading the Jackie Kay book and force myself in to work. I couldn’t help resenting everyone and everything that was keeping me from the book. I’m hoping to get lots of time with it tomorrow – and the other one!

Dani had to go into work this afternoon for a meeting, so my mum came to help us out in our hour of childcare need. Apparently they all played cards which involved a slight sulk and then a wild roaring noise. I had hoped that my mum would have a quiet couple of hours with them…

Anyway, must sleep as I have to take the kids shoe shopping tomorrow. This will be the usual hideous exercise for poor P, for whom there are never shoes that fit. But we must go as P and I compared feet yesterday and she’s overtaken me! Leo is determined that nothing other than a new pair of Converse will sully his feet (he has to be in convincing Doctor Who costume at all times) and there doesn’t seem to be a shop that stocks his size at the moment… Oh, the joy of it.

BTW, we are also embarking on a family viewing extravaganza of the ‘7 up’ series of programmes, which I’ve borrowed from work. The kids were fascinated and somewhat appalled by the kids on the first programme (from 1964) – especially some of what was said about black people.

Must sleep.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Children need boundaries ?

This is a ramble I’ve been meaning to post for a long while. I am posting it now, not in response to anything IRL, but because I’ve finally found the time to write it!

It is often said by parenting gurus, and indeed anyone who likes to bemoan the state of modern youth, that kids need boundaries. It is one of those throw away phrases that is directed at parents like a boot up the backside. The message is clear:
“You’re the boss. Be the boss.”
I have to confess to watching rubbish on the TV where this message is repeated, mantra like, into the ears of distressed adults. It sounds so simple. Boundaries are needed and you, as the adult, must set them and police them.

Whenever I hear that phrase little alarm bells start to ring in my head. It is not that I am a laissez faire parent. I’m not of the wild, free and innocent school when it comes to children. I don’t coo at the little darlings’ self expression when they clunk each other over the head, or casually destroy things. But, the exhorting of adults to ‘set boundaries’ seems to me a doomed exercise –one that will lead, inevitably, to conflict and often to stalemate. Some people are more compliant than others - some will submit to authority almost without a thought. Many more will weigh things up and decide that compliance is the easiest option, even if inside them is a seething mass of non-compliance. (Yes, that one’s often me!) And some people just won’t submit. Some people will look at the boundary with a beady eye and then run screaming at it. For those people, the consequence will often be punishment. But, in my experience, children who respond to externally set boundaries in this way will usually be the least bothered by punishment. The punishment is all part of the boundary and they will keep on fighting. And that’s where it gets dangerous. That is where the boundary setters run out of options. That is where techniques like nose distraction start to be employed.

When I hear that children need boundaries a single image always pops into my head. I can see that guy sitting astride the Berlin wall, pounding on it with a hammer. If you were old enough to watch TV at the time of the falling wall, you’ll remember him. Pounding and pounding, head down, focussed. Some people are those who pound on the wall. There’s nothing intrinsically noble about that. They may be as likely to be breaking their ASBO and lobbing bottles around as they are to be fighting an unjust state. But what seems to be pretty clear is that there are always people who will resist the boundary – and resist it to the point of death.

Thankfully, here and now, death is not usually the outcome. But it still can be. When I hear ‘Kids Need Boundaries’ I know that actually there always have been, and always will be, some who will never accept them. And, you know what? I wonder if that is not necessary for human development and growth. I wonder if that is, perhaps, the only hope we have. If the Suffragettes had accepted the boundaries, would I have the life I do today? I doubt it. Maybe the boundary breakers are our hope. But that doesn’t mean that I want to live a home life like a Stalinist regime just to keep the kids in training!

So, in everyday parenting terms, what does it mean to dislike boundaries? If I don’t choose to set myself up as the state, with dictated hours for this and that, with punishment for non-compliance, then what is my role? Well, it is something a bit more complex than the role promoted on ‘Nanny 911’ or ‘Honey We’re Killing the Kids’. This complexity means that I fully expect to make a myriad of mistakes in my interactions with my children. And that is as it should be. And when I make those mistakes I acknowledge them – and apologise.

Rather than the setting of boundaries I hope to create a safe framework of expectation on which my children can depend. This framework is not a list of rules – and most crucially, it has no punishment. I was raised in a family home without punishment, so that just seems natural to me. I could say a lot more about the futile and damaging notion of punishment but that’s a whole other blog post!

One thing that perhaps I should say is that an absence of punishment is not the same as ‘turning a blind eye’. I don’t think vicious or destructive or cruel behaviour is something that kids ‘have to get out of their systems’. Saying that we don’t punish our children is by no means the same as saying that we don’t care what they do.

Our framework is probably best described as ‘the way we do things’. We don’t live in a free for all and we do make agreements over things like bedtimes and housework. Any aspect of our family life is open to negotiation, but not to constant change. Probably one of the things that I do have in common with the ‘set boundaries’ school of parenting is that I think children do need a home environment which is predictable. This doesn’t mean a ‘to the minute’ schedule and a chore chart but it does mean adults who are there for them, personal space and possessions that are respected - and promises kept. I know that some of the happiest memories of my own childhood are of the day to day sameness and safety.

My children know things about our family life that hold true today, tomorrow, wherever and whenever. Some of these things are practical (we’ll give them meals and clean clothes to the best of our ability) and some are emotional (we won’t stand by and see them hurt others or be hurt themselves). But I can’t kid them into thinking that I (or anyone) can give them a list of acceptable behaviour every minute of the day – can show them the boundaries. I want them to know that they have to look to their intellect and to their heart to tell them the right choices to make. Human beings are amazing – they have such an incredible capacity to learn. If you ‘set boundaries’ then they’ll learn all about the boundaries – all about the harsh and unforgiving side of human nature, all about the pride and gall of the powerful. But if you nurture them, help them in their struggles and respect their own natures they will learn that you believe them to be good people. That belief will take them far. How do I know that? I know it because that was how I was raised. That belief in me, when was young, has helped me through the hardest and darkest places in my life.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Mellow weekend

It’s definitely autumn now – leaves turning, chill in the air, shadows longer and all that. Autumn is birthday season in our family, and this is the busiest birthday week, with cousin D tomorrow, then Allie on Tuesday, and cousin S. on Wednesday.

We helped D celebrate his today, with a lovely little party involving an excellent game of football in the park, followed by an excellent party tea back at their house. Everyone was happy and calm at this party, taking football injuries and the like admirably in their stride.

Yesterday was a day off for all of us – a rare event now that we are back in our term time routine. We spent the morning happily pottering at home, then wandered into town, popping briefly in at a local community festival on the way.

It was a lovely, sunny, Brighton day. As we walked up the busy shopping street, we passed this inventive one man Samba band.

The kids had book tokens to spend, so we were led into the terrible temptation of bookshops. Leo found Forever Autumn at a price he could afford, but we were unable to leave The Lost Barkscrolls sitting on the shelf, so we offered to buy them each a treat book. Pearlie has just rediscovered a liking for audio books, and she chose Flash Flood, which she is enjoying very much. She decided to keep her book token for another day.

We enjoyed delicious bagels in Pavilion Gardens, accompanied by some pleasant suzaphone music played by a man on stilts.

There’s also been quite a lot of happy home-based busyness going on, including:
  • Baking – Leo and Allie made a banana cake and lots of delicious chocolate fairy cakes on Friday. I made bread today
  • Colouring – we were further tempted in town by a set of Pentel colouring pens at a bargain price, and P. has been turning out some beautiful Altair and Celtic knot designs
  • Sylvanian stuff – Leo’s Sylvanians are always defending their house against attacking daleks and invading giant rats, while Pearlie’s babies all pile into the car and go for exciting trips around the house
  • Scientific experimentation – Leo often has small plastic creatures undergoing complex hybridisation procedures in jam jars, a process which often involves liberal use of salt, spices and other ingredients from the kitchen cupboards, plus water and, of course, blu tack
  • Reading – Leo has polished off all the library books he borrowed on Wednesday (two Horrid Henrys and a Shock Shop), and Pearlie has finished The Lie Detectives, which she borrowed on CD

Friday, September 14, 2007


Today I have been unable to shift images from last night’s BBC Four documentary ‘Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children’ from my head. It was one of those programmes that leaves you reeling. I remember watching a similar programme about Romanian orphanages (maybe fifteen years ago) and it filled me with fury that, years later, such brutality still goes on in Europe. (Of course it is horrific that it goes on anywhere, but Bulgaria is an EU country, which appears to mean nothing for the poor children in the hideous institution).

What struck me was that there were material objects in this place that looked reasonably clean, the walls were painted, there were TVs and cuddly toys. But what there wasn’t was any sense of care – at all. There was no affection - children were handled like objects, there was no eye contact, no laughter, no play, no warmth. Food was shovelled in to children’s mouths faster than they could chew or swallow it. A blind child stood motionless, like a statue, until someone took his hand. Deaf children were just left wandering about a boring building with nothing to do, for hours and hours. Children were left sitting on potties. And any child with mobility problems was pretty much confined to bed, where many were neglected and starved, slowly, to death. A piteously thin, bed-ridden girl with an untreated broken leg was washed and dressed by staff who turned a blind eye to her obvious agony. There were several children who were as skeletal as a child from a holocaust death camp. No clear explanation was ever given for this. The staff said things like ‘its her disease’. No-one seemed to be able to say what this disease was – maybe brittle bone disease, or maybe just the effect of a lifetime of malnutrition? There was obvious physical abuse of the children and completely inappropriate personal care – a man herded naked teenage girls to the shower.

If the behaviour shown on the film was what those people do when someone is watching, then I dread to think what goes on most of the time.

So, no surprise, I suppose, that the EU is nothing but a way for ‘economies to thrive’ while any notion of real human rights remains a distant dream for the weakest and most vulnerable.

I looked at some links from the web site of the programme and it seems that there are people working with children in Bulgaria who are promoting care of a far higher standard. But, the letter from the Bulgarian government shows a total avoidance of reality. It seems that the change needed is a deep cultural one. I have no idea, given that this is the case, what I can usefully do about this. The kids don’t need a bus load of clothes and toys, they need carers who have some concept of them as human. This applies to the ‘health professionals’ as much as to the unqualified carers.

Early in the documentary we saw a child who had his thumb permanently in his mouth. He was alone in a cot, except for when he was washed and dressed –and presumably fed, though not much by the look of him. His thumb was wrecked, gnawed terribly. Later we saw the same child – his thumb amputated.

The director of the institute gave a brief interview at the end - apparently, her 'staff let her down’. And she’d just that day bought some new umbrellas to go round the swimming pool in the summer…

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Foody frolics, fantasy coffins, and friendship bracelets

I never blogged what we did last Sunday, which was to visit the Brighton & Hove Food Festival events in town. There was free stuff for kids in Pavilion Gardens – bicycle powered smoothie makers and a machine that peels, cores and slices an apple into a lovely spiral. In New Road there was a farmers’ market and lots of stalls selling yummy food – we stocked up on veg, cheese, pasta, butter and bread, and Pearlie bought a CD from a busker who was playing a hang, which made a very melodic, hypnotic sound. Leo was very pleased to find the Gran Stead’s Ginger stall again this year, so we had some free tasters from there.

When we were all food festival-ed out, we popped in to the Unitarian Church, conveniently also in New Road, to see this fascinating exhibition about funerals (follow the Into the Afterlife link for some of the photos from the exhibition). The photographer (who I know a bit from work) was there, and he chatted to us about some of the items on display, particularly the representations of West African fantasy coffins. I thought they were fantastic.

Allie’s blogged a bit about Monday, which also included Kids Club for Pearlie and the resumption of Woodcraft Folk for Leo. This was a bit of a sad affair, with only six kids returning after the summer break. We’re still deciding whether to do a publicity drive or let the group fizzle out. In the afternoon, Pearlie suddenly decided to dig out her big bucket of Scoubis and started braiding. She was given hundreds of them a couple of years ago, when it was all the rage, but never really took to it. She’s now making up for lost time and churning out friendship bracelets for everybody at a rate of knots (so to speak!)

Tuesday had work for me, Squeezebox and park for Allie and the kids. P. had swimming in the evening, followed by a sleepover with her friend R. Much Sylvanian play and chatting, all managed very nicely by them both.

Despite feeling a bit grotty with a cold, I pressed on with all my commitments on Wednesday – work in the morning, followed by library and swimming with the kids in the afternoon, then my monthly(ish) knitting group in the evening. Allie and the kids entertained visiting grandmothers, just back from Spain, before she took her cold off to work as well. Leo is devouring library books at the moment, and enjoying getting to grips with the reservation system. Pearlie was very pleased with being able to issue her own books.

Both kids went to Kids Club this morning, and I did some errands in town, so Allie had a small window in which to do some writing – something we’ve decided to prioritise over cleaning our neighbour’s house for some extra cash. It was nice to be able to have a cup of tea together before she went to work, too. Leo and I made stew and dumplings for tea, then dropped Pearlie off at her Woodcraft Folk group.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Something of a mystery to me...

I'm not wanting to cause offence to anyone's beliefs here, but something struck me today. How come this woman gets sent to jail when she cuts tails from little puppies but its ok to cut the foreskins off little baby boys? Genuinely mystified. Just another day at the moment - I keep feeling that way...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fings of the future...

I worked both Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning I was somewhat lacking in energy and managed to miscalculate how much time I had available, but still made it to MMs on time. It was a mostly very nice session but I had to rush off at the end to get to work again. The Saturday, Sunday, Monday part of my rota (fortnightly) is a bit too much like full-time work!

Once I got home last night I wasn’t fit for anything much. I have been getting nasty stomach cramps every now and again recently – sort of acid indigestion type thing – and I think it is somewhat stress related. I’m also very tired by the evening and keep falling asleep in front of the TV.

Progress on our kitchen/bedroom re-organisation is good. I’ve finally got the window company coming to do the replacement window on Friday – paid the deposit six weeks ago! This morning the builders came round and we agreed a start date for the rest of the job. They can’t start until the beginning of November but I’m hoping that gives us time to de-clutter a bit. It would be great to lose some of the stuff in this house…

Vague future thinking here recently has been around how P might acquire four or five GCSEs (or, more probably IGCSEs) so she can go off to college at sixteen and do some A levels – something she has said she wants to do. Several home ed kids that I know of round here have gone to college at sixteen and done GCSEs then - but we think that it would be a reasonable option to do one or two a year over several years. That way P would get the idea of the whole course, exam type thing over time and not be launched into it ‘cold turkey’ at sixteen. It would also give her some experience from which she could judge whether she does want to go to college and some bits of paper if she wants to get a job.

Anyway, that’s the rough plan at the moment – maybe starting next Autumn. We’ve had a good look at the Edexcel IGCSE in English language and we reckon it is maybe a good one to start with. We have tentative thoughts of offering to host a small group of home edders who could study for it together – though it would have to be very small!

Who knows? The plan is all up for discussion and re-assessment and we’ll happily abandon it if it turns out to be rubbish!

Leo holds firm to his idea of ‘going to art college’ and he plans to work as a postman alongside this endeavour. I reckon that could work quite well with a part-time course – albeit with a lot of early nights! Leo has been keen on ‘art college’ since he went to a presentation by Chris Riddell, one of his favourite illustrators, who said that he went. We nod and smile but sometimes I do wonder if he really will turn out to be on that illustration degree at Brighton in 12 or 15 years time…

Anything might happen – and something will. I have no idea what is prompting all this thinking!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Daleks in West Sussex

Leo and I had a lovely time at Monster’s Doctor Who extravaganza. Everyone seemed to have a camera, so no doubt it will be extensively Flickred, but here’s a couple from me.

All hail to Mrs MT for phenomenal amounts of preparation, and a truly splendid dalek.

Other doings this week have included:

  • Pearlie and her cousin S. have started a stop-frame animation project, which seems to be going well.
  • MMs, Capoeira and Kids Club resumed – they are going to be designing houses at Kids Club. Swimming and Squeezebox continued.
  • Some happy Sylvanian and lego play.
  • Leo and I began our planned cooking project with some hearty pizzas.
  • An afternoon of swimming and library, which is another new planned routine. Both kids were pleased to get their Big Wild Read certificates and medals.
  • Allie went back to work after her summer break.
  • A man came to talk about kitchens, and things are progressing nicely on that front.

Books we’re reading:

I’m reading Leo The Magicians of Caprona at bedtime, while Allie and Pearlie are working through MEP Book 7B, Unit 16 at the moment, instead of a story. Leo snaffled up Horrid Henry’s Nits on the day he borrowed it from the library and is now on Goodbye Tommy Blue. He’s enjoyed finding and reading the whole Shock Shop series at the library. Allie finished Chronicles of Fairacre and is now reading Naming the Dead. Pearlie’s in the middle of Coram Boy. I’m between books, but keeping busy with knitting projects.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A bit of reflection...

September is really here. This morning was first morning back at several of the local schools – including the one the cousins go to. I had to get up early as we were expecting a British Gas engineer any time after eight. I found myself glibly telling the kids that the "gas man" would be coming and they should get dressed if they were bothered about being seen in pjs. Opened the door at 9.20am to rather cute gas woman – and was shocked at my own lazy assumptions. There were days when I’d never have used such language! Anyway, she got tea and checked boiler and pronounced it fine.

I find it astonishing that it is three years ago that Pearl left junior school – two weeks into her first term. What shocks me most is the realisation that Leo is now, more or less, the age that Pearlie was back then. I think it may be the fate of the elder child to always appear to be ‘getting really grown up’ and for the younger to be seen as ‘still a baby’. I don’t think either does the poor child any favours – but it is hard sometimes to stand back and see where the kids really are.

Almost more surprising than the changes in the children over three years has been the transformation in our day to day lives. I can’t really say that we’ve been on a long philosophical journey – we were always drawn to child-centred and autonomous approaches to learning – even when P was going to school. But what has changed a great deal is the way that we can choose the structure of our week – how we spend our time. We do have far more external structure imposed on us than many home ed families – because of the way that D and I work part-time around each other and the fact that the children choose quite a lot of group activiies at the moment. But, that is nothing compared to the thirty hours a week school pattern that we lived for the years that P was at school. The mornings, in particular, I remember with some anxiety!

At the moment we have a big layout on our notice board showing the days of the week and the various combinations of activities and available people. We have been thinking over the summer about this. It does look rather busy – but still contains long stretches of hours where we are free to choose what we do – and more and more this is real choice for all of us – not just the kids! The more observant among you may have noticed that I often find moments to blog during the day now – in contrast to when the kids were younger. This is because they tend to need my input less these days – or in a less concentrated way.

Yesterday P spent most of the morning engaged in writing a letter to her ‘other pen friend’. He is an animal rights activist in jail in the USA. She first wrote to him at the suggestion of the young anarchist who is play worker at one of her home ed groups. Dani and I are very pleased that she gets input from young anarchists on a regular basis! In her last letter she asked him a little bit about his conviction and he told her about a campaign web site where she could find out more. She did this yesterday morning and we discussed the various issues involved in the case – and animal rights in general. My input in this was just to have a look at the web site and chat really! Oh, and to give up my computer use a little later when P was writing the letter so that she could check a spelling. We do, of course, have dictionaries, but P has found that the quickest thing to do is to Google the word and see what most people think. This appeals to me as an approach – sort of wiki spelling…

Leo needed a bit of help with cutting a window and door in a very tough cardboard box that he was using to make a home for his Dalek Sec Hybrid action figure. I also got some fabric down off a high shelf so that he could make him a bed with covers.

It’s not always that way. Some days I am wanted far more – if only to referee pointless arguments about who did what to whom. And sometimes I can’t resist the niggling worry that makes me stick my oar in and try to ‘check’ or ‘make sure’ about some skill or bit of knowledge. I must confess that I also do tend to ask the kids if “they have a plan for the morning/afternoon” if they are watching TV with a glazed expression. And I’m far more likely to ask that if the TV in question is a repeat of ‘Basil Brush’ than a history programme or BBC children’s drama! If they say “no” then I will go away – but not necessarily with an easy mind. I guess that there are some who would say that I am not really trusting in autonomous learning at that moment – and they’d probably be right. But I think that it would be very unhealthy if I didn’t sometimes have doubts. And I will usually just remind the child that I am available to help or participate if they need me for anything.

I guess there is a fuzzy area around offering, suggesting, implying and nagging! For me, as long as there is no insistence on my part, I don’t hold back from making suggestions. I hope that my relationship with the kids is strong enough that they are able to see the suggestion as just that. Personally I often like to be given suggestions of activities if I am unsure or aimless. I very rarely take them! But, other people’s ideas will sometimes kick start my brain – and I think the same thing happens with the kids at times.

An issue that we are currently dealing with is music practice. With a mixture of band sessions and occasional one to one lessons for Leo, we are currently spending roughly £100 a month. This does affect the way I feel about the kids’ desire to play – or not. That sort of money is very significant in our budget. I know (from music lessons as a child) that you can either pick up something new in your time with the teacher (if you have done some playing between lessons) or you can find that you are just treading water each session, getting back to where you were at the end of the previous one. And your teacher will get less and less motivated if you are clearly never playing between sessions. I am not very inclined to see that happen at such a high financial cost to us as a family! I will never insist that they play (life is way too short to treat music (music!) as a chore) but I have given them the message that they need to do that to make the outlay on lessons worthwhile. I’m all for intrinsic motivation but also think that my kids need to know the financial realities of our lives!

Anyway, the silent reading and painting going on here has suddenly given way to a slight spat! Someone’s head bumped someone’s chair… So, I’m off to offer a snack and make a cup of tea.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sunday stuff

We are all very tired here tonight.

Dani took both kids swimming this afternoon (yes, again!) with cousins and an uncle.

Pearlie seemed so exhausted by bedtime - I hope she sleeps well. She’s had a busy weekend – swimming both days, enjoying some of the higher levels of Zoombinis Mountain Rescue, doing ten minute maths exercises, playing Chinese chequers with me. The swimming is very much her current passion. She is very grown up these days.

Leo has discovered the tin opener and is happy with it! Yesterday he somehow missed breakfast and made himself a snack mid morning: tinned sweetcorn, cream cheese and breadsticks. Today he helped himself to rather too many pineapple chunks. He has also heated himself some tinned leek and potato soup – though I helped with the pouring from the saucepan to the bowl. I know that operating a tin opener isn’t exactly cooking but it’s a useful skill!

I spent this afternoon gouging out the mouldy old sealant around the edge of the bath and then cleaning, drying and re-sealing with sealant that claims to contain fungicide. I managed to cut my hand a bit and then get white spirit in the cut (ouch!) – looks very clean! Black mould is something we have to fight in this house. I guess 150 years and a fair bit of damp make that so. I tried to clean the sealant but quickly realised that replacing it was the only answer. Radio Four served me very well while I worked – Kwame Kwe-Armah in ‘To Sir with Love’ that I read as a teenager, and Armistead Maupin talking about ‘Tales of the City’ that I read as a young adult. Radio Four never seems to let me down when I’m working on something practical but need food for thought.

Dani is currently unravelling some old piece of charity shop knitwear – to provide yarn for socks. The balls of wool are very tight, round and roly so she’s spending a lot of time picking them up from where they’ve travelled.

Lots of good TV at the moment. We watched a programme called ‘Our hidden lives’ last night – based on the contributions of some people who submitted diaries to the Mass Observation Archive. The casual anti-semitism in post-war England was shocking - though I do remember a conversation with my mum who had a close friend who changed his name in the 1950s, to make it ‘less Jewish’.

Dani once received some fascist hate mail in the post – much to our astonishment. We wondered a lot about whether she had been targeted as Jewish or, possibly, because her surname was mistaken for one of Arab origin. Rather ironic that the name could be thought to be either. Then again it could have been homophobic and actually sent by someone who knew her. We never did find out!

Anyway, better get off the pc and get ready for tomorrow – back to MMs.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

End of summer

It’s been a pleasant sort of week - has felt a bit like the calm before the storm, as we have lots of groups starting again in the coming week.

Here’s a brief catch up.

On Tuesday morning the kids and I spent some quiet time at home. Pearl wrote a letter to her pen pal, enclosing a little owl ornament she bought for her when she was at camp. Leo added to his extensive cardboard box empire – where his toy rats live. He is playing a great deal with all his ‘small worlds’ at the moment – and I like the way the rats come to his Sylvanian house, or do battle with Daleks.

In the afternoon we went to the park – and found many home edders. Most of the boy children were involved in a grand battle involving light sabres. I really don’t like light sabres – the film version are ok, but the plastic ones seem to have no redeeming features. I rather prefer toy guns (if battle toys are required at all!) because they don’t involve physical contact and the inevitable 'getting carried away'... Anyway, it got out of hand every now and then and the weather wasn’t great, so Leo and I came home and were soon followed by Pearl.

Dani took P to swimming club in the evening.

Wednesday morning was not a good one, for some inexplicable reason. It was one of those days where no-one had any tolerance so there was a fair bit of snapping at each other. Dani was home from work at lunchtime so we all went off to the swimming pool, which snapped everyone out of their grumps. I swam fourteen lengths, which pretty much exhausted me. I need to get more exercise as I used to swim twenty without too much effort.

On Thursday the kids had their Squeezebox session, while I did a couple of hours cleaning for my neighbour. In the afternoon I took P to town, while Dani stayed at home with Leo. Pearlie chose a couple of puzzle/work book things. She picked some ten minute maths exercises and a book of verbal reasoning papers. The verbal reasoning papers are to prepare kids for their eleven plus! They are rather like the sort of things that you get on the puzzle page of the local paper, and quite fun. We picked up a new Horrid Henry puzzle book for Leo.

Then we went to B and Q and looked at tiles. For some reason they don’t produce a catalogue of their tiles – but we came away with the basic idea that you can spend a very small, or a very large amount of money on tiles!

On Thursday night we had cousin B (boy of seven) for a sleepover. This went very well, though the boys didn’t get much sleep. At 11.30pm I went in to tell them to (finally!) settle down to sleep and found them cuddled up in Leo’s bed, chatting. I went to sleep then but have no idea if they did.

Friday started early – with a wild slinky chasing game that sounded like a herd of elephants over my head! Later that day my mum came over and she, my brother, and I took our two and cousin B to the park to play. It wasn’t great weather, but the kids played very happily – tennis, football, hide and seek and on the swings. Once we got home we were all pretty tired.

Today we all spent some time tidying up our little garden. In the afternoon Pearlie went to the swimming pool again alone, as no-one else fancied it. Leo, Dani and I went to the garden centre and treated ourselves to some bulbs. Leo chose some little white, scented flowers – some sort of grape hyacinth. Dani found some freesias and I chose yellow tulips. Yellow tulips are my number one favourite flower. We bought Pearlie some little narcissi. The kids planted their bulbs in some pots and sinks.

It really felt like Autumn today – grey, chilly wind, occasional drizzle and the trees on the turn here and there.