Random Musings: On loving and letting go

Seventeen years ago today I gave birth to my elder son. His birth was a very civilised affair. My labour got going in the morning, not too early, so the neighbour who had offered to take my daughter could be summoned without getting her out of bed. It was the weekend so my husband was available to drive me to the hospital. I was admitted, walked around a little, and then pushed my son out just before lunch with no more histrionics than are absolutely necessary to birth a child. He was a healthy, 8lb boy. Once we were cleaned up there was no reason to stay in the hospital so we went home to introduce him to his sister. That afternoon the football team my husband supported won the FA Cup. It was a good day. In so many people’s eyes that was our family complete; a girl and a boy, less than sixteen months apart in age.

Unlike his sister, my second child was an easy baby to care for. Determined to get it right this time I managed to breast feed him for his first year. He would sleep between feeds, or lie within sight of me without grizzling. He seemed settled and happy. There was no jealousy from my daughter. She took the new addition to our family in her stride.

These two children have always been close. When one wished to try a new sport or club the other would go along too. Thus they played football, learned to ride, became Scouts, joined the hockey club, trained at judo together. They were active, intelligent and eager to learn. Early on they developed a strong sense of fair play and became frustrated at the injustices meted out by the adults charged with their care. School was a trial, not for the work which they found so easy and repetitive it often bored them, but for the culture of favouritism.

I wished for my son to enter school early but was denied. When his teachers complained that he did not concentrate in class I pointed out that he always knew the answers to their questions and perhaps needed to be stretched more. They labelled me a difficult mother. Perhaps I am.

The other mothers regarded my son as undisciplined and blamed me. His energy and constant questions appeared to them as rude, unacceptable behaviour. He would stand up for himself against the bullies, their mothers blaming him for aggression although he never went to far. He bruised egos rather than limbs.

Our family unit folded into itself and I shouldered the criticisms as nagging guilt, sure that I was doing what was right for my children but concerned that society would quash their potential with demands for conformity. We had fun, so much fun, but only when alone.

At four years old my son could swim a length of the pool and ride a two wheeled bike. At eight years old we bought him hiking boots and climbed a mountain. He and his sister would storm ahead, eager to meet the next challenge. My husband took them in hand while I lagged behind with their little brother, just as willing but, due to his lesser age and size, never quite as able.

At some point in his teens my elder son’s intelligence overtook mine. How difficult it must be for a child to discover that a parent is not the font of knowledge they have previously appeared to be. I wonder if he felt tricked.

These days I watch my son through the filter he has erected between us. When he chooses I am allowed a glimpse of his world. I see that he has friends, that school has worked him out and can now offer him the opportunity to learn. At home he teaches himself through the resources available on line.

I remain a disappointment to him. Despite having been accepted into university to study Maths I cannot answer his queries on a subject whose challenges he adores. Despite having worked in the IT industry for a decade I cannot teach him to code. He does not understand why I spend my days as I do when he sees that there is so much to learn. He does not understand that my learning is of a more nuanced nature.

I know that the teenage years can be challenging for both parent and child. I ponder if this is nature’s way of enabling independence, making it easier for both to let go. I recognise that I am lucky in so many ways. My son does not indulge in nefarious activities. He enjoys sports, the company of like-minded friends, academic pursuits.

I miss the regard he once had for me. My sadness is selfish. I want for myself, to be a part of his world. He is doing just fine on his own.

As we celebrate this birthday I remember the little boy who once took me by the hand and showed me his world. I hope that, in time, he will allow me to share in a part of it again.

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Growing up

“When I grow up I want to be…”

Do you feel grown up? Despite having clocked up many achievements over the course of my life thus far (acquired a degree, moved away from the parental home, built a career, bought a house, married, given birth to three kids) I still feel much the same inside as I did before I donned this cloak of adulthood. Perhaps I am more confident in myself, a tad cynical at times, mentally battered especially by my teenage offspring; but I still have the same questioning, insecure mind that I struggled with as a teenager.

As the years have passed I have developed as a person, learned more about our constantly evolving world, recognised that I will never know it all or be entirely right. Whilst I rail against injustices and in my own small way campaign for more awareness of issues that matter to me, I can accept the shades of grey and need for compromise. When I suffer the despondency that dogged my younger self I remember that moods pass. I have reached a point of self acceptance where the world may take me or leave me, no hard feelings either way.

But have I grown up? What exactly does that mean?

This last week I have looked in the face of a new challenge, the prospect of an event that was always going to come but which I have not yet had to face – the death of a parent.

Lest you feel the need to reach out and express condolences let me assure you that my own elderly parents remain upon this earth. The scare came from my husband’s side, involving ambulances, an emergency operation and a vigil through the night as we waited for news. Thankfully it was good.

Events such as this pull sharply into focus what is to come, if not today then in time. At an unknown point in the future the ties that bind me to my wider family will be weakened, the imperative to sustain links will be gone.

My parents have been an anchor throughout my life. At times I have found the chain that connects us frustrating and fought to lengthen it but I have benefited from the security that their love and support has provided. We now live in different countries so they are not a part of my everyday but they are undoubtedly the secure foundation on which my life has been built.

When my younger self was longing for independence, for the freedom to be myself and not the daughter my parents desired, I did not foresee that our connection, their demands and my guilt at not being as they wished would remain despite increasing age and geographical distance.

When others try to mould me I feel treated like a child. Is it possible to feel grown up without autonomy? I may rail against my parents’ expectations but wonder if, when the time comes and I am cast adrift, I will choose any change of direction.

Why I am banned from grocery shopping

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I wonder why it is that certain subjects get blogged about by many people at the same time. Today there seem to be a few of us thinking about our grocery shopping experiences; what exciting lives we do lead.

My husband banned me from grocery shopping soon after we got married. He was shocked to discover that I bought only what I felt like eating at the time, with no thought for the future including the next day. I would wander up and down the aisles, filling my trolley with whatever caught my eye and looked tasty. I never planned meals and rarely bought basic ingredients. Most appalling of all in his eyes, I did not consider cheaper brands or stock up on items when they were on special offer.

I saw no problem with eating breakfast cereal for dinner, toast topped with whatever I happened to find in my cupboards, and bananas. I always bought bananas. My cupboards usually contained a variety of boxed and tinned goods, coffee and packets of biscuits. When I ran out of food I would go shopping again. Normally I went because I was hungry; apparently this is not a good idea.

Occasionally I would invite friends round for dinner. On these rare occasions I would hunt out a recipe and hit the supermarket with a list of  ingredients, many of which I had never heard of before. I was always trying to cook a dish for the first time when I was feeding somebody else, with varying success. As my flat had an ancient oven that belched smoke (I wasn’t yet aware that they should be cleaned occasionally) the suggested cooking temperature did not always produce the expected results. As far as I am aware, I have yet to poison a dinner guest.

My husband assumed that I would know how to shop and cook, I have no idea why. The first meal I fed him was a slice of pizza that I found lurking in the freezer section of my fridge, a baked potato and some tinned vegetables; impressive huh? I had no interest in acquiring cookery skills when I lived with my parents so left home knowing how to scramble an egg and toast cheese but little else. As a student I ate a lot of bread products and those ubiquitous bananas; obviously I survived. As I have been trying to lose weight since I was sixteen, food was my enemy and the less I had to do with it the better.

My husband can cook. In the early years of our marriage, when we were both working full time, he cooked at least as much as I did. When the kids came along though, and I became a stay at home mum, I was required to take on the role of family food provider. Now that I had babies to feed I started thinking about balance and nutrition. Too many mushy bananas are not good to deal with when processed by nappy wearers.

My husband still did not trust me to do the grocery shopping though. During the baby years I struggled to leave the house due to the need to shower and put on clothes. Also, I did not have a car. I would give my husband a list of food to buy and he would pick up provisions when he was out and about. This arrangement worked fine for both of us.

And then all the big supermarkets started to introduce on line ordering with a home delivery service. For this to work I had to plan out meals a fortnight in advance and let my husband know exactly what I needed. He would set up the order and I would stay in to accept the crates of groceries and put the food away. Suddenly I was organised with a rolling fortnightly menu that rarely changed; how boring this felt.

I sometimes miss those early dinners of a bag of cookies from the in store bakery and a banana eaten in front of the TV. I am still constantly trying to lose weight. If any kids are reading this, don’t be fooled into thinking you get to do what you want when you grow up. My husband may have killed my ability to be impulsive with his practical and efficient ideas, but it is my teenagers who nag me about my continuing inclination to adopt odd eating habits. I may now be able to produce a variety of nutritious meals from scratch each evening, but the only time that I truly enjoy my food is when the preparation has been taken on by somebody else.

A square peg in a round hole

I am currently feeling alone within my family. Throughout life we are all constantly changing; recently I have come to feel that I have diverged from the place that my family has moved to. It seems at times that I no longer fit comfortably and easily within my own family unit.

It could be an age thing. It is said that age is just a number, that we are only as old as we feel. If this is the case then I have reached my dotage. Such a view could be partly a result of living with teenagers who regularly berate me; who ask me about the pet mammoth I had when I was a child. More than that though, it is the ache in my bones and in my soul.

The media tries to convince us that we are young for longer now that life expectancy has increased. I have no wish to be young again. Youth was a painful time filled with insecurity, pressure to conform and a need to be seen to succeed. I could never be all of the things that those who cared wished me to be, despite how much I tried back then. Age has given me the confidence to be myself, the experience to realise that there are many routes to achievement. I have learned that success is a subjective concept.

Preoccupation with youth is not new. I think of Dorian Grey, fictional but still someone to whom many can relate. History and literature recount many examples of powerful, old men who took younger and younger women to their beds in an attempt to feel young again themselves. How many marriages break down for just such a reason, and not one that is only confined to men?

Ageing is not something that I fear. I watch others as they try to hold back the years with cosmetics, procedures and clever tricks of concealment. It is not what is on the outside that makes me feel old, it is the person in the mirror who stares back at me through my tired eyes, weary from never being quite enough for those around me. It is the being that I am inside rather than the body that carries it around.

I feel as though I have lived through several lifetimes already, and am now expected to find the strength to demurely live through more. I do not claim to have had a hard life. Always there will be those who have had things much worse and somehow come through. This knowledge does not invalidate how I feel, although it does add an element of guilt.

Do I sound self pitying? I do not feel sorry for myself and do not expect anyone else to. I wish to be supportive of those I love, but the principle reason for my existence is not to sit at the bottom of a pile pushing them ever upwards. The expectation that I will always put up and shut up is crushing my spirit.

This Lent I have been taking the time to consider my well being, both physical and mental. I have enjoyed walks in the fresh air, beautiful views of the countryside around my home. I have visited the gym, taken long swims that offer me thinking time, been mindful of my consumption. Left to my own devices I can easily work with my body and mind to improve my health.

What I cannot work out is how to change the way I am treated. I do not know how to persuade others to act more gently or kindly towards me. I retreat into myself as an escape from the hurt that they inflict when they mock and deride me.

As with most personal blog posts this is a snapshot of a detail, not a panorama. It is a particular issue in a life filled with variety. For now this has bubbled to the surface, but it will sink again if other aspects of my life distract. I find it sad though that I am currently at my happiest when I am alone. My family has moved to a space where I do not feel that I am welcome.

I created this family, have held it together; perhaps that is why I feel so despondent when I see that I have diverged from their path. I need to work out a way to carve out a space for myself, to return to their fold.

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Mothers and daughters

I have been reading a lot of thought provoking posts recently on how we raise and treat sons and daughters, boys and girls. Expectations about gender have been discussed, from the pinkness of girl’s toys to allowing boys to wear dresses if they wish to. Whether we, as parents, should actively encourage gender neutral play or just let our kids do what they want and go with the flow.

I did not dress my daughter in pink when she was little, and she had few dresses. With two brothers growing up behind her I was always aware of the cost of clothes and how short a time they were worn for. I dressed my daughter in outfits that could be passed on and bought her toys that all three could play with. I took hand me downs from anyone generous enough to offer them, and most of these came from boys.

She did have a few dolls, but I only remember her playing with one just after her younger brother was born. She asked for real nappies and discarded the play bottles, hitching up her t shirt to feed her ‘baby’ from her toddler chest while I nursed her brother. She soon tired of this game and returned to her soft toys, trucks and Lego. At three years old she had more interesting games to play.

When they were little I remember one of her brothers kicking out at her; and their grandmother, appalled, telling my son that he must never, ever kick or hit a girl. Had she not added the girl bit I would not have objected to the reprimand. It was the kick that was naughty, not the fact that she was a girl. I would have been just as cross had my daughter kicked her brother. I did my best to raise them to follow the same rules, with no special treatment based on gender.

All three of my children played football and hockey, trained in judo and joined Scouts. My daughter did try Brownies and Guides, but never felt that she fitted in so well. Boys were more straightforward, less moody, more willing to build rockets, play outside in foul weather, get muddy without fuss. At least some of them were, the ones that she wished to play with.

It suited our family to have a daughter who showed little interest in her looks or her clothes, although I didn’t give this much thought until last year. She surprised me by deciding that she wished to attend her school Prom, so we needed to consider dress, shoes, hair and make up. I began to see a pattern amongst her peers that, perhaps naively, surprised me.

From the small sample that I observed, the daughters of mothers who dyed their hair blond and their skin tan, did the same. Mothers who liked impractical shoes and would not leave the house without make up, had daughters who chose to wear high heels and make up. Mothers with a more relaxed attitude to their looks had daughters who were happy to allow their natural beauty to take centre stage.

Given that most sixteen year old girls look fabulous whatever they wear, all the girls at the event looked amazing. I did not enquire but suspect that each mother thought that their daughter looked at her best. I certainly perceived my daughter as beautiful, although I often do even in the most ordinary of situations.

My surprise was, I guess, more that the daughters reflected their mothers choices so clearly. I wonder which of them would be most appalled at this thought.

Much as I love my mother I have never aspired to be like her. I see little similarity between us in either looks or outlook. So many of the young girls I observed seemed to be clear reflections of their mother’s tastes.

I can see both my husband and me in our daughter and I like that. She is also an individual in her own right. Perhaps sixteen was just too young and these young ladies will find their own way in the years to come. I am aware that my choices for myself are now influenced by my daughter, so perhaps it should not surprise me that some of my influences may rub off on her.

My sons seem so much less like me than my daughter, although my elder son is his father in just about every way except looks. I know that many of my views and habits now irritate him so perhaps he is reacting against that, or perhaps our influence as parents is not so great and my daughter merely tries harder to please.

The nature versus nurture debate is an interesting one.  There is no doubt that, as they grow older, parental influence diminishes, as it should if the world is to progress.

My children give me hope for the future because they do not dwell on gender, race or creed as so many adults did when I was growing up. They expect equal treatment as a right. Perhaps it is time for we adults to listen more to our young people and less to conventions that have caused the problems we are now trying to avoid.

The generations move on and so must we, guiding lovingly and mindfully until our young people are ready to lead us into the future.

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Le Failfish turns seventeen

My daughter has a nickname, Failfish. It came into being several years ago during one of the convoluted conversations that teenagers have with their friends, where they all end up thinking something is the funniest thing ever and afterwards cannot explain why. Or that is how it was sort of explained to me. I can’t say I that I really understand either how it came about or why it stuck, why she wanted it to stick. As they get older there is more and more going on in her life that I am not party to or do not understand. I think this is what happens as kids grow up.

It is not totally accurate to describe it as a nickname as I have not heard her friends call her by it, but she does sometimes use the name to refer to herself. I am puzzled because I cannot see how it can suit her. My daughter does not fail. She is one of the most driven people that I know.

Today is her birthday. In the wee small hours of the morning, seventeen years ago, my husband drove me to our local community hospital where we expected to welcome our first child into the world. On arrival the friendly midwife examined me, called an ambulance, and I was whisked off to a large city hospital some miles away. My husband was not allowed to travel with me. It was the most upsetting part of the birth process.

He caught up with us in the delivery suite and was present for our daughter’s birth, just before sunrise. The look on his face as he held his first child in his arms for the first time is one of my most precious memories. There couldn’t have been a more proud daddy. He has been a wonderful daddy to all three of our children.

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That tiny baby, who had to be monitored through her first thirty-six hours due to temperature and breathing difficulties, is now healthy, active and taller than me. Apparently we look alike but she has my husband’s willowy frame rather than my dumpy one. She also has his brains but my determination. It is quite a combination.

I like to think that we are reasonably close as mother and daughter. Being the eldest, she has always been the child to lead and her brothers have willingly followed. It has made my life a lot easier bringing them up that she could generally be reasoned with even if we did not always agree over the best course of action.

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Motherhood defined me for so many years, yet it is only one stage of the life I have lead. My daughter is starting to get this, to recognise that there is a person underneath the being who always has and always will care for her. I value her empathy and willingness to offer support and encouragement when our beloved boys find my foibles frustrating.

It is not just the well being of her mother that she looks out for though. As the eldest child she has always been the leader, the explorer. She has the ability to calm and bring under control the family storms that brew from time to time.

It is fascinating, as a parent, to watch a child develop and grow. My daughter has never been a follower, choosing her friends wisely but forging her own path. As her taste in clothes and music have developed, as she has chosen how she wishes to present herself to the world, it has been noticeable that she has not copied those around her. The look may not be unique to her but it is unusual amongst those she chooses to be with. She has never been a clone.

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And all of this delights me. The scientist who wishes to be a doctor also writes prolifically. Her penchant for rock and metal music, for Dr Martin boots and black eyeliner, does not preclude her from donning khaki’s and walking boots and heading into the hills with her tent and a few friends. She has never limited herself by the ideas that others may have of her.

I am immensely proud of all three of my children. Today though, on her birthday, I am thinking in particular of the child who turned me into a mother. I have always encouraged my children to think for themselves, to be themselves (everyone else is already taken), to ask questions and to stand up for what is right. My daughter is also loyal, loving and caring.

As for that nickname? I must ask her why she put the male article before it. Perhaps it is just another way in which she refuses to be defined by convention. Perhaps she uses it in an ironic way, against the hipsters who once used it and moved on.

For all her independence my daughter is not a rebel. She understands the need to conform in certain situations, to be community minded and a giving member of society. What defines her though is her determination to be the best that she can possibly be in whatever interest she chooses to pursue. For all her teenage procrastination she gets things done. This mother could not ask for a better daughter.

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10 Common Misconceptions About Teddy Bears

 

1. Teddy Bears are inanimate objects.

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I cannot believe how many people seem to think that teddy bears do not have feelings. Have you ever looked into the face of a teddy bear? Your furry friend will be as alive as you need him to be. Just like magic and dragons, if you believe then it will happen.

2. Teddy Bears are just for children.

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Of course, a child will benefit greatly from having his or her own bear, but so will an adult. Teddy bears listen to your problems and do not judge; they are always there to offer a hug; they do not get huffy when ignored for long periods of time. Basically? They are the ideal companion at any age.

3. Taking a Teddy Bear out in public is embarrassing.

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No. Children are embarrassing. They say what they think to total strangers, throw up wherever they happen to be without even attempting to get to a place where their mess can be easily cleaned up. Children spill food and drink, throw things, including tantrums, wet their pants when a public convenience is just across the way. Compare this to your quiet, clean bear and tell me which is behaving better. If you must take children out in public then take a teddy bear along too so that the children can observe desirable behaviour.

4. Taking a Teddy Bear out in public is embarrassing if you have no children.

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I don’t understand this one at all. I have taken my teddy bear to lots of different places: teashops, restaurants, museums; on bicycle rides, boats and aeroplanes. I find that, when he is around, people smile at us. Isn’t that a good thing?

5. Teddy Bears can be cleared out along with other toys

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This just makes me sad. I have given a new, forever home to several rejected bears. Although it takes a while to gain their trust and convince them that they are here to stay these bears tend to be particularly loving, as if they feel they may be thrown out again if they do not do their job well. Old bears in particular just emanate wisdom and show so much gratitude that they have been accepted as a valued addition to my sleuth.

6. Teddy Bears are not fun to play with.

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Anyone who thinks this has obviously never played with a teddy bear. The games that they enjoy are endless, and they do not complain if they are always  the one chosen to die, lose or get hurt. How many other friends are always available, will do exactly as asked and put up with whatever role they are assigned without complaint?

7. A dirty or worn Teddy Bear is a health hazard.

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No. Just like a person, all he needs is a gentle wash. You would not put even the dirtiest, smelliest child in a washing machine; don’t do this to your bear either. Too much water plays havoc with delicate joints. Offer a careful sponge wash and respect the scars and lost fur; these offer a reminder of good times gone by. Old teddies are to be treasured. They may, however, appreciate the added protection of a warm cardigan.

8. Teddy Bears serve no useful purpose.

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Have you any idea how many bad dreams they chase away? Who do you think got rid of the monsters under the bed? Just because you cannot see how useful a bear is doesn’t mean that he has no use. Teddy Bears are so under appreciated, yet still they love and protect us unconditionally.

9. My friends will think I am childish for sleeping with a Teddy Bear.

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I do not know anyone who does not appreciate a softer side in a friend. You may be surprised at how many thoroughly mature, well-adjusted grown-ups harbour a teddy bear. Perhaps this is why they are thoroughly mature and well-adjusted. A teddy bear can teach you what love really means: being there when you’re needed.

10. A Teddy Bear is just a lump of fur and stuffing.

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And you are just a lump of skin, bone, hair and yucky stuff. You are still amazing though, beautiful and valued. Do not reject what you do not understand, do not mock what others value and find solace in. As with any friend, you may choose whether to grant a bear space in your life or not. A teddy bear, properly respected, can be the best companion that there is.

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One last thing, if you do have a bear? Go give him a hug. And some cake. I have yet to meet any bear who does not feel that his life is that little bit better when he is allowed to share a slice of cake with his best friend.

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The very fine bear who accompanies me on all my best adventures, and who kindly agreed to allow his photograph album to be opened for this post, chronicles some of his escapades and offers words of advice on Facebook. If you would like to get to know him better, you may find him here Edward Gainsborough – Teddy Bear).

xx

A weekend away

I am currently enjoying the cosy warmth of a small, woodland lodge with my elder two children. Outside our window is a lake where a number of ducks appear to be revelling in the rain. They are the only ones doing so. Since we set off from our home yesterday morning the weather has been utterly foul.

Thankfully we are on a site where there is plenty to do whatever the weather. Our current inactivity is the result of a need to prepare for exams rather than a lack of attractive alternatives. As I write this my children are discussing ‘A’ level physics, not a conversation I am capable of usefully contributing to. My husband and younger son have escaped to the swimming complex for the afternoon.

As well as the lake and the ducks I can admire our very wet bicycles, securely locked up outside our lodge. Early last week my husband suggested that, given the unfriendly weather forecast for the time we were planning on being away, we should leave our bicycles at home. The children were having none of it. Since they were toddlers we have been coming to Center Parcs for regular, family holidays and we have always travelled around the site on our bicycles. It is a part of the holiday that they enjoy.

Thus, yesterday morning, my husband was up bright and early attaching racks and bicycles to the roof of our car. He then faced the challenge of driving a much heightened vehicle through the increasingly wet and windy conditions to get us to our destination. On arrival we where greeted by a thunderstorm and hailstones the size of golf balls. I kid you not. I have never seen anything like it.

We beat a hasty retreat to the swimming complex and had a most enjoyable few hours making good use of the various flumes and pools. Well, the rest of the family did this. I sat and read my book with a warming cup of coffee. Much as I like to swim I am not a leisure pool person. I prefer to swim up and down, counting length after length, before relaxing in a hot jacuzzi. Such things are not possible here where the pools are filled with families having fun with floats and other water toys.

I was, however, happy with my book and my coffee; watching the rain through the glass domed roof; handing out snacks as hungry family members randomly appeared in need of nourishment. It was dark by the time we were ready to make our way to the accommodation.

While I unpacked our belongings and prepared our lodge for a few days stay my husband unloaded the sodden bikes, slipping down a hidden gully as he wrestled them off the high roof of our MPV. Of the two pairs of trousers that he brought for the weekend, one pair is now impressively coated in mud. The air was less impressively filled with his exclamations at this turn of events. I hope that no young children were within earshot at the time.

The bikes are now likely to remain locked outside our lodge until it is time to load them onto the roof of the car again at the end of our short stay. The rain is not forecast to stop. I think perhaps we should have left them at home as was suggested.

One of the down sides of bad weather on a site like this is that it drives everyone inside. The sports hall was packed this morning when we walked down to book some activities; perhaps it is as well that there is school work to complete this afternoon. Tomorrow we will enjoy an afternoon of table tennis, badminton and squash, but there are only so many of these sports that we wish to play in the short space of time available.

It is interesting to note how the demands of the family change over time. When they were little we would book the children into craft workshops. As they got older they tried the challenge activities available such as archery, climbing and abseiling. These days they are more interested in racquet sports or, if the weather would only allow, walks and cycle rides. They are just as capable as they ever were of growing bored.

Personally I do not consider boredom to be a bad thing. If entertainment is constantly provided by others then one never learns how to explore alternatives for oneself. My children are certainly old enough to be working out what they enjoy. I have so many things that I wish to do that free time is never wasted.

For me then a good holiday is one where we can spend time doing things together, where we can enjoy the camaraderie as much as the activity; and some time when we can simply relax and enjoy whatever we choose to do as individuals. It will be unfortunate if the weather restricts our options too much. It is also rather a shame that the WiFi connections available are so limited; I think that is proving to be frustrating for us all.

When they were younger I would severely restrict my children’s screen time, but these days I am much more lax. They have been offered the option to try a huge variety of sports and activities over the years. If what they now choose to do when on holiday requires electronic equipment then I feel I must, to a certain degree, accept that decision. I can hardly complain when I too choose to log on. Holidays are a time to indulge in the things which we enjoy, and I am as much an internet addict as anyone.

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Santa Claus

Spoiler Alert! If you are expecting your Christmas presents to be delivered down your chimney on Christmas Eve by a big, bearded, soot sprinkled, magical elf dressed in red with white fur trim then please do not read this post.

I hope that was warning enough. I do not wish to spoil anyone’s Christmas.

That was my problem when I first had kids. It was very important to me that my children should trust me; I did not wish to lie to them about anything.

Sometimes this aspiration got me into trouble, such as when I gave birth to my third child at home and my eldest burst into the room before we were ready. I explained to her carefully, in what I thought was age appropriate language, how her little brother had emerged from mummy’s tummy. She then wanted to know how he had got in, which I also tried to explain as honestly as I could. The next week she was passing on this important information at playgroup. At no point were any birds, bees or storks involved; just a mummy, a daddy and a special hug; followed nine months later by something like a big poo.

So, what to do about the existence of Santa Claus in the Christmas story? At first I simply ignored him. I explained to my children that Christmas was a birthday celebration for Jesus. When a child has a birthday, family and friends give the child gifts and a party is held. Because Jesus is so very special we all get given gifts on his birthday and everybody celebrates with a party. I reckoned that I could cover other religions when my children got a bit older.

Except me not mentioning Santa Claus didn’t stop every other adult that my children came into contact with just expecting them to be in on this tale. Without a word from me they came to believe in the flying reindeer, presents coming down a chimney and a funny little old man all dressed in red who granted every material wish.

At no point did I ever say that this was how it was. I didn’t have to. However, whilst I may not have lied explicitly, I did implicitly as I went along with the established orthodoxies. The night before Christmas, when my kids asked to put out cookies and milk for Santa along with a carrot for the reindeer, I obliged. I ensured that they were tucked up in their beds before sneaking the presents down the stairs on Christmas Eve. When they were old enough to write a letter requesting particular gifts, I helped address the envelope to the North Pole and walked them to the village postbox to send the carefully crafted missives on their way. I made no mention of the wonderful service that the Post Office provides when, a few weeks later, each child received a reply from the man himself.

What else could I do? Had I told them the truth then that important information would have been shared at playgroup or school too. I was not willing to take responsibility for removing the magic from all those children’s lives. Perhaps more to the point, I was not willing to face the potential wrath of their parents.

When my elder son eventually asked outright if Santa existed I told him the truth and, as I had feared, he rightly accused me of lying to him. I felt dreadful. It is not the only time that I have fallen short of his good opinion, but I do not recall any other deliberate untruth that I have perpetuated.

On Day 4 of my countdown to Christmas then, I am feeling glad that I can now celebrate Christmas with my family without a pretence that I never felt comfortable with. I may be the only one in my family who still looks on this event as a birthday party for the son of God, but we exchange presents with each other out of love, not because a mythical stranger invades our home in the dead of night.

My daughter still remembers her little brother’s birth, probably her first real memory. I do wonder if witnessing the aftermath of that momentous but very real event has scarred her for life.

1914 Santa Claus in japan

Last days

This week’s ‘Remember the Time’ Blog Hop theme is last days.

Remember the Time Blog Hop

There have been many last days in my life, yet none of them stand out in my memory. At the time I was aware that they should be significant and tried to accord them the importance they seemed to deserve. Now though, looking back, I cannot recall the detail of what I did. I was living for the future, looking forward, eager to move on.

On my last day at primary school there were pupils who cried because they were sad to be leaving the teachers who had cared for them, the community they knew. I had the prospect of moving up to secondary school in my sights, I had no regrets about saying goodbye.

On my last day at secondary school there were so many pupils hugging and reminiscing about their days together and how they would miss seeing the friends who had become a valued part of their daily lives. I was looking forward with eager anticipation to escaping the uniform and seemingly pointless restrictions; the freedom of university beckoned.

I do not recall any students that I knew who felt sad on their last day at university. We had jobs organised, new careers to look forward to and were pleased to be putting exams and timetables behind us. I was finally leaving my homeland for the life in England that I had been planning for so long. I was filled with excitement and nervous anticipation as I contemplated the wonderful path my life could now to take.

And then there was the day before my wedding, my last day as a single lady. I had no wish to have a Hen Night, I wanted to get married, my wedding day was party enough.

The last night before I became a mother may have been significant but, as anyone who has been blessed with a straightforward pregnancy and birth can attest, by that time getting the baby out was all that I desired. No prospective mother can understand what lies ahead, the changes that are about to happen. I did not think of the years of sleep I was about to lose but of the joy of holding my baby in my arms.

Each time I left a job I had another to look forward to. I had made a choice and was eager to move on. The detail of each of these last days has faded from my memory as I did not mourn a loss but looked forward to what was to come. This has been how I have lived my life: looking forward, eager to move on, happy that change was happening.

Now, however, I am living through last days and I am not so sure of how I will be when they end.

Motherhood has been the most challenging and rewarding job that I have done. Yes that is cliched, but also true. I love being a mother. God willing I will be a mother for the rest of my days, but my days of mothering are coming to an end.

I have raised my three kids to the best of my ability. I have done what I can to instil knowledge and values in them that will make them kind, caring, competent, responsible, thoughtful, useful citizens. I have encouraged them to ask questions, to look at alternative points of view, to accept difference with grace whilst remaining true to their own, considered beliefs. I have done my best to raise my kids to be individuals, to be themselves in the face of a society that seeks to homogenise all. I have done my best to raise my kids to be independent, resolute and self reliant.

If I have done my job well then they will go out into the world with no need for me.

And we are almost there. We are living through those last days. Now, when I try to mother them, I am considered an interference. They want me to leave them alone to make their own decisions. They have a better understanding than I of the lives they are living day to day and where they wish to go from here. They are capable of considering their options and making good decisions on their own.

When a path is to be chosen it is good to mull over possibilities. We will each choose those we trust and respect to advise us when that is what we require. Others, who take it upon themselves to offer unsolicited advice, are an irritation. Just because we mention a decision that has to be made, it does not mean that we wish to listen to an opinion about what we should do. My children may keep me informed but they do not always want me to get involved. There is a fine line between offering support and interfering.

I am finding these last days hard. Perhaps it is because I cannot yet picture where I will go from here. Of course it will be lovely to be able to spend more time alone with my husband. I have many interests and activities to which I would like to devote more time. These last days differ from those which have gone before though because the path beyond is so wide and unclear.

I hope that I never stop learning, there is still so much out there to explore. Just as my children have the rest of their lives in front of them so do I, so do we all. I can use that time to grow as a person if I put my mind to it. These last days make me feel sad because I am losing the close bond that has tied my children to me for so long, that has given my life purpose and so much pleasure. I know that I must let them go, that I have no choice.

I have taught my children to fly and they will, ultimately, leave the nest that I have built and tended so carefully for their comfort and safety. When they go though, I too will have the option to spread my wings. It is that which I must remember.

These last days will pass all too quickly, but life goes on. For me, it will only be as good as I choose to make it.

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Read the other posts in this Blog Hop by clinking on the link below.