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Olympic ideals for parents

The Olympic torch came through our town a few weeks ago. It was a wet day; the children were allowed time off school to see this once in a lifetime event with their families. I took my two girls, who were distinctly underwhelmed; in fact they spent a lot of time moaning.
It doesn’t matter though, they saw it and the youngest took the photograph of the torch bearer as she had the best view. I haven’t parented outside the 21st century so I can’t compare the job with that of my parents, or theirs, but I suspect every generation faces its own unique challenges, as well as some in common. I believe as parents, all that you can do, is provide the opportunity for them and let them make of it what they will.

I wrote this to myself as a reminder, for when things get tough, as they always do.

Foster aspiration

Make opportunities


You cannot have all of it

Use your wisdom

Let go of something, or something will let go of you.

At least if you take the former option you have the choice

Take photographs. You cannot have too many.
Whatever you hope to remember you will most assuredly forget

Do one thing at a time – you will get less done, better

If you’re in the room, be in the room

Make time to leave the room. Alone

Listen with your heart

Don’t live just in your head

Get in your body – it’s missed you

Guilt is the most pointless construct, until you commit a crime. If you are legal, ditch the guilt

Our best is all we have to give

Sometimes we think our best is not good enough – even then it is all we have to give

Give what you can

Take as little as you need

Notice everything

Stick your tongue out in the snow

Kick off your shoes

Take a walk in the rain

Wear holes in your socks

Let the light in

But know when to draw the blinds

Get muddy

Accept imperfection, it is your friend

Look them in the eye

Gaze into your soul

Mostly, stay hungry, stay foolish (via Steve Jobs)

Discover your purpose,

Persevere infinitely

And pass the torch on

A child comes to call

A few days ago an unknown kid from a few streets away rang the doorbell and asked if my youngest, aged 7, could come out to play. Apparently she’s a class mate. For a moment, it was just like when I was a kid in the 1970s, except now it’s the 2000s and there’s a lot more traffic on the road for a start, and that whole culture of playing outside on the street has sort of died out a bit. Notwithstanding my constant alertness to health and safety, the two of them played out, under loose supervision, for a while.

I then sent our visitor home, with a note with my telephone number on, saying she was welcome to come another time and giving my mobile number in case there is any problem with this arrangement. I’ve heard nothing and today she’s back for her tea. I’ve no interest in judging how other parents choose to bring up their kids, but I have gathered from this child that she’s from a big family and she plays out on her own a lot. Seems sensible, then, to come somewhere for food and glass of water (which is all I’ve got at the moment, unless she wants a cup of tea).

The girl is a white kid with a crew cut and she has a burly mountain bike she cruises round on. It looks like it’s been an older brother’s conveyance at some point. I am intrigued. I wonder how long she’s going to come round for. I wonder if she and my daughter will fall out. I wonder what’s going on in her own home. And she reminds me of something else. How Malcolm X, after his father died and his mother was left with seven and then eight children to care for, started roaming around town, calling on other people and sometimes getting fed.

Our visitor shows an enterprising nature and I like that. I still think I will walk her back home after tea though. Just in case.


The Cost of Spin for Parents, Business & Kings

I’ve blogged about this before: my angle was that whilst some promote a false reality through advertising or social media, many more people measure themselves against it. Whether the impact on individuals’ wellbeing causes a smattering of depression or a street riot is perhaps food for thought. When I came across this article Making a Case for More Candor… from PE Hub the part about parenting was especially pertinent.

After I had my children I understood why some people are so solicitous to pregnant women. In my innocence I had thought it was because they were overwhelmed by the miracle of life (I also thought this was rather odd). I have long since found out it was mere sympathy for the lifetime of trials ahead.

It has become evident, very few people tell the truth about parenthood; least of the many of the parents who admitted as such to mumsnet in a survey last year.
‘Oh no, little Lavinia only has 15 minutes of tv/computer/gaming a day…’

Anyway, the article is based on a conversation with a neuroscientist called Sam Harris whose essay ‘Lying’ is available on Kindle. Here’s an extract

Q: In Silicon Valley, many companies depend on spin to get from one financing round to the next, or one customer win to another. Is that so terrible?

A: There are so many costs to a culture of spin. It’s kind of a situation of mutually assured destruction, where you have this arms race of good news, and the price you pay for being candid about your missteps or problems on the horizon is that everyone will turn to your competitor — who will be busy lying about what’s happening on their side.

So the price is high. Yet the fact that we know everyone is spinning builds cynicism to the point where people are pricing in the possibility of people’s deception.

Q: What’s the case for people to change their behavior?

A: There’s a real power to simply being honest in a context where many people are so often dancing around the truth. There’s an integrity that comes with that, even if the reward for having integrity isn’t always immediate.

Steve Jobs came out and told people how sick he was [and Apple shares never nosedived]. Meanwhile, people can lose a tremendous amount of money when CEOs are deceptive where they can be.

Another aspect to spin to keep in mind: When people don’t have good information about reality, they think their difficulties are theirs alone. Take the culture of spin around parenthood and motherhood. We had our first child 2.5 years ago, and while obviously, people complain about being parents, most people tend to conceal a lot of the details about just how hard the experience is, beginning with the delivery. So you can think: Why is this happening to me? You’re isolated in your stress when people aren’t giving you good information

It’s nothing new though. People have been spinning the yarn for perhaps as long as people have been around. Take this example in art (self-promotion for Charles I) by Van Dyck.

e.g. From this subtle study of a horse

To this: The Divine Right of Kings

Another First Day Back @ School

I wrote a post about this on September 7th 2 years ago which, for some reason, has been viewed *1393 times in the intervening period.

Given yesterday’s theme about Time, and it being a man-made measure of the universe’s physical processes, I feel more inclined to note the changes that have occurred between the last post about Going Back to School and this one; change after all being that which the time man makes the measure of. I’m not sure if that sentence makes sense, but if it doesn’t neither does a clock that ticks off 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. Not really…

Two years ago the kids had heads full of missing teeth and I was on Tooth Fairy duty. Now the eldest doesn’t believe in the Tooth Fairy or Father Christmas and no-one’s teeth fell out this morning. Result.

This year I asked the youngest if she was taking her standard issue book bag with her. The eldest replied for her

Book Bags are so out of fashion in Year 3

Oh. That explains why she hasn’t carried one for the last two years then; she’s now in Year 5 and wants to play the violin. I don’t much care for the violin having tried it myself but I am rather keen on her getting to grips with mathematical concepts this year, never mind what bag she’s carrying.

I don’t share these views with them. I don’t share that whilst they are probably a little bit nervous, but mainly happy to be going back to school, I am keeping how I feel (tearful) to myself. It’s a balance as a parent isn’t it? Modelling appropriate feelings so kids learn not to be scared of emotions, how to handle their own and other peoples, but not burdening them with adult feelings when they have their own shit like which bag to take to school to deal with.

So I gave the youngest a hug, checking this was permissible; the oldest had already dropped my hand as soon as we crossed the main road near school because it was ’embarrassing’. I thought the oldest had vanished into the playground crowd, but she did look back and wave.

I have left them to their world of school and new teachers where time is strictly meted out and measured, and I have returned to my own world where time seems to fit neither the Greeks’ kronos or kairos concepts and instead wildly telescopes this way and that, and at other times, completely stands still.

Changing the subject because I’m not quite comfortable with it – we’ve not had a horse for a while on here. Here’s a rather nice one, with the youngest. She’s following a rather complex country sartorial code to do with trousers being tucked in/not tucked in to one’s wellies.

I have certain feelings about that last sentence, but I won’t burden you with them now.

Is she feeling what I'm feeling?

*I only discovered that I could actually look this figure up when I wondered how many views the post had had. This post’s first draft read ‘hundreds of times’, the second draft a more modest ‘few hundred times’, third draft said **783 but I’ve since worked out that was for this year only. I feel a bit better now.

**Maybe it’s because it was tagged ‘Dentist’. Maybe I should tag everything Dentist…

Football: a big day in the life of

And I don’t mean the impending announcement of whether West Ham will indeed get the Olympic stadium over Tottenham.

No, it’s bigger than that: today is the day the eldest goes off to play in her first inter-school football tournament on the astroturf pitches at a local High School. She has some new Arsenal shin pads, which the youngest tested thoroughly in the front room last night by giving her sister’s shins some good hard kicks. She has some football socks which she insisted she didn’t need because she was going to borrow her friend’s spare pair. It was pointed out that, going forward, if she was going to play for Arsenal Ladies she might need her own…

There then followed a fulmination about the selfish nature of her boy team mates; apparently, they would rather lose possession of the ball to the opposing team than pass to a girl. There was also a more mild-mannered digression around why she was picked to play in the team at all: long legs, speed to burn…

I am on maternal sporting tenterhooks waiting for the post-match report.

Pass us the ball lads

Back to school

The kids went back yesterday after a protracted absence due to some mysterious and unpleasant flu-like virus, that totalled the youngest and drifted back and forth in differing manifestations in the eldest.

Thankfully, I did not receive last week’s come and fetch them call mid-morning and I collected them at the usual time, more or less intact.

The youngest had spent the morning being filmed for a Marmite advert and the eldest said I need shin pads by Friday. They then went on to discuss the difficulties of filming (smoke effects setting off the school fire alarm twice) and those of getting your team mates to play a decent passing game.
I am sure nothing so interesting ever happened in my day. The only excitement I can remember was when Princess Anne used the school playing fields to land her helicoptor in. This caused some ripples at the Boston High School. I was unmoved, well used as I was to seeing her misog as she rode her horses about Sandhurst.

And then of course my maternal grandparents lived in her old house anyway.

The white horse was called Alexander back in the day

Things you think you will never do. AKA How Far Standards Can Slip

Oh yes I started this whole parenting thing with mighty good intentions and I have done my shifts at the Bringing up a Healthy Baby Factory with something approaching good grace. For example, in pregnancy, what else can you do for the little blighter other than avoid smoking, drinking and drugs and eat healthily, plus take your supplements. Then when they are born what else can you do except feed them as healthily as you can, at whatever hour they demand it, with reasonable grace whilst introducing cuddles and clean clothes. At this point I found it advisable to reintroduce drinking (in moderation) to my own regime and eat a feck load of cake.

I have spent whole weeks of my life pureeing any fruit or vegetable within arm’s reach. I have eaten mushy risotto, pasta and mashed potato dishes for my own tea for weeks on end so we were all dining with a modicum of virtue. When they are little kids need this, plus some love and then they need you to start telling them what to do. Or what not to do.

Then at some point the goalposts shift silently overnight and you end up having children with their own opinions about food. And you start to have to manage behaviours rather than rule them out with edicts and you start having to seriously model the adult you hope that they might become and somehow you get involved in so many “issues” that the time for peeling and chopping suddenly seems to vanish and the only thing you end up cutting is the odd corner (and pizza).

N.B. The Guv’nor won’t countenance processed food and neither will I really, but when the cat’s away…

Corners I have cut this week include:

1) Hot dogs and chips for tea – although I did cut the onions myself. But to my shame the hot dog rolls came from a shop I go in once every six months and I noticed that the sell by date was the end of October on them which made me suspicious. So I read the packet. The ingredients included that well know bread ingredient ethanol. Of course any self-respecting parent would at this point realise their horrendous mistake (cost £1.19) and bin the atrocity. With starving kids close at hand I did not. Dear reader they ate the heinous bread product. How low can you go? Lower actually.

2) You may have read about the family swimming expedition. Well I left a bit out. *Hangs head* The bit when the kids come out of the pool and are so cold and hungry that they start trying to eat each other. You know what’s coming don’t you? Yes, I crossed the road and took them in to the tarnished arches of McDonalds. I can barely type the word. The Guv’nor would have no truck with this obviously and went off to the nearest morally and nutrionally superior branch of Subway. Oh the guilt.

Well on the upside the Pope will be around tomorrow. Perhaps I can get me some absolution after preparing a penitent meal comprised entirely of line-caught fish and organically grown vegetables.

Just to even things up a little, lest you get the idea that all nutrional wrongdoing is entirely a makemeadiva enterprise, check this out.

Actually, now I think of it, that was on my watch too. But there is another guilty party: you know who you are…


Are we going to sit at home with those dodgy glasses on come the Autumn and Sky’s launch of this new-fangled domestic excitement? I, thanks to Southend ODEON, have at least 5 pairs of the ugly things if you want to come round and watch. Not that we have SKY anyway. Or will it remain a novelty thing for occasional trips to the cinema, theatre or the IMAX in London?

I wondered this as I watched the 3D trailer for 3D tv yesterday. To whet our eyeballs (and make us run out and order it) we saw 3D football, ballet and rugby. I am slightly intrigued as to how much ballet they have on Sky, but the only one it made a real difference for was the rugby. In fact, some of it makes you just feel a bit boss-eyed. I’m not sure I like it.

Anyway, me and the kids sat in a little line like 70s newsreaders and watched StreetDance which, despite a flimsy premise and lack of real acting, was pretty good fun if you like dance-offs and banging beats. Which we do. I had a little nagging voice in my head at one point: it became evident that the double-crossing baddie was a black kid and that the “enemy” were his new crew, comprised of black kids – the talented Flawless in real-life.

This wouldn’t have mattered except that I also noted that the multi-racial goodie crew, Breaking Point, were lead by a very pretty white girl and that the new hero to save her broken heart was going to be a white guy. They then conducted the ultimate dance-off dressed in white.

I told myself that this was a minor detail, of course it didn’t detract from the film, after all I didn’t have an equality and diversity box to tick on the way out as I do on every lesson plan. At the end the audience seemed happy with the outcome, except one. My 5 yo. She had big tears rolling down her cheeks.

She didn’t like to say at first, but on gentle discussion it turned out that she had empathised and or identified, or even been a little bit in love with the double-crosser Jay who had left with his bad ass tail between his legs at the end. The double-crossing bit seemed to have either gone over her head, or have been of no consequence. Poor thing. The only one of us to come out of a feelgood movie, feeling bad.

I asked her about this in private later. It turns out, far from having a soft spot for double-crossing bad boys, she only likes “black or brown boys”. She ended the conversation about it by saying of the white ballet dancing male “hero” that she “hated him”. She’s 5, she speaks in absolutes. I am afraid this only confirms what I already know to be true. People who say that colour does not matter are usually white. I used to say it myself. It doesn’t matter when it has never directly affected your life.

On the other hand, if you are of a different race, it matters. Very much so at times indeed. So whilst the majority of the audience will have felt no way about the final outcome in Streetdance, my 5 year old, who clearly identifies herself with the black community (yesterday at least) had a very different view of the thing. And she’s right. When I returned to my original unease about the black kids being the bad crew, the magical winning couple being white and all the power players in the piece (the ballet school directors) being white, I wonder what other invisible slights the world has stored up for my kids along the way.

Gogo’s Crazy Bones

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably don’t have a 5 year old.

These little plastic nightmares are driving me nuts.

The youngest came home a few weeks ago and said, I must have Gogos now or my life cannot continue. She has never said anything of this nature before. Firstly I had to establish what the heck she was talking about. She explained that they are GOGOs, stupid. She then told me where I could buy them. We went where she said, no Gogos. She said well go here – same thing. In the end (and this was a life and death mission) we found some second-hand (i.e. expensive vintage Gogos) at the Dragon’s Castle, as you do.

So far so Gogo. Now it seems she has played “Keepsies” with them. This involves her losing all her Gogos to her classmates and I am again under the worst pressure known to a mother – that of a fixated five year old. There will be no peace until I have sourced more Gogos.

I have however banned her from playing “Keepsies” with them or stuffing them up her nose.

I have been rude

To a young poet. Not about her work, but about her reported experience of University where she conducted study of all things cultural. She said: most of it went over my head. I said: education is wasted on youth.

Oh dear. But it is, to some extent true. Actually, I think it has a lot to do with how concepts and texts are presented and is hopefully less of a indictment on young people, who are actually completely fascinating and good to have around (sometimes).

I am thinking back to my “art education”. This is what I remember. High School art teacher who seemed quite nice, but thinking back must have been one inept teacher, if not artist. We started with the primary colour wheel and worked up to a secondary colour wheel round the first. Then somehow, it seemed to be time for a self-portrait. There may have been some intermediate stages, but I don’t remember them.

For a self-portrait we needed a mirror. Well I didn’t have a mirror. I was not a girly 11 or 12 year old with such accoutrements. I could hardly have removed the bathroom mirror from home without being skinned alive, so what was I meant to do. I had no money to buy a mirror. I didn’t bring in a mirror. Maybe I painted or drew something from memory. It wouldn’t have been very “good” as a piece. But, more importantly, the process of the production was painful and not a little humiliating “Wot no mirror you bad girl?”. The whole uncomfortable memory was topped off by the bitch teacher having nothing to say about me at the parents’ evening other than I had wilfully and with pure evil intent never brought in a mirror to facilitate my masterpiece.

Ok, she may not have exactly said that, but the message was clear. My response was of equal force: I hate “art” and I won’t be going near it again. And I didn’t.

When I moved to London I found I had quite a lot of time on my hands on weekends, so I would take myself to the theatre and to art galleries and musuems. And I discovered stories, the story of the piece or the person and that, to me, is what makes sense of what you see and respond to. It seems practically criminal now to show kids great paintings without putting them in their own contexts. Not exactly meaningless, but a real missed opportunity.

It is for this reason I have been enjoying the Modern Masters programmes on the BBC. The presenter needs a bit of a whack at times, but the positive side of his enthusiasm is that it engages kids. The eldest spent a little while yesterday watching with me; enjoying photos of Matisse in his taxi-bed cutting and sticking with giant shears. She was drawn in and she responded to what she saw. To be the kind of parent that as a bare minimum does not crush creativity like that fucking art teacher is my aspiration.

I am also thinking of doing some oil painting. I have warned the art tutor at college that I will a) be late most likely b) attempt to eat the paints c) be looking to emulate Van Gogh. Poor man. At least he won’t be able to grass me up to my mum.

Loving a hat