Thursday, 29 March 2012

Motherfunker's Guide to groovy kids albums....Part 3

Beg, borrow or steal these fabulous albums - LOVE each and every one like a dear friend :-)

Easy listening, happy, soulful sing-along compilation album from feel-good Ziggy
with guest singers  Elisabeth Mitchell,  Jack Johnson, Paul Simon and others. Am listening
to it right now :-)

Oh how beautiful is Elisabeth Mitchell?  Songs about birds ranging from american folk to japanese nursery rhymes.  This is solid gold, honey drizzled, pretty pretty music. I love her cover of Velvet Undrground 'What goes on'.

Another sweet soothing folky, pretty album

"You are my flower" is also very pretty!

This is a charity album for Haiti with songs from some big names.  It is a moving
and gorgeous album.

A raucous, upbeat swingin jazzy album that starts off with Ella Fitzgerald's  super-funky
version of Old Macdonald Had A Farm

I love this little trio of albums. They are a right old mix up of kids tunes. American,
Canadian, English, all sorts. the beauty of these is their randomness. Go read up on
 amazon for a playlist.

This is old school american folk from the legend Woody Guthrie, recorded in 1947.
I had this on repeat play whilst pregnant with Finn and when he was a babe. These songs
 are etched into my heart forever. Only for hardcore folkies!

Mr Leadbelly sings gospel blues with a group of kiddos and belts out this gem of an album.

Grateful dead's gerry Garcia and pal David Grisman's sweet little album of campfire songs sung
 with an earthy american  humour including Elisabeth Cotton's freight train.
There ain't no bugs on me is a favourite sing-along from this album that we will
always have cherished memories of singing with pals.

What are your kids rocking, grooving, funking, jazzing or folking along to?

Xx MF xX

Wednesday, 28 March 2012


Something struck me today. I was thinking about my visit the day before to a dear friend's house where three of us mamas sat and drank tea together while the children played around us. The other mamas, wise beautiful women, were talking very knowledgeably about superfoods and how they process them themselves at home and what they do to the body and what properties they have and so on. And I suddenly felt a little overwhelmed by my own ignorance in this matter.I felt a little embarrassed and annoyed with myself for feeding my family ever increasing amounts of crap easy food.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean I have sunk so low to be feeding the kids pot-noodles, chicken nuggets and coco pops from dawn-till-dusk - we generally eat a fair bit of organic and Fairtrade food, eat our 5-a-day, but an increasing amount of processed food has crept in more and more in the last year if I'm truly honest with myself and especially more so just lately since hubby is working 18 hour days and I'm too damn tired/ lazy to cook every single meal from scratch. I cook at least one hot meal a day, and sometimes two, but it's seriously time consuming and makes a massive mess which needs to be cleared up.

But anyway, as I was munching on a dandelion from a delicious hedgerow salad one of my friends had put together, I vowed to stop feeling so overwhelmed by the whole food issue. Having eaten a MacDonalds (evil, evil, I know) on Friday afternoon, and being at my parents all weekend where they act pretty much like sweet dispensers - whilst I bit my tongue just enough of the time to keep things sweet because I didn't want any rows or horridness - I realise just how unhealthy our diet has become this last year. Crisps, biscuits and cakes have crept in to become more than treats aarts stead seem to have become part of our staple diet and are being eaten almost daily. Alf is a little fruit bat, munching his way through an orchard worth of apples a week, and whilst we're very far from being a turkey-twizzler type family, I still feel that we are out of balance a little.

I think I really need to shift the pattern of how we eat a little and start planning what and when we eat better. We've been doing a lot of supermarket shopping for easy practicality, but I feel really guilty about this. We do also do a fair bit of farm shop shopping but this can get seriously pricey for a family of six, as it tends to be a little gourmet. Ditto the health food shop although I just love buying from there and the ladies are so friendly and nice. But buying everything from there would be insane for us, so coming up with ethical alternatives that manage to tick all the boxes is hard. Who really wants to hand over their money to money-grabbing Tescos? The others are really not much better even if we think they're more cuddly brands. They're still money- grabbing supermarkets pushing smaller businesses out, whichever colour they market themselves. But instead of despairing about it I'm going to make tweaky tweaks... one-step-at-a-time!

Online bulk ordering of healthy staples would simplify our shopping habits, which are all over the place recently. Happily, we are growing our veg plot again this year, which brought so much satisfaction last year, and I am going to extend the amount we grow by introducing more pots and tubs to the garden. Tending and harvesting your own food is one of life's greatest pleasures. I've also decided that instead of feeling overwhelmed by my ignorance about some of the more unusual herbs and plants and their uses, and how to prepare them etc..I'm simply going to learn about them one at a time. No big deal. No pressure.

Following a one-step-at-a-time approach is sitting really nicely with me at the moment. Instead of trying to learn everything at once, I'm just focusing on one thing at a time. Instead of panicking about the whole picture, I'm going to pick up the brush and do little brush-strokes to change the scene!

What's intimidating you right now? Maybe you can take the one-step-at-a-time approach too? Let me know how you get on !

Xx MF xX

Monday, 26 March 2012

My boy is finally, truly, really, properly, reading!

Well ok, he's been reading for ages. But it's been mainly very short books, or snippets here and there - under duress - and he has really not enjoyed doing it, seeking any excuse under the sun to not have to do it. "My eyeballs are too tired". "This books too hard". "I need a drink/snack/the loo". "I'm just too completely busy right now!" And I have for the most part, apart from the odd short-lived panic attack, just let things be, preferring the gently gently approach so he can get to it in his own time. Today, he read me this entire book (64 pages) called Doctor Doolittle and the Pirates! Go Finn, go!

The beauty of home-ed is that a dyslexic lad like Finn can find his own way to reading, on his own terms, without being stigmatized or mocked or punished for it, without being endlessly tested in that medium, as if all his intelligence were tied up in that one skill. He has found it hard enough that Herbie, his younger brother by 18 months just suddenly took to reading over two years ago, and didn't have the least bit of trouble with it.

It has been harder and harder to hold our nerve as Finn got older. Being our firstborn, it feels a little like he has been the litmus paper of our home educating 'success' or 'failure' in the eyes of family and friends, and not everyone perhaps has shared our laissez-faire acceptance that our boy is doing just great as a non-reader. It's pretty unconventional to allow a boy to reach the age of 10 and not get into hysterics about his reading 'levels'. It's taken some guts, I can tell you.

One thing that we ditched some time ago was conventional literacy workbooks, when we realised that whilst he could complete books (a very frustrating process all-round), we would find soon afterwards none of it had really gone in or been truly understood. As we researched autonomous learning and gained confidence from other families' stories, we relaxed and decided that if we were going to be just like school, then our boys may as well go to school!!! So we've become less and less school-like - much to the raised eyebrows of some people I'm sure!

Anyway - I have written on this topic of reading before, in my article Life is not a race.... for EOS magazine. For those who are interested I'd also love to point you towards this wonderful collection of reflections posted on Lord Lucas' blog, from parents describing how their children came to reading outside of the school system - many of them rather later than the school age for learning to read. It makes for a really fascinating read.

So....... what do we do around here if we don't do workbooks, to encourage reading in the house?

Well, we are a pretty literate family overall. We are always reading so I guess we model for our gang that reading is fun, useful, etc etc. Our house is full of books on every subject - a couple of thousand spread out across the house. We converted an old bedroom on the landing into a library and have shelves of books in different categories. Science and nature. History. Mathematics. Languages (including English). Geography and peoples of the world. Gardening and Hobbies. Cooking. Then there are stacks and stacks of various different magazines - National geographic Kids, Birdlife, Learning is fun, Aquila, Anorak, First News, Lego magazine, plus the odd random one that we've bought. They read comics like Asterix and Tintin, and own a number of books on how to draw comics, characters, and do animation. We have a shelf full of colouring/ activity/ puzzle/ sticker books. We have joke books, books about the body, hardback story books, hundreds of paperbacks, reading scheme books - Peter and Jane, Jolly Phonics, Usborne Phonics, Red Nose Readers, Letterland, Magic key, 4u2Read and others. Books about dragons, legends, movie-making, origami, bike-riding, paper-making, cooking.....random books of every kind! We are often hanging out in bookshops, and to date the children have met four authors who they got to spend time chatting to before getting their signed books. Just today I bought some wonderful books in Waterstones including this fab large print, oversized paperback treasure by Roddy Doyle

which is a big hit in our household since we've heard the Giggler treatment so many times I reckon the disc will wear out at some point!

So how else do they read, besides books? Well they play a whole variety of games on their PC, and have had to read instructions and complete quests, enter, read, decipher and decode to be advance through different levels. Sometimes they play alone but oftentimes it's a really collaborative process, working together as a team. They play literacy games, maths games, logic games, adventure games, science games, role playing games, comic-making games where they insert their own photos, beat-em-ups (we are talking pretty tame ones here, like Ruthless Romans gladiatorial battles on the wii, definitely not graphic military style war games) - pretty much every type of game you can think of that's not really graphic or violent.

The boys have watched Magic Key DVD endless times, plus all manner of different BBC literacy programmes over the years. We are crazy about audiobooks, and just recently the How to Train your Dragon series has been on repeat play - the wonderful voices of David Tennant in glorious scottish technicolour, all music to our ears! Roddy Doyle, Atticus the Story Teller, Diary of a Wimpy Kid - all that vocab and warmth and passion in the telling. It all soaks in.

Trading cards have sped up all the boys reading skills and particularly Pokemon. I have been quite amazed at the rate at which Herbie in particular has learnt to spell some really tricky words just recently through his love of Pokemon. It has spawned a whole bunch of Pokemon related activity - inventing their own cards, drawing and copying characters on paper (refining their drawing skills), making posters and games and all sorts of other written and hand-drawn work. I say work, because they have treated these activities as important work, their inner drive to do it has been un-stoppable! Indie proudly tells me how something is spelt, and runs off again, delighted with himself. Alfie follows the boys around, wanting to be just like them, singing "P-O-K-E-M-O-N woooahhh..."

Herbie started a craze for comic-making, and ran his own comic-making workshop at our local home ed group last week, teaching other kids what he knows, and learning from them too. I forgot to take my camera that day so have no photos of it sadly. Anyway. To support this I invested in boxes of clickable pencils, drew up and photocopied templates of different cartoon-strip sized boxes, bought a couple of dozen technical-drawing pens in black ink (the ones that don't smudge, and flow beautifully), a box of artists rubbers, and two dozen coloured technical drawing pens, oh how they love them - they are drawing, drawing, drawing, and writing all sorts!

I have sometimes had moments of doubt that Finn never 'get there' as he has grown well past the school timings for reading - felt a little pink-faced when grilled by kindly but befuddled friends and family, wondered if our faith was misguided....

But here we are.....

They always get there in the end!!!


Thursday, 22 March 2012

Conception 2012 and World Doula Week

Thank you all so much for sticking with me through my wobble. The Spring energy has charged my batteries with life, my friends have charged me up with their generous love, hugs, words, and thoughtfulness. Yesterday I was the lucky recipient of some home-made jam tarts with little hand-cut hearts on, and a fluffy pink dressing-gown from another friend, who knew how much I loved it. Its as pinky pink as my pink hair. Asking for help and receiving it in abundance has been a mega blessing, and I no longer feel like I'm treading water but rather, that I'm at the fun pool, frolicking with friends, with tequilas on the side waiting for me when I'm ready!


And so, lifted up by my friends, who continually give me strength and hope and support, who have faith in me even when I have lost faith in myself, I am grateful tonight for all the love in my life both at home and beyond.


Now then, let me explain the title of this post. The two things are interlinked a little. The idea of Conception 2012 was introduced to me by Lucy Pearce, my lovely soul sister across the Irish sea:

The idea is to dream and imagine the future you want for the world and to help affect this change by focusing on it, and putting positive energy towards that goal. I do really believe the words of Mahatma Gandhi "Be the change you want to see in the world".

This week is World Doula Week and I am continually reflecting on my own capacity to do a bit of good in the world. I think for me, birth work may just be one of the most meaningful mediums to share a bit of my own light in the world, and bring it to others. I believe everyone has light in them, a higher self which we can listen to or ignore - we can try to dull it and mask it and cover it up but it just makes us sad. I know cos I've done it to my own light enough times. I think my recent funk has been to do with being afraid of my light. No more!

Helping Mamas and Papas to release fears, to trust in nature, to have faith in themselves is my dearest hope - to help return power back to individuals and away from institutions who may not have their best interests at heart. Helping others to reclaim their power, their voice, their birth rights, their pleasure and joy, is something I feel called to do. Helping them to have experiences where their own inner light can shine with all its strength feel like a good thing to do!

I am not alone in thinking that we have become so very afraid of birth, afraid of our own bodies, enculturated to believe that it is inherently dangerous and messy and that we have become broken. When the business of deciding how, when and where birth was to take place was taken over by men, a revolution in birth was set in place where women's wisdom was undermined, women's confidence in birth and their bodies was chipped away at until we have the situation we are in now, where we are supersticious and terrified of it, and ourselves. We say "oh but childbirth is much safer nowadays - women used to die...." This is true. Women died in their thousands in the 1700-1800's because physicians refused to accept that they introduced putrid particles into their patients vaginas by not washing their hands properly after performing earlier surgeries - and even autopsies. Those who tried to speak up were ridiculed. Alexander Gordon of Aberdeen, discovered the cause of cause of fatal birth infections by unwashed hands, as early as 1795. He was ignored. In 1847, a man named Ignaz Semmelweis, ordered staff at his Allemagne Krankenhaus in Vienna (once the world's largest lying-in hospital) to wash their hands in chlorinated water, which brought fever mortality rates post birth down from an astonishing 20% to 1%. Sadly, the ignorant staff ridiculed and privately flouted the new 'rules' behind his back, thinking his hand-washing regimes a nuisance and he ended up dying in a state run mental asylum in 1865. It wasn't until Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister argued the case for microscopic germs being the cause of fever mortality in mothers that women started to be spared these un-necassary deaths.

Life saving discoveries and procedures could have changed the birthing lot of women for the better, yet their rampant over- and mis-use means that sadly, with each new technological 'advance', women all over the world are increasingly forced into quite unnecessary procedures, inductions, caesarians, and general mal-handling as a matter of course, and are sometimes not given enough accurate information to reflect the genuine risks and dangers. When women are informed of their rights they often say "I had no idea I could do things any other way." I didn't know I could refuse x, y and z. They don't know because they are not told. They are not told sometimes quite simply because it is inconvenient for the system to have women not playing along.

As I have discovered through reading books such as those of the wonderful Birth Activist and anthropolgist Sheila Kitzinger, natural birth scares the bejeezus out of an ever growing populus on the planet, as a generally safe, natural process. Traditional and indigenous methods get replaced by technical births that remove a woman from her local support network of wise women (and men) and traditional lay caregivers who are so precious. We are getting so spooked out by birth that as a result, we are having a ridiculous amount of unnecessary interventions and procedures. Have our bodies really changed that much in the last few hundred years? Or is it the cultural mentality and the organisation and handling of birth that has changed beyond recognition?

Women used to have painless births before the christian concepts of shame, suffering and sin were brought to the birthing table. Women in indigenous cultures still experience low-fuss, easy births, since they are free from fear-mongering, and they remain physically active and in tune with their bodies. They think of birth from a spiritual perspective, not simply a clinical one, they know the many ways that babies come instead of trying to make all babies come in one of a small menu of ways, according to a schedule dictated by others.

Their safe and easy birthing is not a fluke. Their bodies are not built differently from us. What is different is the lack of social conditioning that complicates something which is essentially mostly straightforward. We are just forgetting. We are forgetting that there is a rhythm to our bodies that knows how to flow. We are forgetting our own power, because we don't WANT to own it. Because we are scared of it.

In the amazing book, The Mama Bamba Way by the Birth Educator Robyn Sheldon, is this brilliant quote

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkeness that most frightens us."

-Marianne Williamson, Author, lecturer, and spiritual activist.

Could this be the truth of it? That we are actually scared of our own power, because we now believe it when we are told not to trust ourselves?

Whether we believe in a god or whether we believe in the gods of machinery and men, mother nature has a rhythm and a power that we can embrace or turn our backs on. In the moment of our birthing, however we do it, we become the chain in history, the link that is forged in that moment. We are reminded of our place in the thread of our ancestral line, of our connection to our mothers and grandmothers, the generations who will follow us, the other mothers all birthing in that moment and who ever birthed and those who will birth in future.

We can reclaim our power and our pleasure and our bodies. We have the power to use technology wisely, when it is truly needed, to return to a more sensible way of birthing.

I hope to play my part in a revolution which empowers women and their families, the community and the wider world.

Check out this wonderful resource to find out more about the movement which is helping to effect change in the way we see birth! It is called One World Birth.

What part will you play in re-imagining life for yourself and others? Will you let your light shine, or hide it under a bushel?

Xx MF xX

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Motherfunkin' tired.

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by my task at the moment if I'm honest.

The boys are bickering a lot. Hubby is working long hours.

I want to write about the shiny happy time we're having. The truth is I'm just darn tired. Too tired to work on the book. I'm feeling the kind of tired where even cooking and cleaning seem like gargantuan tasks.

My mother in law came over today and instead of hanging out here in this messy tip, I took the boys out so I wouldn't have to sit with her and have the boys being bouncy and me feeling bad about that. We had a great time while we were out but came home to the mother-of-all messes, which I have left.

Instead of having early nights and drinking herbal teas and eating nourishing foods I have started up smoking roll-ups by the back door, eating cake for England and watching episodes of Downton Abbey till gone midnight 'cos, whilst I am shattered, I can't actually sleep.

I wish I could get myself into a more 'wholesome' headspace but I feel crappy about a bunch of stuff right now. I feel sorry for myself, unsure of things, in a funk. I don't like to bring my friends down so I act cheery. I feel silly moaning, I like to be the one who lifts her friends up and offers good advice, sets a good example of living and thinking positively, being pro-active in improving our lot rather than whinging about it. But I haven't the energy to keep it up at the moment. Shiny shiny blogs by shiny shiny mamas managing a million things and doing it cheerily with a smile are hard for me to take right now. I don't want to know about how endlessly patient some other mama is. I feel crabby.

I always want to be the one who bakes the cake for someone, sends people nice packages and random little cards and letters, lends stuff out, tries to do nice stuff for everyone. Right now I'm just going to focus more on my own peeps. I have so little precious time that there isn't a whole lot spilling over for the rest of humanity right now!

So if I don't write or phone or bake you a cake or do something nice for you right now, please don't think badly of me. I still love you. I'm just freakin' tired.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

Holy Mother!

Mama Earth, Mama Gaia teaches us so much about our Mother role here on Earth. Whether we believe in her or not, she is quietly breathing life in this green and blue heavenly patch of the cosmos, giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

She is the bringer of flowers, fruits and good things, she nurtures and rocks us and cradles us. But she is feisty too! If we get too close to her pressure points - expect thunder! Earthquakes! Eruptions of lava! She is divine but made of the earth, holy and awesome, a force to be reckoned with. She makes us gasp, smile, cry. She is as old as the universe and as new as a blossoming bud. She is generous to a fault, but we abuse and ask too much from her.

The holy mother has many faces - more than we could ever invent!



Mother's milk is the first medicine, the first booze, heroin, ecstasy or smoke. It is the ultimate feel-good drug.

The rush of love, the oxytocin-endorphin cocktail is something we chase our whole lives if we missed out on that vital hit. Or when we feel the world cheated us somehow. Most of the pain in the world is mother pain.

Mothers can heal us and hurt us.

Mothers who hurt are hurt themselves.

If you had a mama who hurt, will you break that chain?

One kiss at a time.

One cuddle.

One birth.

One baby.

One apology.

One reconciliation.

One forgiveness.

One phonecall.

One love.

Xx MF xX


Here's a beautiful song from Baaba Mal, about the pain of losing your mother. When they're gone they're gone...

Lyrics to Baayo (The Orphan): If God could turn me into a pigeon
A golden pigeon or a turtle dove
I could fly to my homeland
At Douwayra
Back home where my folks are
If God could give me everything I wish for
Long life, happiness and prosperity
Then I would live always beside
Those who are dear to me
My parents and my friends
While I was in France
Learning more about art and life
One terrible phone call
Summoned me home
Where I found
My mother was already dead and buried
Orphan, Orphan, Orphan
Mama, Mama, Mama, my darling mother
Papa, Papa, Papa, my dear father
Oh Mother most kind
Oh Father full of pity
What sadness when they go
How sacred is the family
Mama, Mama, Mama Aissata
Samba Boubou Yacine Wade
Mother of Fatou, mother of Mama
Mother of Laye Malle and of Chillo
Of Ndeye Khar and of Ndeye Gaye
Of Hameth Malle and Baaba Baidy Baaba Debbo
Ah Mama Aissata Khar Sano Saar and Nar Sarr
Ah Aissata Samba Boubou Yacine
Ah Mama!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Blooming gorgeous!

Oh how I love a pretty pretty song!

It saw it over at this beautiful blog if you haven't already been there before go check it out :-)

Big love

Xx MF xX

Saturday, 10 March 2012

My many coloured days

Have you ever read the book "My many coloured days" by Dr. Seuss?

Can I tell you how wonderful it is?

We bought this book many years ago from a charity shop or some kind of second-hand sale or another. I can't remember exactly.

I want to share it with you, because no other book I can think of, describes so aptly, so beautifully, the different emotions we travel through, on different days. It's a comfort to see each emotion writ large, bold, solid, on paper, out loud - all valid and part of the normal jumble of human existence!

Naming them, and relating them to colour, is such a beautiful and simple way of getting to the essence of them, in a way that helps adults and children alike to put our days, and the extremeness of our feelings, into context.

I hadn't realised the full potential of this book until I started looking around on the web. It turns out, that this book is used in classrooms as a therapy tool to help children understand their emotional selves and if you type in the title of the book, you'll be sure to find a bunch of related material.

In a country where economic wellbeing is generally promoted over emotional wellness/wholeness, it's even more important to look after our emotional health. Too often in our culture, uncomfortable feelings are treated as pesky and annoying, something to be buried, conquered, ignored, but not surrendered to. Especially here in the country which invented the stiff upper lip!

 Our daily lives are often so busy, we have come to think of it as an indulgence, or overindulgence, to go around feeling things, as if it were a luxury. We are taught to do, do, do, and go, go, go, rather than feel. We are taught to get on with things. Get over things. Not to listen to these childish unruly things called emotion, that are so inconvenient! We intellectualise feelings to protect ourselves from things that hurt. I've done it to myself many many times when all I've wanted to do is just have a good cry.

We all have a cocktail of emotions inside us, they are our lifelong companions, and some of them we have come to think of as the enemy. Some emotions get a bad rap. We stigmatise them and shun them, putting them on time-outs in the corner of our soul. Yet they are part of us. Perhaps sometimes the best thing to do is to be on friendly speaking terms with our most negative emotions - without letting them become our best buddies.

To let them dance. To allow them a safe space to spill out, to control them only when and if we really really need to at that moment - put them on hold if needs must, but not to try and banish them altogether.

Here's a video of the book, set to the song True Colours, by Cyndi Lauper. You need to double click on the vid and watch it at the youtube page, otherwise only the sound plays, not the video.

Hope you're having a beautiful day - whatever colour it is!

Our day here is multicoloured :-)

Much love, and peace to you all,

Xx MF xX

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Beach therapy on a **** day!

As you could probably tell from my last post, I've been feeling the need to balance this blog out with a bit of the nitty gritty since the lofty ideals I sometimes write about are very nice and noble, but hard to follow through every minute of every day. I seem to be pretty good at being wise after the event, and many of my lessons seem to have been learnt the hard way. If I am going to be 'inspirational' as some of you seem to think me, I can only do so in a spirit of total truth and honesty. There can be no bullsh*tting y'all. Although its temping, believe me.

Well today has been a bit of a punch in the stomach as far as reality-call goes.

Since our youngest went on what I now realise was an ill-advised sleepover to some really dear friends (who are completely lovely, and we've swapped kids with them several times before -  so this is no reflection on their character), Alf has been acting seriously moody and unpredictable. He seemed really happy to go there and I think perhaps he just got himself a little freaked out somewhere along the line, but didn't know how to verbalise this out loud). Last night he woke up at about 1am and for an hour and a half wanted us but didn't, wanted a drink but then refused it, wanted raisins but refused them, didn't want cuddles, didn't want to be soothed or spoken to, but then if we said 'ok then we will go to bed and leave you in peace', got EVEN MORE hysterical. All I wanted to do was hug him, scoop him into my arms, rock him, and tell him I loved him, which I tried to do but he fought me vehemently. It was really distressing as he had seemed ok with the sleepover thing but turns out, Mummy made a bad call. Ouch.

This morning he was much the same, crying at 7.30am because he wanted a lolly that his older brother had bought the night before from the tuckshop at youth club with a bit of his pocket-money, and we had an hour of hysterics over that. After a bad night, we were now waking up to a very bad tempered boy.

Later in the morning we made a cake, and at one point I left the room to help Indie find his shoes to go play outside, so Alf decided to eat the leftover cake mix from the bowl and so got it all over his face and hair. With sticky, crusty little bits now in his hair, he flat out refused to have his hair washed - he hates bath-time at the moment so this is stressful for all as it is. I had a choice - either cut his hair off so it was super duper short, wash it, or let it encrust into his hair making washing it later even harder to do. I opted for the wash-it-out-now option.

This turned out to be a heart-wrenching affair. Trying to stay patient, patiently explaining the angle he must tilt his head so he doesn't get water in his eyes were met with hysteria. I did not keep my cool. By now, I was getting pretty exhausted by all this, and I just washed his hair as best as I could whilst he struggled and cried and tipped his head at exactly the wrong angle.

After this I just wept. My hubby, who has been working 16hour days just lately, held me as I cried. Alf was already over it, and running around being mischievous and laughing at his nakedness, shaking his booty at everyone.

I cancelled our friends coming to visit us for the afternoon, and felt positively glum. I felt like a complete failure, like a fraud for writing anything in the vein of helping other parents. I wanted to run away, to get away from everything, and everyone.

So we did the next best thing. I packed the children in the car, and we drove to the beach. Wild and elemental, sunny and bright, the big wide space of the open beach seemed to undo the horridness of the morning.

The wind swirled around us, and we saw many birds, found a new woodland by the beach, took in the pretty villages on the twisty winding roads that lead away from these flatlands and took us to   someplace else. It felt like a great escape, a release, like we could all breathe again.

Sometimes when things get intense, when everyone starts to bicker and the weight of the world seems too heavy, these wild walks are just what we need.

Tonight, we're going to get wrapped up and go for another walk, a moonlit walk to shake off the days blues. I will hold Alfie's little hand and continue to tell him how much I love him, as we look up at the moon. I can't wait.

Tommorow is a brand new day, and who knows what joys it may bring? Hopefully Mummy won't make any silly boo-boos and get it all wrong. We live and learn.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The yin and yang of parenting - learning from our parenting mistakes

I recently came upon a post which has caused an awful lot of furore, An open letter to Gina Ford . I left a comment among the many many others, who asked the question of how a woman with no children can be a parenting guru.

It has got me thinking about my own parenting in the raw days of early motherhood. Of how I handled the sleeplessness, the broken nights, the newness, the scariness of it all being first time and some of the mistakes I made back then, that have me cringing now. The different mistakes I made with each child.

When I had my first little boy, I fell so completely in love that I thought my heart would break from the sheer intensity of it. It was love at first sight. In spite of having a more clinical birth than I had planned, in spite of being in hospital, I was as high as a kite, our eyes locked and I knew this little baby already, I recognised him, loved him instantly and completely. Nothing could dampen that afterglow, that sheer joy. 

Bringing him home and getting to know one another was the most beautiful thing I had ever experienced. My man and I were now part of a trio, our days felt so full. I didnt mind being tired. I didn't mind the birth, it was a powerful and new experience that gave me so much food for thought. I was changed now forever and I loved my new calling in life. Without reading any parenting books, I instinctively knew I would breastfeed, that I would not impose any routine on this baby, and we settled into a rhythm which I was perfectly happy with - even though to the outside world, it didn't appear to be very 'sorted'. I fed whenever he wanted to be fed, I fed him for comfort, at random times, sometimes once every hour, sometimes once every two, sometimes with a three hour gap. It totally depended what we were doing, where, who we were with, a whole host of different scenarios. 

I got very mixed messages from friends and family about how I was parenting. My laissez-faire and relaxed approach seemed to rather irk certain family members who were desperate to have us doing Gina Ford style routines. One family member, when our baby was not sleeping very well, proposed to come and 'take over' for the night and 'get them into a routine', so we could get some sleep. I was mortified. However tired we were, we certainly did not want to hand the baby to a completely different caregiver so they 'fix' things for us. My view was that babies just go through phases, and it's no big deal. 

She started to ask me all the time about my routine, the timings of my feeds, which breast I had used last, when they last slept - and this obsession with routine got me in such an uncomfortable space with her that I'd dread get-togethers, having to justify my hotch-potch baby-led philosophy, even if we did make some mistakes along the way - it seemed more natural to let the child lead than to follow any method or style dreamed up by someone who didn't know our baby like we did.

And with one baby, we could be absolutely flexible, we could follow him exclusively, because it was easy. We went through phases of trying different things, as our boy would need different things at different times, but his existence was entirely child-led. He slept with us till he got so wriggly and kicky we took it as our cue to put him in a cot next to our bed, and when he wanted a feed in the night, I'd lift him that short distance and plonk him next to me, where he would suckle and we'd fall back to sleep in our bed all snuggled up together. I never worried about squashing him - he would sleep raised up on a pillow and I would take great care to keep adjusting things throughout the night, as needed.

Whilst I was striking out as an alternative mother, I still did not know anyone at that time who fed much beyond a year - it seemed like something only 'weird' mothers did. Not wanting to be a 'weird' mother, I started to wean my little boy from my breast at about 9 months. At the time I thought this was 'healthy' and 'normal', much longer even, than many friends and acquaintances had fed their babies. 

But then my baby grew into a toddler, and a very wilful toddler at that. I was totally un-prepared for this. My thoughts by this time were that whilst I had pampered him with 'getting his own way' as a baby, now he was growing older, perhaps I had 'spoilt' him with all my baby-led child-rearing so far, that maybe I had made a rod for my own back. We got into a phase of power struggling. If my darling boy didn't eat his dinner, which I had lovingly prepared, we would sit and try and eat it till one of us backed down. If he would deliberately do something repeatedly that we had said no to, many times, he would get a slap on the wrist. (Deep shame - we only did this a handful of times, but even so..:-(... ). He ran about like a loon, full-on, wild, fast, with no regard for danger. Living in a town, this scared the bejeezus out of me. After being carried as a baby, he progressed to a buggy at about six months, (because that's what we thought all 'normal' parents did) and being pregnant again, didn't have the energy or speed to keep up. So we bought some toddler reigns, much like the type I now see in pet stores for dogs. (Deep shame) We had the wrist version too. When I see a toddler on one of these now I actually feel sick. I saw a little boy wearing one the other day and every bit of me cried - NO! HOW AWFUL!

We moved house when I was eight months pregnant, and our darling Herbie was born when Finn was just 15 months, so my babies were very close together, and I was finding my feet in a new town. I decided to really throw myself into getting to know people, and buoyed by Herbie's home birth which had been fairly quick and easy, I felt more and more confident about alternative ways of parenting. I still didn't know anyone who was breastfeeding long-term, still didn't know anyone co-sleeping, generally I was the most alternative perhaps out of my local gang of friends, and became quite involved with Surestart, joining the local centre as a parent board member, which brought some interesting people into my life, and I learnt some valuable lessons from some of them.

But I realised that more and more, my alternative leanings were putting me out of step with a lot of my other friends. I discovered the existence of home education, and upon meeting the people in those spheres, finally felt like I had tapped into a tribe of folks who felt like me, who shared the same ideas and ideals, who seemed free and confident living in a parallel state alongside the 'system', following their own paths. These folks were living the life I envisioned for ourselves. Finally something had clicked.

Little Indie was born a couple of years after Herbie, with a miscarriage inbetween, and in the same month, my husband launched his own business - a big risk but very exciting. His homebirth had been the easiest yet, I was on such a high, and adored him as I had adored the others. Yet quite quickly it became very clear just how hard three children under 5 was! 

Most of my old friends still hadn't had babies yet, so we had to rely on new friends to help us figure out our parenting philosophy, a lot of trial and error, reading some books, and thinking and reflecting alot. Mostly, in truth, we were just plain knackered, all the time. We were so busy living we just coped with things as they arose, sometimes well, sometimes triumphantly, at other times we struggled, muddled through difficult patches, hanging onto our sanity by a thread. After a difficult summer caring for people who were mentally ill, whilst re-decorating our entire house to sell, we moved to East Anglia, and started a new life here.

Here we have expanded our family further, with the addition of lovely little Alfie, whose birth taught us so much. The experience of handling the authorities here to get the birth we wanted was extremely trying and has taken me a long time to get over. Having to travel here there and everywhere with him when he was so tiny, and for no good reason, at the behest of the authorities, is something that I bitterly regret, and which got our breastfeeding relationship off to a shaky start, something which has taken me a long time to make peace with. Having a fourth child and home educating has been the most intense experience of our lives so far. I have done so many things with Alf that I thought I wouldn't - some of them I am not proud of. Leaving him to cry it out is one of them. He went through a very intense period when I absolutely didn't know what to do with him. And I was shattered in the extreme. If he cried at the end of a very very long day, I admit that we sometimes left him to cry. It seemed kinder than smacking or some other exhausted reflex, which by now we had realised was completely pointless and wrong. He would reject cuddles, stroking, stories. That was very hard to take. I nearly went out of my mind with that little chappie, and being my fourth, I thought I ought to know what to do by now. But each baby has their own soul, their own heart, their own mind. They come with their own soul baggage. Learning how to help has been a dance that has required unlearning everything I thought I knew about babies, and re-learning it all over gain. A really humbling and powerful experience. Babies are not robots, no manual can guarantee their happiness. They need to assert their own way in this life - they can't fit the same mould as the babies that came before them - it just doesn't work.

Over these last few years, alongside our old dear friends, we have made some really wonderful friends, met some of the kindest people we have ever known, and found solace and comfort and solidarity with them. To live and learn alongside these lovely families has been such a priviledge. Meeting people who are long term breastfeeders, co-sleepers, and educating myself more and more about the value of such practises, seeing how normal and wonderful they are, I feel sad that we have, over the years, been afraid to relax and trust in these absolutely natural and normal practices. That we were only half brave. That we didn't shake off our doubts earlier. That we didn't learn some of these things sooner.

Reflecting over the ten years I have been a parent, I can see how far we have come, how our faith has grown over the years in trusting in love as the most powerful method of all, in seeing the futility of smacking as any kind of method at all, in following our hearts and our dreams, and seeing the children for what they are - beautiful souls, on loan to us for a while, a precious gift and honour to be able to serve them. They are going to be here much longer than us, they will live in a future we can only dream of.

Life is too short for punishments, for handing your baby over to methods. Love them. Cuddle them. Cry when it gets hard. Talk to friends. Share your hardships with them. 

Kids are pretty resilient and forgiving it turns out, if you continue to talk things over with them. You can get past difficult times, hard patches, mistakes. If you keep the cuddles flowing, if you remember to say sorry, if you commit to learn from your mistakes and keep love at the centre of everything you can weather the stormy stuff. Forgiving yourself for doing things that you thought were normal or ok at the time, is also something that you need to make peace with.

We have learnt some hard lessons about love and friendship, and have found healing by loving one another, forgiving one another, and laughing at ourselves. We all make mistakes, and the children know that when they make mistakes, I have so many in the bank that I can hardly judge them or be mad at them for very long! If we were all perfect and didn't make mistakes I kind of wonder why else we would be put here on this earth - what would there be to learn?

I recently had a very grown up conversation with that first baby of mine. He said to me "Mum, how can we appreciate good things without experiencing the bad ones? There is no light without dark. No happy without sad. No fun times without boring ones" "I love you just the way you are, even if you are not perfect". 

And that is how I see all parents - imperfect, muddling through, making mistakes, utterly human, and on a long learning journey. 

Until you have kids of your own, you cannot know the depths of your soul, the chaos, the healing, the strain, and the sheer joy.

And I wouldn't trade it for the world.