Do you?

We’re human, we think, we judge. Yet I’m still surprised at how judgmental some people are. How self-righteousness. I am surprised how one person’s choice gives another the feeling that they have a right to feel superior. That they have a goddamn right to judge. That they feel able to say whatever they like to someone and to others around them about that person, without having walked in their shoes, but because they think they know.

We all judge. I often find myself saying to partner: “between you and me and I would never say this to anyone else…” He is my sounding board. My safe place to voice a potentially judgemental thought. I know that my thought will go no further and at the same time I know that he will tell me if he disagrees, or validate my judgement by agreeing.

I play it safe. I have no right to judge. But people are so quick to blast their judgments openly and cruelly on social media. Unthinkingly, it seems. Yet I think that some people do think. I think that some people think it’s ok to openly judge another because what the other has done is just so wrong (or different).

But is it? Is it what it seems? Do we know?

Do we?

Are you the one who feels able to judge
Are you?
The one who presumes
The one who knows
(She thinks)
Are you?

Are you the one who feels in a position of power
Are you?
The one who looks down
Not ahead
(Not forward)
Are you?

Are you the one
Who goes beyond just thinking it
Are you?
The one who has to comment
Can’t help yourself
Are you?

But do you really know
Do you?
Do you really have a right to judge?
Because you know
You never really know
Do you?

Alison Longhurst

 

Guilt and expectation

Expectation can suck. Christmas expectations suck you dry. I’ll be honest with you, if my kids were small right now, I wonder what I’d be making of the elf on the shelf. Because it’s easy for me to look on now as a bystander and say: what the fuck? But what if my kids were the exact age for whom the elf exists? I do wonder what would be going through my head. Would I be smugly watching my friends who participated in this seemingly all consuming Christmas expectation while I didn’t, and offering sympathy as they cried into their coffee cup at soft play that they can’t face another night of it? Would I be liking their photos on Instagram of yet another elf lying in a pool of flour angels, whilst thinking to myself: thank Christ that isn’t me every night? Or would I be doing the whole fecking elf thing, because my kids had held me ransom through guilt? I know how persuasive a 4 year old’s wails of, “but mummy, if the elf doesn’t come to our house then Christmas won’t happen!” can be, when you’re bloody knackered, it’s the nearly the end of term, you’re drowning in nits and norovirus and your gin supplies need topping up before the rellies descend.

Guilt and expectation are part of the trimmings of Christmas. When I had 4 kids under 6, I hosted Christmas Day for 17 members of my family. My ex mother in law set the expectation rate rocketing, when she declared in November that she was making 4 different types of stuffing. I mean, holy crap, where the hell do you go from there? I bought the Good Housekeeping magazine and followed their 4 week guide: ‘a countdown to Christmas’, they called it…a countdown to a breakdown more like. It didn’t start well when the first entry was: get out your Christmas pudding that you made last year and top it up with rum. Epic fail and I hadn’t even started! It went on: week 4 make the cake, week 3 decide on your table decorations – you need to decorate the table? Isn’t shed loads of food piled high on it enough? Week 2 panic that you aren’t going to live up to the stuffing, week 1 the kids get ill, Christmas Eve you get ill. Christmas Day… you honestly don’t give a shit by Christmas Day. 

On reflection, I don’t think I would have had an elf on a shelf. I think that living up to the expectation of the mother in law’s stuffing was more than enough to deal with, matched only by the guilt of forgetting to cook it.

Girls…

Shit will still happen

I have come to the conclusion that there comes a point in our children’s lives, when you have to step back and trust and hope. Instinctively, I have known this for a while, but it is only now that I am allowing myself to openly admit it.

You see the thing is, shit will happen. Whether you are a parent who hovers or a parent who doesn’t have the time and/or the inclination to, shit will still go down.

Daughter 2 is 15. She’s the third 15 year old who I have parented. It’s taken me this long to acknowledge that sometimes their take on life is ok. Sometimes, when I judge their perspective on things, I am wrong to do so. Not always, but sometimes and probably a lot more than I ever thought.

Teenagers don’t use desks. Some do, of course, but many don’t. It is quite normal for you to come home and find your teenager wrapped up in their fluffiest of dressing gowns, in bed, duvet pulled up with a laptop positioned precariously on their knees…at 2pm on a Sunday. No, they are not still in bed from the previous night. Under their dressing gown they are fully clothed and have been for a while. This used to make me mad. “What are you doing in bed?” I’d holler. Then I noticed a sister was doing it and then a cousin. Now, it may well be that it’s genetic, but I suspect it’s a teenage ‘thing’. I don’t like it, because it seems slovenly. They do it because it makes them feel comfortable and cosy. Does it affect whether they get that required level 6 in GCSE Maths? Probably not. Perhaps I should step back and let it go.

You certainly have to pick your battles with the teens. You can’t be a one-man army, firing shots in all directions at every thing you don’t like or agree with. Those teens will be off like a shot – jumping into the nearest fluffy dressing gown and diving under the duvet for cover.

When Daughter 1 was revising for her GCSE’s, she announced that she was going to revise with a friend – on Face time. “No way!” I responded. “You will never get any work done!” She dismissed my worry and did it anyway. I decided to step back and observe, rather than to keep piling in. It’s not how I could ever have imagined revising, but she’s not me. She got fantastic grades. She attributes this partly to her working with her friend. I couldn’t argue.

Music was blaring out of her bedroom last night. I went to investigate and there was daughter 1 at her desk. The only reason being, that daughter 3 was on her bed, surrounded by maths books. “Why aren’t you working?” I shouted (over the noise of Will Joseph Cook). They both looked at me incredulously. “We are!” they chorused, as a Snap chat buzzed through. I was skeptical. I hovered. Do I turf daughter 3 out? Or, do I trust them? Do I step back and tell myself that their world isn’t my world, or do I take the hard parental line? I left them to it. Because you know what? They know what my expectations of them are. I’ve laid the ground rules over the years. I continue to be interested in their grades and their progress at school. I make sure that I still involve myself with how the personal statement is shaping up and how the math’s test went. But at the end of the day a large part of being a teenager is learning how to do things their way. Yes, shit will happen. It will happen at some point whether we are there or not and this is the step to independence, resilience and ultimately, success.

So, my new parent mantra is: don’t worry, hope. Stand back, take a breath and hope.

dont-worry-hope

First Day at School

The umbilical cord
Is stretched
Creating a tug of war.

Your four year old
Scarcely out of growbags
Is pulled.

If he runs back to you
You feel triumphant
If he runs to the teacher
You feel betrayed.

He stands
Hovering
Between you

And trots
Over the line
To his new best friend.

 

 

French Knickers

The french may be
Romantic,
Good lovers,
Good kissers
But they
Really
Invented
Uncomfortable knickers

#Brexit #nomoreuncomfortableknickers #maybe

                

 

Let It Go

When my daughters told me at 7am that the next two trains were cancelled, I cursed under my breath. It happens frequently, but this morning daughter 2 had a maths exam that she was wobbly about and this was about to send her over the edge. Partner offered to drive them to school and so the situation was quickly remedied. It wasn’t until we were on our dog walk a couple of hours later, that I thought about how bloody annoying it is that they frequently cancel trains, especially as they are so expensive…grrrr…I could feel myself getting cross and I thought to myself, I could write and complain. Should I e mail the chief executive? Shall I ring? Then within a millisecond I thought, I haven’t got time for this, let it go.

I find that this happens to me fairly often. There are many things that happen that I could allow myself to get really worked up about, but instead, I let it go. I’ve realised that it’s simple: the busier you are, the more you will let go, because obviously you haven’t got time to deal with it. Sometimes I listen to other people get hett up about something and I can’t believe that they are bothering to worry. The more time I had to think about World Book Day, for example, the more stressful it was and the more important it felt to create that perfect costume. As I got busier, I left WBD, Harvest boxes and projects to the kids. Yes, they were pretty shit compared with the other kids’ parents’ creations, but the girls didn’t see that. They just felt huge pride in the fact that they had done it themselves.

IMG_0288  Pretty shit compared to the Harry Potter and Hermione who won, but proud

There are, of course some things that I just can’t let go, but the phrase, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ comes to my mind a lot. Teenagers hate it when parents get obsessed with the detail. Daughter 2 tells me that I ask her too many questions. They want freedom and with my incessant questioning, I’m sweating the small stuff. Yes, there are boys at the party, yes, the parents will be there, no, there won’t be alcohol (said looking away), yes, her friend is going, no, she won’t smoke…MUM, CAN’T YOU JUST TRUST ME?!

She’s got a point. I know the kid whose party it is, I know the parents are going to be there and I know how she is getting home. LET THE REST GO!

So, my advice to us all:

Let it go…clear away the shit and make room for the next pile that’s going to be dumped on you!

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The Bitter, Shameful Truth

Think of something in your house that you are ashamed of. No need to shout about the stash of chocolate you’ve hidden from the kids, or your grey underwear though.

I am ashamed of our fruit bowl. Today it looks like this (again):

image

Shameful. What message is it sending to my children? That fruit doesn’t matter? Perhaps even more importantly, why do we have such a great big fruit bowl, with its sexy, bright, enticing Aztec design, if it just isn’t pulling the fruit? Why don’t we just swop it for one of those little wicker basket ones you get in caravans, that are only ever used for a week at a time. No, we have to have a huge great bucket of a fruit bowl that we can’t even afford to fill without selling a dog (no one would buy a teenager).

I’m also ashamed, because the only regular additions to the fruit bowl are lemons to enhance our gin. Fruit that nobody wants to eat and therefore it’s not even one of our 5 a day. And the bitter truth is, that the larder isn’t even full of tinned fruit, but full of tonic. The strawberries in the fridge go so well with Pimms.

MHM Gin

Occasionally, a mango has been known to fleetingly grace the bowl. Blink and you miss it, because a mango shared between 6 people, that takes about 10 minutes to carefully peel and dice, lasts approximately 5 seconds from plate to mouths. Bananas look wonderful while no-one is eating them. They bring the fruit bowl alive with their vibrant yellow hue and then when people finally decide they would like one, they have turned into brown mush, that on closer inspection nobody wants to place in their school bag. Another fruit for the graveyard, along with the tangerines that have too many pips and the peaches as hard as bullets.

But the lemons live on. The last bastions of hope in the wasteland that is, my fruit bowl.

G&T Home

Parenting From My Hammock

image

Driving whilst under the influence of parenting, I’ve decided that I’ve passed my test. I’ve got 6 kids: 4 poor sods are completely genetically mine and 2 escaped with just having me as their step mum – a whole different ball game. I’ve dealt with 5 teenagers and gone through the tweenie stage with 4. None of this experience makes me anywhere near an expert, but I feel like I’ve earned my P plates.

I still fuck up, a lot. I still feel guilty a lot of the time. I still feel like there are many roads I am yet to travel with my kids and some will be full of pot holes, some will just be a little bit bumpy and others will be smooth and we’ll fly along those roads with the wind in our hair. But whatever road I travel, those P plates are staying on. We are always learning. There isn’t always a right or a wrong answer to a problem or a question, I’ve learned that it can depend on the child and the situation. I’ve learned that it is good to be honest with our children, especially if we feel that we have failed them in some way and I’ve also learned that they are capable of an awful lot more than as parents, we often give them credit for.

I bought myself a hammock today: £29.99 from Lidl. Ever since I can remember I have wanted a hammock. Its swaying and lulling represents relaxation and holidays. It’s raining today, so we set it up in our kitchen and for me it is symbolising something far more than sunny days. It gave me the thought that I’m beginning to parent from my hammock. It’s partly because of the girls’ ages: daughter 1 will quite often cook the family meal and daughter’s 2 and 3 are both very capable and willing cooks too, time permitting. So I let them. I don’t hover over them, I get on with something else. If they need ingredients that we haven’t got, they go to the shop to get them. I leave them to it.

Daughter 4 went off on a camping trip with the school this morning. Last weekend daughter 3 had a football tour to Holland and two weekends before this both daughters 2 and 3 had Duke of Edinburgh trips. When daughter 1 went on her D of E weekend last year, I sat on her bed – she asked me to – clutching the kit list and methodically going through it with her. It felt wrong. I kept saying to her: do you really need me here? and then promptly felt guilty for asking.

Now, armed with my P plates, I parented the others from my hammock for their trips, metaphorically speaking. They did all the packing themselves, everything. I didn’t get involved at all. They even talked to me about needing new walking boots and head torches and I just brushed off their requests with comments like: ‘use your sister’s’ and, ‘you don’t need a head torch, use any torch’. Some of you reading this may think this is unkind, because they think that they need these things and they won’t want to feel uncomfortable not having exactly what is on the list. And yes, my hammock parenting did cause them to fuck up: a groundsheet was forgotten and the night before daughter 2’s trip she discovered that the tent had neither poles, nor pegs. However, they sorted out these problems themselves. I didn’t rescue them, because if we always rescue our children, how will they ever learn to spread their wings and fly?

Many times when I’ve taken daughter 3 to her football training, I have sat in my car and watched parents arriving, struggling to get their reluctant daughter out of the car and then promptly carrying their bag to the training ground for them. I hate seeing this. It represents for me the parent carrying their child through life, when the child needs to use their own legs to walk. I saw the same this morning when we dropped daughter 4 at camp. Parents carrying rucksacks and sleeping bags for their children, while the child trots along, happily bag free at their side. Then parents standing and watching at the fence, while their child is in a field, with 60 of their friends, playing a game with their young and fun team leaders, but the parent is finding it hard to let go. Desperate for their child to turn and make eye contact; to seek them out from among all the desperate parents standing at the fence, who should all just be walking away and letting go.

I read a post by the blogger: Absolutely Prabulous last night. It is raw, honest and beautiful:

To M on Your 12th Birthday. It’s Not You, It’s Me. Sorry

It is a letter written to her daughter on her 12th birthday. In it she blames herself for many of her daughter’s foibles and behaviour. It got me thinking about how as parents we can feel that we are being harsh on our children, possibly even cruel and that when we compare ourselves to other parents, we feel even more guilty at the way we treat our own. But often, I feel, we need to step back from judging ourselves so harshly. Because so often, it is when we are being harsh on our children that we are being the kindest. When we are being what they and others may call, ‘cruel’ we are doing the best possible thing that we can for them and when we are letting them go, we are allowing them to spread their wings and fly.

I have this quote on my toilet door and for me, it sums it all up:

image

As parents we give our children direction to make strong roots. We do our best. We guide them, teach them right from wrong, instill in them courtesy and respect for others. However, ultimately we must let go a little: test their independence and resilience, which in the future they are going to need, and give them the confidence, from our hammocks, to fly.

The Odd Sock Mountain

             Odd Sock Mountain