December 1, 2012
I had a big long blog entry prepared for the beginning of Advent, but instead, I suggest you watch this:
More to follow on how we intend to forego Presents (at least for my husband and myself) this year, in favour of Presence. And if you are interested in a digital Advent Calendar with a thought for each day, take a look here, which is the original site for the video.
November 1, 2012
‘Humu humu aka aka aka aka a’
‘What does that mean? Is it Lily-language?’
‘Yes, it means [with actions]:
Two smails… two snails met
One was a lady, one was a man
Hello, hello, it is raining
I am going inside my shell
So am I
Smell those lovely flowers!’
Lily just spent 24 hours with her maternal grandparents, including learning the following verse:
Deux petits escargots se rencontrent.
Comment ca va?
Ca va bien merci. Et toi?
Ca ne va pas.
Il pleut. Je rentre chez moi.
Moi aussi. Au revoir.
Well I think that explains her sudden foray into non-English poetry. Ha ha! But the flowers were all her own invention I believe. Tres bien!
September 30, 2012
Frequently my daughter and son surprise me by how utterly normal they are. They conform to society’s stereotypes of what a little boy or girl should be like. Lily loves Disney princesses and dressing up and having her hair cut and shopping and trying to put things right with the world. Joseph loves banging things on other things, building tall structures, whinging about going around another shop, celebrating all that is steam-train related and eating more pudding.
However, they also continue to surprise me by how utterly unique they each are. So, for example, as well as Disney’s Cinderella on this year’s birthday cake, we also have long-standing instructions to include silhouettes. Because 5-year-olds aren’t scared of silhouettes. And Lily wants to invite her friends to celebrate with her at the nearest Anglo-Saxon royal burial site. Because why do what everyone else does, right? And it seems utterly normal to her to converse with the curators of a local historical mansion about why she is afraid of her favourite clock there and what a scullery is and how her mummy and daddy used to turn the ‘split’ by the kitchen fire in ‘oldendays’ at the top because they are taller. History is the latest big thing for this little girl and she’s already coming home from school telling us new information about oldendays such as ‘did you know in oldendays sometimes people had children before they even got married?’ which leave us pretty confused as to how to continue.
Lily used to have imaginary pets, but killed off Beaky and the rest when she realised that children at nursery were confused. Such a people-pleaser.
Now it seems Joseph might be getting into imaginary animals. He has a habit of growling and roaring for laughs. He is more of a crowd-pleaser, and heading for class-clown if his pointless humming at table has any bearing on the future. Or perhaps we should see about getting him a scholarship as a choir-boy. He’d look so cute…
But back to mealtimes with Joe. I wondered who was going to eat some laboured-over morsel he was entertaining a couple of days ago, and he pointed to the empty (?) chair beside him and clearly said ‘Lion’. Lily and I thought that was great and laughed, which was the cue he needed to talk more about the lion. So far we know that the Lion likes his food and roars and may or may not be called ‘Ayin.
September 19, 2012
Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might. Ecclesiastes 9:10.
This verse comes to me frequently these days. These days of adjusting to new routines and considering new uses of my time. I am anxious to be busy and to be effective in that. I am keen to do the best for my children and the best for my community.
Perhaps what I do is not as important as how I do it. I am an educated professional, but I work in the home, in the church and around the community; none of these responsibilities pays me. In order not to get bitter about this I can take comfort in doing the best I can with what I have in my hands.
Didn’t expect that.
Perhaps also, I value and prioritise things differently from the way God does. I just want to get the housework done and then sit down. Maybe – like Mary – I should choose what is better and sit down first, listening and being. Listening is work too.
Perhaps also it is a time to reflect on the importance of change and of moving into paid work again. It could be soon, or it could be gently into a new venture. It might mean re-skilling and being humble in that.
Whatever it is – and whether there is a ‘right’ thing or just a right attitude and a willing heart, I imagine that doing what I find I am doing well and without complaining may be the most satisfying option (Matthew 25:21,23).
I am a mathematician too.
I like to see the big picture and the connections. I like to be efficient as well as effective. I believe in the 80-20 principle. I can get more done if I do the right amount of it, particularly at the right time. It is possible to do an excellent job with amazing quality, but if you also want to deliver in time and on budget something will give. There are always many things demanding my attention and many things that could (and do) give, some of them precious. It is also possible to start where you are at and keep improving, and it is right not to be ashamed of the work-in-progress.
I am going to find a day soon and audit my time, my priorities and my dreams, to see where it may be best to invest my time this year. We have big decisions to make and I feel most comfortable when I’ve assessed things well and accounted for various events. Do I start a business? Do I return to teaching? Do we put Joe into all the government funded hours he could be entitled to and make sure we’ve applied in time? How do we use the time Lily is not in school, to love her and invest in her and her friends the best? And so on, and so on.
But you know what? Even if my auditing day turns out less than 100% satisfactory for results, I can be sure that if I give it my best shot and keep at it, I can at least do what I do with all my might.
September 13, 2012
‘Just give me a moment’ is a phrase you may often hear me saying at home to the children/husband/guinea pigs. That is, if you are an obsessed stalker with remarkably good technology and no one more interesting to check on.
What is a moment? A moment is all it takes me to do any one of the jobs I may feel the need to do around the home. Preferably two in fact. Time in my eyes runs differently from time as I perceive others to perceive it. You need to change into school clothes? Great. I will help you with that, while also putting away breakfast, cleaning three sets of teeth, ensuring our family additions have adequate vitamin C to stave off death for the coming 6 hours and checking that the world is still functioning without my close attention by reading facebook updates.
I am getting rather good at multi-tasking now that I am a proper mum of a ‘schooler’. Tomorrow is Lily’s first full day at school. She then has one more half day on Monday before the 2470 or so remaining school days kick in. Lovely. She has taken to school well, and already pointed out the square-based pyramids on the way home which I had not noticed. On the road. At the crossing. How does she know what a square-based pyramid is, when she has done fewer than 16 hours at school? I am genuinely impressed. (Unless I find someone has been secretly tutoring her to make me laugh. I have my suspicions. And then there is always my forgettery.)
Lily’s latest obsession is ‘Old Things’ as in ‘when was this built mummy?’ ‘was this music when you were little mummy?’ and ‘I like oldendays things and nowendays things too’. She is good at telling it like it is. ‘I want to move house because I don’t like living in an oldenhouse mummy’. Yesterday, after telling her I loved her sooo much, I got the honest response, ‘I love you too mummy, when you are happy’.
When I am happy.
Presumably not when I am busy, (can’t spare a moment, (just want to get this finished,) distracted,) normal mummy. Oh dear.
I could learn to be happier in my tasks. Is this what she means?
Honestly though, I have to admit this is something of a Martha moment for me. A little revelation. Lily is busy being herself, making me smile, growing and learning. I am busy being busy, and not attending to those fleeting and beautiful moments enough to cherish her and be happy with her. I am constantly needing a moment. And then we looked at Martha and Mary in our home group this morning. Yep. Guilt with a serving of guilt. All prepared lovingly by me, without much help.
Yes. That delicate balance of parenting and being. Of not attempting to fit in extra tasks when I should be revelling in the moment. Of choosing what is better. Of stopping trying to be a Human Doing. Of actually slowing down sometimes.
This may be a lesson I really need to absorb right now. Mathematically, I am confident in the proportion of time we have already spent with each of our children living at home before they get packed off to University and/or Real Life as an Adult. I can tackle being a mum mostly without emotion: just getting on with it all. The merry backlog of jobs to do in the home will not unhide itself like a one-child den made out of a bath-towel.
Are all my moments already taken? Is time so profoundly unimportant to me?
I guess it depends on what matters. It matters that Lily qualifies her love and appears to not be impressed by her distracted mummy. That what she craves (her love language, in fact), is Time. That I am spending her moments on anything but her. It is also how she perceives this, importantly. So now we begin the phase of carefully planned Quality Time. Not as a reward, or as something jammed in amongst all the other moments in my day, but because I love her when she is having a good moment, a funny moment, a thoughtful moment or even a really bad dream moment. And I am grateful that I have this time, utterly grateful for the gifts of Lily and of Joe, and grateful that you cannot count the moments. You can just make sure the moments actually count.
September 3, 2012
There are three days until Lily starts school. She is far more ready than I thought she would be. She has even decided where to go to college after, what her subject will be, and (because it helps to fill in the gaps) where she would like to go to high school.
Totally true. And, if you are interested: the local FE college, Art, the catchment high school, where we park for church.
I have ordered many labels and ironed in 19% of them, despite being told by a parent at the school that it won’t make any difference.
I have bought her shiny shoes, and will be helping her wear them in and prepare them. Not that they fit my feet (or likely ever did).
I have avoided instigating academic work with her over the summer (this is the daughter who begs to have friends over and then reads in a corner while they are here). Instead I have been making sure she is ready to take on new things, try new foods, carry things carefully and think about others.
We have had a full summer. We travelled to family, we visited interesting local places, we learnt a lot about flags, we learnt even more about guinea pigs and are now the proud owners of two more members of the family: Beatrix and Stripe. These wonderful little guys (yes) are still so young and shy that they do not realise they have an upstairs and a downstairs in the same hutch, and have to be moved each morning and evening. They really are incredibly loved by the children and are worth being allergic to hay for. I honestly think at least one of them has been trying to communicate in Morse Code (perhaps watching a programme about Colditz escapes was not the cleverest move before imprisoning cavies in the yard: who knows, they might even build a glider while we’re not looking).
(click on image for footage)
As the school deems it wise, Lily will not be starting until Thursday this week, and I am grateful for the extra time with her, but aware that she loves routine and wants to be at school so much that a staggered start taking two and a half weeks may drag on a little. She needs to belong in the school routines and make lots of new friends.
It will be good for her to be at school, and I am mathematically more than ready. Emotionally I am still waiting to see what happens as it all takes off: I want the best for her, but I also want the best for society, which I believe means sending her to the nearest state school and not packing her to a nice private option with all the consequences on us as a family.
In any case, these two at least will not leave to go to school. Beatrix is hiding under the stairs. Stripe is exploring the great outdoors. Within the confines of a guinea pig run of course. Although I am tempted to home-educate them. It would be far more convenient if they communicated in English, say.
August 16, 2012
Today was a training day. Daddy was away training at a very clever IT company which manages to electronically lock guests into the lobby when they attempt to leave the building. Aggressive head-hunting techniques? And Lily, Joe and I took a train. By ourselves. Without a pram.
This is my survival stream of dots. I reasoned all I had to do was join them up. I had not reasoned I would be doing so much bribery.
Get up late. Take time doing everything. Pro-pre-post-and-pie-crastinate. Allow children autonomy over eating breakfast to make spurious scientific tests on how long it would really take on a school day if they had their way. Allow self not to worry about the shocking findings (Lily had double usual breakfast, Joe ate his 2 hours late).
Late in the morning, having somehow done all the usual Wednesday mummy housework – but not necessarily in the right order – realise there may be some mileage in a trip out. Pack absolute minimum - bribe son to take his own spare nappies and wipes in his new backpack, also carry some cash and a shopping bag. Drive to station. Importantly, do not induce worry by checking any real train times.
Walk children to station from distant car park, bribing them with stories of Real Trains and Track to encourage continued stationward movement. Discourage walking on the kerb with cautionary stories of Real Strawberry Jam. Discourage sanding of hands/walls with purity laws and family ethics. Cross the road to at least provide parental variety in cautions.
Use skills acquired mostly during University years in finding, reading and assessing departures board, drawing heavily on skills acquired mostly during the mummy years in cutting losses realistically to choose a suitable place to head to (departing within the quarter hour). Buy ticket by bribing children to look out of the window at passing trains.
Bribe children away from window with Real Ticket and their own chance to travel. Keep bribing until successful.
Bribe older child to stay within reach by trying to find the correct platform by herself as a treasure hunt. Keep hold of younger child and watch for all locomotion within 2-year-old male peripheral vision to keep him, as it were, on track. Allow him to determine the excitement levels at discovering, at the correct platform, a train we are actually going to get on.
Bribe children to sit at a table away from other tables with children (who have a higher child:grandparent ratio in the main, but a lower child:comic ratio). Allow son to stand on chair iff there is no one with a uniform on in the carriage and he has taken boots off first. Distract daughter from same behaviour by plugging her into something needing reading on arrival in her seat. Distract son from daughter’s comic by ensuring he has the better one. She is locked immediately into reading stupor and doesn’t need any form of distracting for duration of journey. Allow self not to worry about this. There is a time for amusing children and a time for them to amuse themselves.
I could go on. Bribing from Ipswich to Woodbridge, then around the town - for a child-friendly cafe, for eating food (surprise tank engine hidden in bag helped here), for stopping throwing feathers upwind into the fountain (valuable lessons for me on optimism). Bribery to find new clothes at good prices, to take turns holding the pink plastic bag I didn’t need or want (because I refused a second one), to look in book shops, to get out of book shops, to return to the station at the time intended plus generous slack (necessary, owing to Woodbridge station’s ridiculous bridge set-up and proximity of ice-creams). Bribing to sit still, to notice the outdoors, to move along, to wait in the waiting room for all the other (many) passengers from Woodbridge to exit at Ipswich so that the opportunity to see just a few more trains might not be missed, and then the walk back to the car.
Which was everything I thought it would be.
Slightly more out-of-pocket than I had hoped, but overall a far more relaxed and successful trip than I could have imagined. Perhaps a slow morning helped. Perhaps doing one dot at a time and not needing to prove anything to myself or anyone else. Perhaps the weather turning out better than we’d imagined. But I was sufficiently relaxed after all that to allow them to help make dinner too. Which they ate. Mostly.
And now I just have to find a suitable way to bribe Lily to fall asleep at any point before 10pm. I should have worn her out more in the morning I fear. Or stopped bribing and just switched the light off, as I have been warning for some months. Will school exhaust her, or will I learn the hard way? I expect it is time I stopped taking the path of least resistance, however clever that may seem at times, and do the right thing. Otherwise it will be a lot more late nights and late mornings.
August 6, 2012
Today was a baking day. I let the children choose what to bake.
Lily chose a library book. This was more sensible than it sounded as it had a recipe for fairy cakes at the end. If like me, you usually belong in the 99% of parents who never try actual recipes found in children’s fiction, my defence is that it is August and in 31 Actual Days and something approximating 31 Actual Sleeps Lily will start school. What’s a little cleaning up really? I hope the library share my philosophy should they notice the recipe pages. Lily really got into the decorating element of the baking.
Joseph chose ninjabed. Which is great, because he was pointing to gingerbread men, so I took him at his intention. Being a mother of a two-year old this is a skill I am sure to optimise just as I stop needing it. Using a variation on something we found in my old childhood recipe book, Joe and I discovered how easy it is to make flat Wenlocks with burnt sultana eyes and how exciting it is to remedy this with leftover squeezy icing and decorative bling. We are not going to get any medals for this highly creative work. However, Joe loved it and also really got into the decorative element of the baking.
Then, because a baking day does not count if you only baked twice, Lily chose Chicken Furniture.
I need to give you the history here. Chicken Furniture came to Lily in a dream a few weeks or so ago. It was a highly detailed recipe, which changes in minor elements on each retelling, but essentially runs like this:
Chicken Furniture, a recipe by Lily Robinson (age 4 and a half):
1. Take some chicken. Enough to make furniture with. If you are worried about what kind of furniture, remember there is only one kind of furniture when you are aged four, and that is the kind you are supposed to get off.
2. Bake the chicken in the oven for 5 or 20 minutes [preferably 30 or more].
3. Make a carpet of rice and peas by boiling some rice, and also peas [at the end].
4. Make the chicken into the shape of ‘a furniture’.
5. Add two small cherry tomatoes for red cushions. [Also prepare onions or any other interesting flavours and nutritious details the children will not require to be kept out of sight].
6. Eat and enjoy.
I give you the world’s first Chicken Furniture. It may not be all that special. But I really got into the decorative element. Tasted not bad, either.
July 12, 2012
It is a dark and
stormy rainy night. I can breathe a sigh of clichéd relief. The dropping temperature and lack of ultra-violet soaking through the curtains and washing the children with evening energy means that finally both have stopped bothering me and, for the rest of my small evening, there is time to myself. At least until the husband returns [husband returns mid-sentence]. So.
There was a time when I did not realise how precious evenings were. I took them for granted. I assumed that when you were a grown-up and were actually allowed to stay up, that you would want to. Perhaps we grown-ups have it all wrong. Perhaps evening is where children belong. Perhaps our model of society is madly off-centre. But if my children had their way, their dad would be called ‘Big’ (a Josephism) and I would be ‘Emily’ (thanks to Lily, who has realised she may not call me Lucy). They would own any number of animals, eat at fast-food outlets every day and choose their own clothes. I err – they already choose their own clothes. This means I get off the hook for outfit combinations which could not proudly be displayed in any decade in British history, while refusing to buy new clothes to match existing items just because they keep growing. Thankfully, as pre-schoolers, they are yet to feel the shame of mismatch and What Others Think of What You Wear.
But all will change very soon.
In only 49 days, Lily will Actually Start School. And not a day too soon – she’s been asking to go since 2010. I have it on record. This is a very exciting venture in many respects. She has met her teacher, and seen her classroom. She can’t wait to meet her again. She knows a few of the children in her class from nursery, and is excited about another neighbour who will also be joining them in the same class. She is planning on buying her first school shoes. She is worried about catching ‘nips’ from other children, but probably only the boys, as ‘girls don’t get nips mummy’. Will she talk of her parents, the eponymous Big and Emily, to an assembled group sat around her in the playground in the authoritative tones she has so carefully been working on? Will she actually realise that the combination of clothes she can choose from each morning can only match, being taken from a subtle palette of navy, grey, white and light blue? Will she admit defeat in her quest to chart every type of food in every possible eating place and its current status [pasta: Grandma's house: allowed if normal, bananas: home: not allowed until 5th birthday, milk: nursery: not allowed if it has full-fat 'bits in']? Will she wear herself out before she wears us out each so-called evening and thus be ready to get out of bed every morning in time to skip to lessons?
I was given some good advice this week on settling children who won’t settle by my physio. I have a physiotherapist as I tore some ligaments in my lower back two weeks ago and have had to rethink my posture and lifting processes and learn lots of new words concerning anatomy. I have genuinely discovered and started to use some muscles that were apparently part of me all this time, in order to prevent having to spend the best part of another fortnight horizontally challenged any time in the future. Lying on your back in bed is quite an eye-opener, even at night-time. I have new appreciation for those who have even less choice over this, and when I am somewhat fitter, intend to do more for the people I know who are bed-bound. But back to the physio’s advice. I am giving this to you free, so take note. Apparently the trick is to film the child in the morning after a bad evening, and show it to them to make the point, when you are trying to settle them. I would do this soon, but I fear finding the camera will involve too much bending, and there is never enough time in the evenings to have a proper conversation with the husband about Improving Our Parenting and delegating bending jobs. The poor man has had so much delegated to him this month. And in any case, the practice of catching a child doing something we don’t like must be so carefully matched with finding and praising them doing what we do like, to keep respect and get a result. But once I do find the camera, and charge it, and sort out a Plan with Lily’s dad, perhaps we will film her in the mornings and show her how crucial it is to get to sleep at a sensible time.
But of course, by the time we do that, I expect she’ll have started school and already be in the new routine.
Or the days will shorten.
Or our expectations to have productive evenings with a young family at home will start re-aligning to something resembling common sense, and we will laugh at ourselves, have an early night and let the kids put themselves to bed.
June 21, 2012
Do you like stories that restore your faith in humanity? For example, collections like this at Buzzfeed? Number 7 was familiar to me and perhaps to you too. It is odd finding new references to the letter my daughter Lily painstakingly typed over a year ago.
I have to concede though, the Giraffe Bread story did turn out to have many ingredients of a great meme and we do get spikes on the blog here as the story breaks in new arenas and languages. Tumblr fell prey not long ago. It is odd seeing how people like passing on a story they like in waves.
The story of the letters went viral on Twitter last year (thanks to a university friend tweeting images from this blog) and then on Facebook in January, care of a chap in Singapore called Parker Lim who I do not know. Many people started making comments that the bread should be renamed, but I had nothing to do with this. Sainsbury’s called me up shortly after and told me they had decided to change the name from Tiger to Giraffe Bread. It is still selling as Giraffe Bread in shops and is a huge PR success for them. Newspapers and radio stations started reporting the story, but we are far more impressed by the reporting skills of the general public than the newspaper journalists, many of whom clearly didn’t check the facts. For Lily’s sake as she gets older, we have printed out international copies of the story we have found and other positive reactions we liked. We have not wanted media coverage, and would far rather deflect the story’s attention toward helping others. I am also aware of trolling on the topic and am keen that Lily is protected going forward from hurtful sites. As a result, we are making very little of the story around her, other than making a point of visiting Lili the Adopted Giraffe at the zoo, and enjoying playing with some Active Kids equipment that Sainsbury’s sent to her toddler group at church. The toddlers made a giraffe collage to send to thank the kind people at Sainsbury’s too. Pretty good I thought!
I have to be honest and say that despite the human race’s propensity to stupidity and evil, most people want to hear good things most of the time, rather than negative things. We crave hope. We delight in success. We want stories that are punchy and positive.
And so Giraffe Bread is not going away any time soon. I have realised that it is likely to be revisited in new waves from time to time, and if this brings joy and hope, wonderful. If it also prompts some to click on our link to help feed children in Africa, even better.