Parenting wars and social functioning.

Media wars, putting parents against each other. I was always used to the “mum wars”, the articles that would promote opposite sides of the coin between breast and bottle feeding, those that would portray reusable nappies as unhygienic and hard work whilst others highlighted the impact on the environment that disposables have. The working mum vs the stay at home parent. The opinions of parents in the media shift like the tides but all seem to serve one purpose, keep the mum wars going.

September is no different, each September the anti home education press hit out with claims of terrorist breeding grounds, neglect, abuse etc. While home educators respond across social media and in various interviews to promote it as a positive and valid choice for thousands of children across the country. Stories hitting the press about goings on in schools get people talking about the rules and policies in place in mainstream education yet still home educators are met with the questions about socialisation.

I found myself in a debate this week following this story hitting the news. A Christian couple choosing not only to deregister their child but to actually sue the school for allowing another male student to attend wearing a skirt. Now in my eyes the school did no wrong, the child was in school uniform, gender is a protected factor under the equality act so the school would have been in the wrong to discriminate in their uniform policy. They have provided a safe, supportive and accepting environment for a child to explore their identity and that, as far as I am concerned, is pretty brilliant. The parents who have removed their children from the school have not had any of their rights breached, they have done what many other parents across the country have done, disagreed with something within mainstream education and  chosen to remove their children, as is their right to do. It does not need to be a court case surely?

But sure enough people came forward with the view that “boys are boys and girls are girls” ok? So what exactly does that mean? for me people are people and, regardless of sex or gender, children and adults alike should be encouraged to be kind, compassionate, brave and honest. Nurturing is just as important as hard working whatever a childs gender, and what a child is wearing has no impact whatsoever on these traits. why should a boy not be allowed to wear a skirt in a society that widely accepts girls in trousers? Of course there is the “cultural norm” but these norms are fluid through time, they are not fixed, so its ok to question them.

I was told that “the purpose of parenting is to teach the child and help him grow into an adult, not to let him do whatever he wants” and that ” truly loving and supportive parents will guide their child. Independence comes later.” While being told that the parents and the school were in the wrong for allowing a boy to wear a skirt.

“one of the purposes of school uniform is to familiarise the child at a relatively early stage with the truth that not everything in life will be a matter of his personal preferences”

It is one thing to be yourself as an adult, but young children at primary school level need to learn to function socially first.”

REALLY?

So lets put this out there, we want our children to learn that to function and fit in with society they can’t be themselves? We will prepare them for adulthood by teaching them to function socially, we will do this by placing them in a room, divided into groups of 30 or so other children, segregated by age. We will tell them what they HAVE to wear and what shop they must buy this from and we will punish and humiliate them if they do not comply. With no choice or personal preference?  Flipping that into “real society” ?It doesn’t work. When I have been in adult education and in employment I have been with people of all ages, and sometimes I have come across people who I don’t get on with for various reasons. Have I been forced to spend time with them? Nope. I have been able to step away, make a cup of tea, have a breather. Absolute worse case scenario, I handed my notice in and left. My personal preference.

Lets consider this idea of learning social skills and learning to function and how that learning is promoted in these schools. Here children are being told where to look, to walk in single file between lessons and if they feel sick they will have a bucket next to them and carry on with their work. No worries  about the spread of illness or a persons right to privacy during bodily functions.  Meanwhile at this school children are made to wear signs around their necks and are isolated from their peers if their uniform is deemed incorrect. And here children are isolated and miss their whole 60 minute lunch break if their parents are unable to pay for their school dinners.

I am struggling to make sense of how any of this is of benefit to our children and their learning. It seems to bare no resemblance to our society out here “in the real world”. Yet still, the debates and arguments continue with groups of people seeming so obsessed with their rights that they forget about the rights of others. We are all just parenting, doing what is best for our children. There is no denying that our children are all different, unique individuals, so why do some find it hard to accept that they need different approaches? And it seems to me, that many of the people shouting the loudest about children needing school to learn how to function socially, probably went to school themselves, and are those who seem to struggle the most with acceptance, manners and functioning socially.

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The mum guilt of a feral child

I laugh about my children being wild, its an ongoing joke. But in reality I am surrounded by children who spend their days playing, and not caring if they get muddy. Children who don’t have to worry about keeping a uniform clean or shoes dry and mud free to wear the following day. Every now and again I find myself out with the children during the weekend, surrounded by other children who aren’t as free as those I am usually with and it just jolts me. I hear a snippet and think “oh, that’s odd” and then I look around and ponder, perhaps I am the odd one!? Cue, parenting guilt!

My children are the ones climbing trees, rolling in leaves, splashing in puddles, dancing in the rain, getting covered in mud, rolling down hills, soaking wet and sometimes it gets to 9pm and we suddenly remember we should have some dinner! Other children might be tucked up in bed, mine might be out looking out for bats and other wildlife! Mum guilt.

Back in the summer time it was my experience at Chessington, we thought our visit would be quiet, not realising that local schools were closed for polling and there turned out to be a number of children there. At one point the 3 yr old was playing and splashing in the fountains and under jets of water, he was having a brilliant time, absolutely soaking wet  (water is definitely his happy element) when we heard a lady shout to her child “don’t get your shoes wet”… and it led me to think “why bring your child to the fountains in Chessington if  you don’t want shoes to get wet?” When I took to social media with this question I was ridiculed myself and my question answered by a whole number of mums justifying why someone would take a child to Chessington world of adventures in shoes that weren’t to get wet. It was suggested that perhaps that parent was looking at my child running with wild abandon under the fountains, giggling and shrieking in delight and thinking “poor child will be cold and wet”. Would someone feel sorry for that wild child? mind momentarily blown by the anonymous mummies of the internet.

Last week it was my children, in clothes and pants swimming, not just paddling, actual swimming, in the sea on St Osyths beach in Essex as the sun went down.

During the week we were on a visit in London, and when walking through St James Park my 3 yr old and my nearly 13 yr old began to hand feed the squirrels. A popular past time of people visiting St James park given how tame the squirrels are there, they will come and take food from your hand. My children were shocked and quite saddened to see a small group of children chasing the squirrels across the grass, clearly scaring them. Parents stood on and watched this with no apparent concerns that their children were scaring the animals despite signs around the park asking for wildlife to be respected etc… There was also a number of random passers by who were happy to shoot us disapproving looks as the three year old joyfully sat still and quiet allowing the squirrels to approach him. One was even overheard informing her daughter that they were dirty animals and they would bite when the daughter excitedly asked if she could also have a turn feeding them.

Today, my parenting “guilt” moment occurred in Hampton Court Magic Garden. My wild child ran in, spotted the sand and the water streams and off with his shoes and socks in he went. And in he fell. Oh how wet he got! The smile on his face was amazing, his laughter infectious. Yet still I hear another parent tell their child “no you mustn’t, it is far too cold to take  your shoes and socks off”  while glaring at me and my child, their child staring longingly at the water. I look around and sure enough it is only my children with bare feet. The sky is full of dark clouds, threatening a downpour (which did hit as we left) but the joy on their faces spoke volumes to me. It told me that it was right for them.

I get that we all parent differently. I also understand that most of us parent inevitably experience that mum guilt at some point. But what really hits me is what these incidences have in common. They stand out to me because my guilt is triggered by the apparent disapproval of random other mamas. My children are laughing, happy, giggling and experiencing the real feel of their environment. Other children are under strict control and are definitely not giggling merrily as they stare on, staying dry, keeping clean. I wonder if their comments are said to mask their own feelings of mum guilt? Are they feeling it or are they genuinely judging my parenting negatively when they see my happy, smiley children? And why does that mum guilt hit me albeit short lived, when in front of me are some of the most awesome, happy people that I know?

Mum guilt can jog on!

 

He’s not going.

Is it “back to school” time? Is today the day that I could have chosen to dress up my little boy and send him off to nursery?

Shall I pause to imagine trying to wake him, get him up and dressed alongside the baby and his older siblings. Trying to tame his mad curls and get him into clothes pre chosen, and ironed. Breakfasted, washed and out of the door on time?

My view at 9:30 this morning?  both small boys sleeping on my bed.

My morning? I got up and had breakfast and a cup of tea with Ryan before he went off to work. I had a bath. Then N woke up and we came downstairs with the baby monitor. I managed to get some admin work done and sort out a stock discrepancy for work while he had some breakfast, then A got up. I did some laundry, sorted the animals and then M woke up. A decided to go fetch him for a nappy change. She played with him and made him giggle which put a big smile on her face.

I woke up J and then the older children got to work on their Mathswatch gcse program. Working on algebraic conventions and coordinates this morning, both children complementing the practise lessons and their first set home work tasks and scoring 100%.

N has played dinosaurs, and done some drawing. He has played with his siblings, fussed the dogs and looked at his books. He didnt even get dressed until 2pm! We enjoyed a chilled out lunch cooked by A. We got into the car and I dropped her off to see a home ed friend for a couple of hours while J got engrossed in one of the games on the pc.

J and I looked through news reports and maps to show what is going on in America, he was shocked to see the wildfires and the hurricanes. To see such immense flooding on one side of the country compared to see the huge flames engulfing the other side took his breath away. It posed the question “what can we do to help?” and a decision to research and send money to fundraisers to help. It sparked conversation that involved N as well regarding weather, and water and the spreading of fire, at the same time as highlighting the geographical differences from across country and between us and them.

Its now gone 4pm, and our day is far from over, I have dinner to prepare and we have a documentary to watch on iplayer as part of the gsce history studies. But we have had no stress, no rush. No arguments. My 3 year old is as wild and free as ever and his spark of curiosity and his ability to pick up parts of what his teen siblings are doing amazes me.

Do I worry that he will miss out? on what? learning? No, he has been learning since he was born. He has learnt to eat, to walk, to talk. He has learnt to use the play gym equipment by copying older children, he has learnt to recognise colours and numbers and to start to recognise letters. He knows his animals and dinosaurs. He is always learning, I dont expect that will stop.  Friends? why would he miss out on friends? He has friends, some go to school or nursery and others do not, but he mixes with children of all ages very happily, his confidence is through the roof and his social skills are superb. Maybe I should be worried that he will be clingy? well Im not, because he isnt. He is secure, happy and confident. He knows I am always there when he needs me, he knows I am there to cuddle and kiss him if he gets hurt and so he is happy and safe to explore the world. Shall I worry that he will miss out on experiences? I half dont even want to answer that one. Read the blog, see what he experiences all of the time. No, that is not something that even begins to worry me.

Tomorrow we will be back to our home ed adventure playground meet, it has been a long summer away from there and we are all looking forward to that social routine commencing and being with friends old and new. So the children are excited to be getting back to routine and seeing their friends, just like the children who are going back to school this week. Its just a different environment. And if any of them really want to put on a smart uniform and pose by the door so that they arent “missing out”, then they will be allowed to do just that.

A September poem

The first of September 

Autumn is here 

gone away are the summer days 

carefree and filled with cheer 

The shoes are all polished 

Lined up in the hall 

Ironed shirts and school ties 

on hangars on the wall

Hair has been cut

knots tamed and dirt removed 

Pe kits washed and packed 

and a fridge full of packed lunch food. 

For children all over

strict routine returns 

For they must comply and tow the line 

Because that is how a child learns.

Except thats not how it has to go

September the first is different for some 

because for a large group of children

learning is still fun.

September doesn’t mean the end of adventure 

for there are some children, wild, feral and free 

for these children in autumn the fun doesn’t end 

these children find wonder in all that they see.

Childhood is magical

it is over so soon,

it shouldn’t be all spent

inside a classroom.

A person is educated 

any time, way or place.

learning is forever, 

it isn’t a race. 

So let them be wild

they can be anything they choose

build joy, love and memories

you have nothing to lose. 

By Katie Gray 01/09/2017

A poorly one.

I sit here and watch my 3 year old sleep. He has fallen into an exhausted, calpol induced sleep following hitting a fever of 39.2c and several bouts of vomiting.

I took him to the dr, perhaps he didnt need to see anyone, we could have rode it out at home, I previously always trusted my abilities to handle upset tummies and high temperatures. Perhaps I am right to follow my instincts and get him seen, the dr seemed to think that it could be a urine infection (except he couldnt give a sample) or a throat infection (his throat was very red, could be infection or could be due to the vomiting) Perhaps I am just that bit more cautious now, with him especially, given how ill he has been previously. This boy has over come so many hurdles. I watch him sleep and I think back to what we have seen.

At our 20 wk anomaly scan, unilateral talipes (club foot) was detected. We were referred for a more detailed scan with the fetal medicine consultant, and were offered the amnio tests. We were informed that talipes can often go hand in hand with other far more serious conditions and the subject of termination was even raised. We then had a further appointment with the paediatric consultant who went through the “treatment” methods with us, showing us photographs, without really answering any of my questions. I was told that I would need to forget my plans for a home birth because he would need to be seen by a paediatrician after birth and that he would need a hip scan.

Well fortunately our midwife was still very supportive of home birth and was happy for plans to continue. She reassured me that paed assessment could wait a couple of days and that a scan would be scheduled with an appointment so hospital or home made no difference.  We were lucky to have the home birth that we wanted and planned. He came into the world, our perfect little happy footer, at home with the family downstairs waiting eagerly to meet him.

At 2 days old we attended the general hospital for his paed assessment. They needed to take his blood but due to his talipes they were only able to bleed one heel. This was an horrendous experience. He screamed, they were too slow, they had to do it twice because the first lot clotted, then they decided after 25 minutes of this torture that his heart rate was a it fast so he needed to be monitored. After this the dr examined him and declared him “perfect except for that foot!” This was not the thing to say, he was totally perfect!!

He had an undetected diaphragmatic hernia, Drs say that it was a weakness in his diaphragm, they think that when he had his first cast for his talipes treatment at 3 weeks old that the extra weight and him laying on his back caused it to rupture. We hit a monday night when he started crying, and then he didnt stop. He wouldnt feed. He wouldnt sleep, he just kept crying. Every now and again he would fall asleep exhausted only to wake crying again a few minutes later. This went on all night, and then progressed to him vomiting bile. I dialled 111 in the early hrs of tuesday morning and was advised to call gp as soon as they opened. Which I did. The receptionist was not helpful. I will never forget her telling me that it sounded like he had wind. I argued my corner and she put me down for a call back from the on call dr. Luckily he rang me immediately, he told me to come straight down, he warned me that he would in all likelihood send us to hospital but by this point I wanted a dr to see him before I got stuck trying to navigate rush hour traffic with a poorly baby. The GP examined him, and phoned for an ambulance. We were blue lighted to the general hospital where we were taken to resus and my 4 week old little man was poked, pricked and prodded. They didnt know what was wrong but they knew it was serious. I remember standing outside the room on the phone to my husband, him asking me to keep him posted and me yelling down the phone “we’re in f*cking resus!”  It was some time later that the xray came back and the drs got a clear view of his abdomen. His bowel had moved up into his chest and was compressing his lungs making it immensely difficult for him to breathe. They got  on the phone to Great Ormond Street Hospital surgeouns to check for a bed, and then the CATS team arrived. He was sedated and intubated and transferred to GOSH where the surgeon was ready and waiting, They had him prepped and heading to theatre within 15 minutes of us arriving. I hated having to sign those disclaimers. And i genuinely dont think i stopped crying from 9am that morning onwards.

We were in GOSH for a week. He was in NICU and then moved to a ward. But his recovery has been outstanding. I was horrified to discover (after the event) that the survival rate for CDH is only approx 50%, and that there is so little awareness of it.  More recently I read here of a small child who died due to delays waiting for a repair surgery. Heart breaking.

He was 3 weeks old when he went into cast, his foot had been graded 6/6 which was the most sever grading. We were often told he had “a tricky little foot” we experienced several slippages. At one point he had to be out of cast for several days while sores healed. After 6 weeks worth of casts, he had his tenotomy. This was where they snipped the archilles tendon and stretched the heel, to hold it in cast for a further 3 weeks to allow the tendon to grow back longer. This procedure came with a lot of blood, and a very unhappy little guy who managed to slip his cast as soon as they put it on so it needed to come off and be re done immediately. Then the procedure wasn’t successful and  he needed to be scheduled to have another at 6 months old under a general anaesthetic. But then we went into boots and bar. Two boots, with straps pulled as tight as they would go, held together at an angle 23 hrs a day. Try to imagine your biggest bulkiest hiking boots, done up as tightly as they would go so that you are unable to move your feet inside them. Now imagine your feet held together in those boots, shoulder width apart at all times. Feel good? No, I dont think it felt good to him either, given how much he cried.

But onwards with the boots and bar, a crucial part of his treatment for the next 5 years. So we had blisters.  We had sores. I had dressings prescribed, sleep disturbed. I was kicked, i took a metal bar across the bridge of my nose when he rolled over in bed one night being a wriggle bum. 23 hrs a day, for 12 weeks. Then we were able to gradually decrease that time down to 12 hrs a day. We had leaky nappies and trapped wind. It was a challenge. Its easier now, he wears an ADM boot, so his feet arent held together in boots and bar anymore. Every night he wears his spring loaded ADM boot, this holds his foot in the correct position but still allows him to be able to walk. He is doing well, to see him running and playing every day you would never know anything was wrong. Would never know of the daily struggles to get his boots on, to rub his cramping legs, his sore skin on top of his foot.  But all of these things tend to bring out that worried, over concerned mama bear as soon as he is poorly.

So it brings me to tonight. He is sleeping, sick bowl beside him. I am thankful for my children. The baby is asleep upstairs with his daddy. J is in bed sleeping. And A! well, she will be 16 soon, and she had no second thoughts about coming with me to the hospital to get her brother checked out. She grabbed his blanket, sat next to him in the car holding his bowl for him.  We got home and she helped me carry our things up the stairs. Then as she took herself to bed she gave me a hug and said “shout if you need anything mum”

I know that whatever challenges life throws at me, as a person, as a parent, I will be able to tackle them. And I am reminded that when I worry and doubt and have those fears about a lack of formal education and worry that maybe I am failing my children (those wobbles that happen to all of us mums one way or another, lets face it, its bloody terrifying doing this parenting lark! Show me someone who says they arent winging it every single day and hoping for the best, Ill show you a liar!) I can look at these children and all that they achieve, and how much they help and have faith in other people and I know that they are good and decent human beings. That, right there, is parenting done right! Decent, loving, kind, respectful human beings who are loved.

Some places we have visited.

We have been out and about making the most of our membership to English Heritage and National trust locations. We are finding that these places are not feeling terribly busy during the summer holidays yet they provide us with all we need. A place to sit and enjoy a cuppa while feeding the baby for me, huge grounds to explore, find something new and run wild for everyone and a play area for the children. Ticking all the boxes.

So far we have visited Wrest park which lets us enjoy glorious grounds from grass hills to roll down, beautiful buildings to explore, ponds and woodland areas with all sorts of wildlife to discover as well. We did an English Heritage event fairy hunt here. This was a fantastic experience, though aimed at younger children even the older ones got into it as the man doing the guided walk was incredibly funny and engaging. There’s some hands on activities inside the main house which makes for a great run and hide if the heavens open.

Another on our list was Waddesdon Manor where we enjoyed a shuttle bus through the grounds from the car park, a lego race car competition, glorious ice cream and an exhibition of animal inspired art. There is a playground in the woods on the hill, this makes walking up hill from the stable block much easier going as the play ground is on several levels so there’s lots of pit stop areas. This was ideal for my dad who had come with us and who struggles with walking up hill. There was a variety of equipment from swings and climbing frames, small slides, a zip wire and a really tall slide, there was lots to keep the three children happily occupied.  There are lots of refreshment areas, meaning no where was overly busy, we weren’t faced with queuing when wanting drinks, and there was plenty of sit down areas. We took in the views of the stunning house and gardens, visited the rare bird aviary and watched the boys running around playing happily on the lawns.

Wimpole estate  has been another on our visit list.  Here you can enjoy a tractor ride to take you too and from the farm, although it is also a very pleasant walk. There are several animal encounters to be had, feeding the pigs, donkey grooming and cow milking etc. There are exhibitions about farming, magnificent shire horses and a piggery where you can see the piglets. We visited on one occasion and were able to quietly view the piglets that had been born earlier that day. There are beautiful gardens, tea rooms, a restaurant, trees to climb and a woodland adventure playground. We haven’t even been near to the main hall part of this estate there is just so much to see and do. Next to the play area at the picnic area at the farm you can buy a delicious light lunch, hot pot of the day. It comes with chunky bread and is great value for money and very tasty on both occasions I have had it.

At Audley end J took part in an English Heritage event, training of the troops. A small assault course under orders of a shouty soldier. Again, play area, tea room, trees to climb. Large open areas of grass to run around on. Some beautiful ponds and lakes. There is the option to buy duck food should  you wish too. You can view the horses in the stable block and find out about the history of the estate. Across the road there is a minitaure railway which we walked across to also visit. Here we took the children on a ride that lasted approx 20 minutes through woodland where we were able to look out for wildlife and the teddy bear houses.

AS well as the National trust and English heritage locations we also paid a visit to Wendover woods A forestry commission site that is home to a large gruffalo statue. We have the gruffalo spotter ap on my phone and N really enjoyed seeing the characters come to life before jumping in to have his photo taken with them. This is a fantastic way to get small people walking through the woods and also a little bit of fun for us adults too. There a cafe in the woods to enjoy a sit down and refreshments following the 2.5km trail.

Another woodland area we enjoy is Rushmere country park Here N loves walking through the bushes and trees searching for the goblin doors. We like to visit in spring when you get magnificent views of the nesting herons, and there is again a very tall slide which the children love. There is also a smaller sanded play area for younger ones. This was the filming location for the game show the wild things and so you can find the tall wild things gate which looks quite mystical standing tall in the middle of the woods. There is a giants chair which makes for some fun photographs and plenty of pretty carvings and sculptures along your walk.

We enjoy getting out and like to find new places. Generally the children are wild, they feel grounded and happy wherever there is water or there are trees, animals are  bonus. These places have fulfilled our needs so far this summer.

He just didn’t want to people today.

It’s been a long and tiring day.

The three year old has found his voice when he doesn’t like people and he isn’t afraid to tell them. My often cute, cuddly and funny little guy has it in him to be a complete monster at times. Today was one of those days. He woke fine and happy, had cuddles with me, made faces at his baby brother and grinned happily at the gummy smiles thrown his way. Then other people happened. My best friend came over. He didn’t like her today, sometimes she is his best friend and he loves her, but not today. He spent a chunk of the morning crying that she looked at him, that she sat near him, that he could see her!!!

Things were no different when his big brother entered the room, or when he tried to leave the room to go to the kitchen, and big sister also got the same response. Kicking, screaming, pulling at me.

I went to my default mode; “when children are driving you up the wall, take away the walls!” … and so on went our boots and off we went.

We headed to our local (ish) forestry commission, to see the gruffalo and do the 2.5km trail. All was good, 3 yr old loves running from clue to clue and watching the characters come to life on the gruffalo spotter app on my phone. We enjoyed a snack stop in the cafe before visiting the carved gruffalo statue before heading home.

But through all this, he would only talk to me.

A little girl tried to look at a gruffalo clue with him, she was sweet, she tried to hug him. His response “don’t touch me you stupid girl I will kill you and make you die!” … (the joys of parenting teenagers alongside toddlers means they pick up some colourful vocabulary much to my utter mortification!) I apologise to the other parents, red faced and carry on our way.

Once home his antics continue. Doesn’t want to sit with his siblings, just wants mummy. Mummy is exhausted and drained from the tugging, the shrieking, the crying all while also trying to meet the needs of an exclusively breastfed 5 month old.

At last, daddy arrives home. Pizza is ordered and some form of calm comes over the house. Another adult for me, the teenagers are getting fed, the 3 yr old is being treated to pizza. All is well with the world.

I sit and fill my husband in on the day. The trials, the challenges, the arguments, the sheer and utter exhaustion. Ive already forgotten our cuddles, smiles and story time with the gruffalo this morning. Lucky i filmed them because by now they are a hazy memory obliterated by the strong willed stubborness of the shouty 3 yr old. Poor daddy gets the unleashed vent of frustration and told all the hard bits.

His response?

“He just didn’t want to people today!”

So true! What a statement. We all have days like that. I am familiar with that feeling. His words echoed my own from just a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I’m sure some days I would love to be able to behave as he did today and get away with it. Some days we just don’t want to people. That’s ok. Why should I expect my 3 yr old to never have an “off” day? Never have a day when he is just peopled out and wants his mum?

I sit here, while my children sleep and resolve to be more mindful of these feelings, more accepting of these days and emotions, and more supportive in getting him through them.

And tomorrow will be better.