Book Review: This One Is Special

“Whatever will my friends think, when they read this book of dreams? We are not used, as a society, to revealing our inner worlds.”

This One Is Special, by Suzanne Askham, is a memoir of raising the author’s differently abled son, Timmy, who has multiple and complex health issues and needs. Timmy was born apparently healthy but within ninety minutes of his birth had stopped breathing. It was the beginning of a journey that no new parent expects to have to navigate.

Doctors were keen to diagnose, that appropriate care could be offered to the baby. This resulted in a plethora of painful and invasive tests over an extended time period. Suzanne slowly realised that what her son was being put through was as much for the benefit of the clinicians as for his long term wellbeing. Indeed, some of the clinicians did not regard Timmy as having a long term future. Suzanne, however, could see her boy’s potential and would not give up hope.

The bulk of the book is taken from a manuscript written in 1999, when Timmy was three years old. This is bookended by: a prologue explaining why it was written but not published at that time, and by a few chapters written as Timmy reaches adulthood.

Suzanne analyzes her dreams. She prays and practices meditation. Along with her interest in holistic medicine, she admits that some of what she sets store by can sound a bit “woo woo”. Suzanne writes of her spiritual rather than religious beliefs. Reading many of these passages took me outside my comfort zone.

I am a firm believer in the power of the brain in health issues – of the painful reality of psychosomatic illness. Why then does something that sounds more spiritual than scientific unsettle me? I tried hard to read with an open mind. If the author believes she saw Jesus in a dream and this helped her, it harms no one. She states that Timmy benefited from certain alternative treatments.

Suzanne writes with a gentle cadence but there is an underlying anger to how the differently abled are treated. She noticed that Timmy sensed differences in attitude to his presence in a variety of settings. At home, amongst friends, and at nursery he would be relaxed, sociable and happy. In hospitals he would be upset and afraid.

Timmy’s early years were spent in Kingston, a Borough of London. Suzanne describes it thus:

“The primary schools came top of the national tables this year, and the borough has the highest number of graduates in the country. There is a feeling here of many people living fulfilling lives, and a liberal acceptance of differences.”

Such acceptance is not found everywhere. Suzanne encounters many who ask her the wrong questions – projecting their assumptions about her son – or do not treat Timmy as she would wish. As well as trying to make potentially life changing decisions, when the medical establishment does not always provide full information, she must run the gauntlet of public scrutiny.

“It is harder to feel love towards someone who is looking at me critically.”

The book is about Timmy and the difficulties he has faced but also about the changes these catalyzed in Suzanne. She observes how her attitude can affect outcomes. She learned to garner strength from quiet preparation – to picture the positive and seek to forgive.

Suzanne, raised as a military child, attended a boarding school but still appears close to her family. She also writes warmly of the support received from her partner’s family. Friends were attentive, even from a distance. Although ultimately it was down to Suzanne to deal with everyday issues, she had a network she could rely on.

Her partner, Steven, was finance editor at a national newspaper. They had private health insurance. I regard these facts as significant as they enabled Timmy to receive the best care available – money makes a difference. Still though, when Timmy took seriously ill during a holiday in America, the emergency treatment he received there – thanks to their insurance – was superior to anything the NHS could offer. Suzanne is grateful to but not glowing in her praise of NHS healthcare practices.

She observes the need to set aside what might have been – regret – and to enjoy what is possible now.

I most enjoyed the chapters that offered a glimpse at the family life Timmy enjoyed – how he was appreciated for being himself. When Steven was preparing to visit Everest, Timmy and Suzanne went to London to watch him abseil of a high rise office building. Timmy and Steven enjoy star gazing. The family made a happy memory swimming together under a waterfall in St Lucia. Suzanne and Steven are not afraid to take Timmy on adventures. His joyous reaction after his first flight was beautiful to read.

And this book offers many such moments of beauty in amongst the major challenges of a child with severe health issues. Suzanne has found her own way to get through.

The world needs less cynicism and much more kindness. Science progresses when it remains open to possibilities.

Timmy has confounded the experts on many occasions and grown to adulthood. I hope that reading this account of his early years will offer light to other parents of differently abled children. Whatever one thinks of the range of holistic treatments mentioned, it is fine to be challenged by such honest and heart-felt opinion.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

Book Review: My Shitty Twenties

My Shitty Twenties, by Emily Morris, is a memoir focusing on the author’s pregnancy and early years of motherhood. At twenty-two years of age, having just completed her second year of a three year degree course at Manchester University, the author was horrified to discover that she was pregnant. Nevertheless she decided to keep the baby. The father had no interest in either her or his child.

The book recounts how this party loving, messy living student had to defer the university life she loved and work full time whilst continuing to live in shared digs with students. Her mother offered her a room in her childhood home but Emily was reluctant to leave Manchester. Friends and family were supportive but she felt guilty at the prospect of single motherhood instead of a degree.

The account is searingly honest. There is none of the rose tinted, sugar coated wonder prevalent in typical tales of growing a child. This is the reality of a cessation of activities most regard as fun. Emily gave up cigarettes and alcohol. She discovered the long list of banned foods for mothers-to-be, and strangers all too eager to share with her their toxic views on a young, single woman bringing a child into the world alone. Whilst her friends continued to party, Emily grew fat and joined the on line forums frequented by opinionated women, where she learned the passive aggressive language of well-meaning advice.

When the baby was due Emily realised that she would have to move in with her mother. After the euphoria of escape to university this was difficult for all concerned. She would not bow to the popular notion that women should give birth as naturally as possible. She stayed in hospital for as long as they would keep her, eager for the medical professionals’ support.

Once home with her baby Emily endured the loneliness of early motherhood, the difficulties in simply leaving the house with a young child. Health Visitors pressured her into joining mother and baby groups; her experiences of these are painfully recounted. She now had little in common with many of her old friends.

Reluctant to conform to the widely derided stereotype of single mother on benefits, Emily was determined to find a job and fund her own place to live. She learned that employers regard mothers of young children as unreliable, especially when they have no partner to share the burden of the inevitable childhood sicknesses.

When her baby became a toddler Emily decided to use a small inheritance to prove to herself she could still enjoy life despite having a child. She started to find ways to take pride in what she could achieve.

This is not a book about a baby but rather a young woman becoming a mother, who would have preferred not to be single but just about coped anyway. The open and honest style of writing is refreshing and a welcome addition to the often infuriatingly upbeat accounts of parenting, a task that may be rewarding but is rarely easy. Emily’s treatment by the smug mums, signaling their virtues in the guise of advice or minor complaints, reminded me of my own experiences. Guilt and pressure to conform are ever present demons.

Around half of the book recounts the author’s pregnancy with the remainder focusing on the eighteen months after. Although I just occasionally lost engagement, and felt minor irritation when a recollection did not follow the mainly linear construction, this remained an empathetic read that many will relate to.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.

Book Review: Vinny’s Wilderness

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Vinny’s Wilderness, by Janet Shepperson, explores the lasting impact of school exams, especially on those deemed failures at a young age. Set in Belfast, where the continuing prevalence of grammar schools requires that ten year olds are groomed to sit selection tests in order to gain entry to the ‘good’ schools, it introduces us to two very different families.

Vinny is a single mother, a divorced teacher raising her daughter in the least sectarian area of the city she can afford. Alex is a stay at home mum of three, the wife of a wealthy doctor living in a large property off the moneyed Malone Road. She employs Vinny to tutor her youngest child for the transfer test, still commonly called the eleven plus, as he is struggling to grasp the concepts required to gain the sought after A/B grade.

Vinny’s home is small and untidy, her garden wild and overgrown, a haven for children’s play and imagination. She has taken on the tutoring to raise money to take her daughter, Roisin, on a summer holiday. Roisin is on the cusp of adolescence, an intelligent child who will not have to sit the transfer test as she is to attend one of the few integrated schools which cater for all abilities as well as both sides of the sectarian divide.

Alex’s home is as perfectly toned and groomed as its mistress. Both have featured in the glossy Interiors magazines that grace a polished coffee table. The glazed sun room is devoid of a single fingerprint, smudge or blemish. Even the garden is manicured to within an inch of its life. Alex’s elder two children are heading towards the successful careers expected in such a family. Her younger son, Denzil, is the anomaly, a dreamy child who relishes creativity and the great outdoors. His father blames Alex for what he regards as his son’s failings, pointing out that she attained a mere C in her eleven plus.

In a society where each person’s perceived intelligence may be judged by the school they attended from age eleven, exams take on a stratospheric importance to aspirational parents. Alex may have attended the school for those expected to be failures in life but she subsequently reinvented herself as a supportive, trophy wife, essential to the smooth management of her accomplished husband’s immaculate home. Vinny, who passed her eleven plus and thereby attended a coveted grammar school, became a teacher but was apparently less successful when it came to her personal life.

Vinny has, however, been happier since her divorce. She is now able to relax in a home that welcomes her children’s friends, never worrying about muddy footprints, creative mess, or the timing, style and contents of an evening meal. In contrast Alex appears brittle and on edge as she scurries too and fro trying to fit her home and children into her husband’s precise mould.

As Alex and Vinny grow closer they learn of each other’s pasts and start to influence their futures. Vinny’s comfortable chaos is threatened, Alex’s ordered life develops cracks.

As a native of Belfast I relished the memories so poignantly evoked. The author has captured the vernacular as well as the attitudes of a place where a portion of the population fights to remain a part of a kingdom whose laws it rejects, while others prioritise wider family over home. I enjoyed the small part played by the German lady whose pithy comments on the education system, and on grown men who spend too much time with their mothers, offered humorous truths to be pondered.

This is a tale of friendship, motherhood, and the importance of substance in a life judged by wrappings. It invites the reader to reflect on the weight given to homogenisation in education, leading to the segregation of those who do not fit and subsequent outcomes that affect all. It is a reminder that intelligence, academic and emotional, is more than providing prescribed answers in a child’s test.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Liberties Press.

Book Review: Mister Spoonface

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Mister Spoonface, by Paul Blaney, explores what it means to be a father. Set in and around contemporary London it tells the story of Fred Pooley, a thirty-seven year old bachelor who has never wanted children, until one day he realises that he does. He has a gap in his life that is making him miserable. This tale chronicles his attempts to find some means by which to fill it, to give him purpose and make him whole.

It opens with this memorable line:

“A year before his actions won him nationwide notoriety and a prison term, Fred Pooley landed in Heathrow.”

Having decided to give up a lucrative job in Hong Kong, Fred returns to London unsure of what he is going to do next. He finds a flat and makes contact with his ex-girlfriend, Sally. She is now living with her new partner and they have a two year old child. Fred is entranced by the toddler.

Through a writing group at a local library he meets Petra and they begin a relationship. Petra makes it clear from the off that she does not want children, a state with which Fred concurs. Much as he likes Petra though, he is still drawn to Sally and her child. He starts to fantasise about fatherhood, watching children in parks and on the streets around his new home.

Fred has a troubled relationship with his mother who raised him alone. She has never told Fred who his father is, and he now wishes to find out. His attempts at making contact do not provide him with the solace he desired.

Petra works at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which sets Fred thinking about a time when he donated his sperm before he went to Hong Kong. He takes pleasure in the possibility that the children he has been watching could be biologically his.

Idle fantasy and casual observation morph into obsession. Fred crosses a line, knowing that what he is doing is dubious but seemingly unable to control his urges. He observes the surly teenagers who shout abuse and litter the streets, questioning the parenting techniques of the families he is increasingly drawn towards.

The tightly written plot oozes an undercurrent of menace as Fred’s obsession takes over his life. He pushes away those who care about him, ingratiating himself with strangers to get close to their kids.

His fall is expertly presented, offering as it does some understanding of why Fred acts as he does. It is still the stuff of every parent’s nightmare. The denouement offers a satisfying conclusion to a disturbing tale.

This is a timely and thought provoking read given the advances in reproductive techniques and the moral complexities introduced when conception requires a third party. Resultant children have a legal right to details of donors, yet can donors be considered parents in any real sense of the word?

Recommended for the quality of the writing and tensity of the plot realisation. The issues raised are an added bonus for those who like to ponder beyond the final page.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Red Button Publishing.

Random Musings: Going up and Coming down

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It is the end of the summer, the August Bank Holiday weekend. I am nearing the end of my fourth, big summer read and I am hibernating from the world. It has been a summer of highs and lows.

We managed only a few days away; once again there was no big family holiday this year. The children could not agree on where they wanted to go or commit to dates when they would be free. Even the weekend we booked was boycotted by elder son who preferred to stay home alone than come away with us. At least this precluded the need to organise a chicken sitter as he can be trusted to look after our feathered friends.

Yet these difficult to please children provided me with the major highlight of the season when they managed to achieve straight A’s in their exams. Elder son can now apply to the universities to which he aspires. After two years of focused effort daughter will be going up to medical school in October. I am so incredibly proud of their achievements.

I announced to the world that daughter had achieved her dream and was accused of crowing. Other friends quickly stepped in to reassure me that I had every right to feel proud. My view? It would be sad if, after dealing with all the crud that teenagers throw at their parents, we were not permitted to take enjoyment from their successes.

Life goes on. After the highs of family celebrations came the inevitable low. I have been through this often enough to know that it will pass but have still to deal with the noises in my head. I unfold each of my strategies: good food, regular exercise, fresh air, early nights. The lethargy of body and relentless questioning that anxiety brings drain my reserves.

Thank goodness for my books. I have read some wonderful works this summer. I discovered Urbane Publishers who sent me ‘Leaves’ and ‘Eden Burning’, both of which I enjoyed immensely. Another small, independent publisher, Influx Press, sent me two non fiction works which turned out to be fascinating reads; look out for ‘Imaginary Cities’ and ‘Total Shambles’. I had the big books set aside for summer to enjoy: ‘Purity’, ‘The Bone Clocks’, ‘Wolf Hall’ and the incredible ‘A Little Life’. And then there were a slew of less demanding but still thoroughly enjoyable works. I have written reviews for them all, do check them out.

We now have this long weekend at home before school resumes for my boys. Both are entering academic years which will culminate in yet more important exams. Daughter will be with us for another month before going up to Imperial College in London. There will be shopping to do, packing for her move and then the challenge of a drive into the city to settle her into her new home. Husband is already saying that he does not wish to deal with the inevitable difficulties of traffic and parking so I, the reluctant driver, will be taking on this challenge.

Life goes on. I received no new books in the post this week. My husband is pleased as he tuts at the size of my overflowing TBR mountain. He is not a reader. He does not understand. Although I feel no entitlement to ARCs the buzz of receiving them never diminishes. When a publicist offers me a book and it does not then arrive a little part of me shrivels. Do I not write good enough reviews? Is my readership not big or diverse enough? I comfort myself with the thought of the books which I already own that I can now read instead.

I had planned to attend an event last week to hear an author, whose book I enjoyed over the summer, talk about her work. Then my little car died. Husband diagnosed the problem, ordered the necessary part and left elder son to fit it. I was dubious but he did a careful, effective job and my car is once again on the road. I should have more faith.

I should have more faith in myself. That is my biggest challenge.

 

 

Book Review: Adult Onset

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Adult Onset, by Ann-Marie Macdonald, is a powerful and hard hitting story about parenting, depression, memory and the scars that are carried within families.

The protagonist, Mary Rose, is a successful author who has put her writing career on hold in order to raise her two young children. She lives in fear of something hurting them, especially herself.

During the week in which the story is set her wife is working out of town leaving Mary Rose to cope on her own. As she struggles with the insatiable demands of her intransigent two year old daughter she considers her own upbringing and her sometimes fraught relationship with her parents, especially her mother.

When Mary Rose was her daughter’s age her mother gave birth to a son who died. In the months that followed she struggled to cope, relying on her older daughter, Maureen, for help. However, when Maureen was at school she would be alone with Mary Rose, often ignoring her and leaving her to cry. She was depressed and incapable of dealing with her younger child’s needs. Mary Rose has hazy memories of this time but struggles to order them or to fill in certain blanks that she believes hold the key to an injury which coloured her childhood.

Even aside from this traumatic time theirs was not always a happy home. Due to the Rh factor in her mother’s blood she suffered multiple miscarriages and a still birth as well as this early loss of a living child. Her three surviving children grew up aware of their dead siblings and Mary Rose carries guilt for the negative thoughts that she had about them at the time.

As the week progresses Mary Rose struggles to deal with her internalised anger, her memories and her feelings of isolation. To those around she appears to be coping but beneath the surface a crisis is brewing. She questions if her fear of abusing her child is because she herself suffered abuse that she cannot now recall. It becomes important to her to find out from her family what went on. Even when raised the detail of their memories often differs from her own, each having lived from their own perspective.

This story is a slow burner. It portrays the frustrations of full time motherhood by allowing the thought processes and narrative to be constantly interrupted by the minutae of life with a toddler and a school aged child. The flashbacks to Mary Rose’s mother’s life seem more compelling in these early pages. I was not truly drawn in until around half way through after which I could not put the book down.

It is easy to blame parents for their behaviour despite being aware that they raised their children by the mores of the time. It is easy to recall things said in anger and grant these words precedence over kinder thoughts. It can be hard to deal with conflicting memories from siblings when what is desired is an ally.

All of this is explored alongside Mary Rose’s current relationships with her family and friends. We see a life that is accelerating towards a precipice.

The denouement is beautifully done. I particularly liked the way in which the plot lines of Mary Roses’s books were woven in. This may not be a tale of happy ever after but neither is life. The important questions were answered, even if these were not always the ones being asked.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Sceptre. 

 

 

Book Review: The Boy Who Loved Rain

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The Boy Who Loved Rain, by Gerard Kelly, is a story about parenting, teenagers and the difficulties inherent in communicating with those we love. When the truth will hurt it can be hard to confront, especially when a lie has been perpetuated for many years.

Fourteen year old Colum suffers from recurring nightmares that he cannot explain. He feels numb, depressed and harbours suicidal thoughts. Despite an apparently loving and happy childhood he now feels alienated from his parents who put his moods and silence down to his age. His father has immersed himself in his work while his mother struggles to cope with their sullen, uncommunicative son. When serious issues at school are brought to her attention she recognises that he needs help but will not defy her husband’s wish to keep things within their church.

The church, religion, is a recurring theme that I felt was overdone. Having established its importance in the lives of several of the characters and the subsequent impact on their decision making I felt that it should have been given less prominence. I am now aware that this book is published by Lion Hudson who are ‘committed to publishing quality literature which is true to the Christian faith’ but I read it unaware of this, regarding it as I would any other work of fiction.

Putting that aside, the depiction of this troubled family was credible and universal. There were interesting issues of nature versus nurture to explore as well as the selective blindness that can occur when parents see their child as all he has been rather than what he is now. The apathy, simmering resentment and truculence of the teenager were well described.

I was less impressed with the subsequent mellowing of the boy as the friend and counsellor gradually uncovered and addressed the issues that were causing so much pain. I felt that, by the end, the teenage character had become a little too much how adults would like children to be. The development of the parents as the story progressed seemed more believable. I would be interested to know if the psychological issues explored had any basis in scientific fact.

The story is nicely written with plenty of food for thought about how we see ourselves and those we are close to. It will perhaps appeal more though to those who choose to live their lives by the tenets of the Christian church to which the key characters ascribe.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Lion Hudson.

Summer hiatus

I will go back to my book blogging soon, but so much is happening just now, life, and I am not reading as much as I would like. I have a fabulous pile of books that I am excited about getting through. Time though, I need more time. And space. I am sorely lacking in a space to call my own.

Husband has been out of work for a little over a month. With no signs of paid employment on the horizon he is doing his best to enjoy the sunny weather, and I am doing my best not to worry. He wants to be more active than the rest of us desire so I am peace keeper, trying to balance everyone’s requests. Compromise rarely leaves anyone feeling truly satisfied.

The three teenagers are doing their thing: sleeping late, staying up into the wee small hours, emptying the fridge of food and appearing with random demands at moments of their choosing. They are fine and good, although as scathing of my efforts as ever. I feel so busy. What they see is me working away with no worthwhile goal that they can discern.

My fiction writing has had to be shelved for now, I miss the places it took me. It requires periods of peace and quiet that are not currently available in my full house. It requires a state of mind that I have not got the space to acquire. With my family around all the time I am regularly reminded just how little they regard what I do. They see my purpose as to cook and clean, to service their needs. Mostly I choose to comply.

Yet I do so much more and this matters to me. I have completed the history course that I was studying on line with the University of Leicester. I have set up the book sharing initiative which will enable me to regularly distribute books amongst the travelling public in my area over the coming weeks and months (see @BooksAsYouGo on Twitter). I have read and reviewed some fabulous books, receiving welcome feedback from authors and publishers that my efforts are appreciated.

It feels good to be appreciated.

Husband wants me to go on more walks, to enjoy days out to places of interest, to join him at the gym or the swimming pool. Sometimes it feels as though he wants me to be more like him. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these activities, but perhaps not as often as he would like.

We have had our away days. They have been enjoyable even when I have had to work my socks off to keep everyone cheerful, not always entirely successfully. Sometimes I try so hard and realise afterwards that nobody required it of me, that it was unnecessary.

I feel an undercurrent of disappointment, that I am not behaving in quite the way that is desired.

The weather has been unusually warm and sunny. My hens are laying well. Thanks to Husband’s efforts our garden is being brought under control. My children are pursuing the interests of their choosing. My little family is fine.

Do all mothers feel pressurised, responsible for the peace and happiness of the entire household? What is it with the guilt that I feel when I am yet again discovered to have spent another couple of hours on my computer?

It sometimes seems that those who matter the most to me see my role purely in terms of what I do for them.

In a little over three weeks my children will return to school. I want to make the most of our freedom, to spend time together, to please them and Husband. Yet still, yet still I have so much that I want to do, things that matter to me and which make me feel that I am more than a shadow.

I have been blessed with a wonderful life, but no life can be entirely perfect all of the time. It is a question of balance. Perhaps that is what I am struggling to find.

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Influencing teenagers

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One of the challenges of parenting teenagers is knowing when to speak and when to back off. I have raised my three to ask questions and to think for themselves, to follow the path that they consider right even if others are insisting that they should be going another way. I have hammered home the message that there are many sides to any argument and that they should seek out why others hold an opinion before forming one themselves. I want my children to become adults capable of critical thinking.

Other adults in their lives have not always appreciated the rough edges resulting from this upbringing. Learning to debate cogently and persuasively is a tough skill to master, and some adults do not welcome having their opinions dissected by someone they consider to be lacking in knowledge and experience. To them I would say, learning has to start somewhere. If my children appear brusque then do not dismiss them as rude and irrelevant, teach them by responding to their points calmly and clearly.

We have had a number of fairly heated discussions around the dinner table recently; my elder two children have developed strong views, some of which I do not always agree with. In many ways this is gratifying as it demonstrates that they have learned well. In other ways though it worries me. Some of the views that they hold appear to be at odds with my own core beliefs. It has made me look at our family values, especially the conflicts between what I hold as important and my husband’s views. Obviously my children have been listening to both of us throughout their lives.

Politically I would put my husband to the right of me. He would counter that notions of right and left no longer apply. He is very much against state intervention. I would argue that this is an ideal; in practice the state should be investing in its future (educating young people) and taking adequate care of its most vulnerable (the poor and the sick). We both despise the current political elite and feel strong resentment at how they choose to spend the huge amounts of money forcefully removed from us in the form of complex taxes.

As no political party adequately represents either of us, elections are always times of soul searching as we decide which of the charlatans standing will receive our votes. We always vote.

Our children have soaked in our views alongside those they have picked up elsewhere. When I disagree with their stated opinions I try to discuss calmly, despite finding it hard at times to accept that I have raised young people who think this way. I recognise the irony of my discomfort, I have brought this situation on myself.

Politics is messy, views differ widely, and no individual has much power over what happens anyway. Perhaps I could have shaken off my concerns had it not been for two other incidents that happened in the same week as our most recent elections, which gave rise to these initial debates.

The first to grab my attention was the reported changes to the English Literature curriculum and the suggestion by exam boards that the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, had forced these through due to his personal preferences. I was livid at yet another damaging intervention by this odious little man. Whilst not quite standing up for him, my husband did not condemn his actions, claiming that studying any book for an exam will strip the enjoyment away anyway. He appeared to miss the point I was trying to make entirely. I am aware that I am not always good at stating my key point clearly and concisely.

Whilst I was still raging over yet another assault on teachers’ ability to educate, and the narrowing of students’ exposure to diverse literature, another news item demanded my attention. Elliot Rodger became the latest in a long line of American serial killers, and the documents he left behind suggested that he was driven by a hatred of beautiful women because they would not have sex with him. An on line society was mentioned that appears to promote a belief that men are entitled to sex. Perhaps I am hopelessly naive, but I had no idea that such extreme and damaging views could lawfully be promoted in a supposedly civilised country.

And then, with all of this swirling around in my head, I started to see the twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen appear on my feed.

I am all too aware that women live their daily lives with problems that a large number of men just don’t seem to get. I am just one of these women, and the Everyday Sexism project has been highlighting the issue for some time. This though is the nub of my problem today. I feel that I need to have another conversation with my children, yet feel ground down by the disparate opinions that we have already recently aired. How do I get my sons to see that this is a significant problem that they should be considering, and not just mum going off on yet another of her rants?

Nobody ever said that parenting was easy. Reading back over all that I have just written I realise that I am trying to cover some pretty hefty issues. They need to be covered, but it will take time. I guess I am just aware that so much is currently being discussed in the media making it a good time to be talking about it as a family. My kids can go read other’s opinions, critically examine the plethora of views, and then come back and discuss the conclusions they have reached.

Is it bad that I am worried about what my husband will contribute to the family discussion? I suspect this shows me up as being less open and accepting than I sometimes like to claim. I know that he often amuses himself by winding me up, by attempting to tie my arguments in knots with his ability to remember little details that can appear to erode my opinions. He is cleverer than I, but this does not necessarily make him right. It can be harder for me to accept that I will not always be right either.

 

 

Perfection Pending
I am linking this in with Perfection Pending‘s weekly parenting blog hop. I hope that all the witty, perceptive bloggers who share tales of their experiences raising young kids don’t mind me adding my perhaps overly serious ruminations on parenting teenagers. I sometimes read back over what I write and think I should lighten up a bit. Maybe one day I will learn how to do that. xx 

Sitting exams vicariously

Perfection Pending

This post was written for a parenting blog hop hosted by Perfection Pending. Click on the badge above to check out the other blogs that have linked in this week. 

Exam season is in full swing here in the Law household. Younger son has papers to complete which will decide the sets that he will be placed in for GCSE and whether he can do the advanced science and maths modules that he hopes to take. Elder son is sitting the majority of his GCSEs plus a few AS papers, and has the most challenging exam timetable that I have ever seen. He will be required to spend two days in isolation due to clashes, sitting four important papers on each day between 9am and 5pm. How exhausting is that going to be? Daughter has her AS papers to sit, the results of which will dictate the universities she can apply to next year. We are living in a fug of stress, trying to find the balance between support and encouragement. We have another six weeks of this to survive.

On Monday evening daughter and elder son were discussing the challenges and merits of the universities they would like to apply to and I was taken back to my own decision process. So much has changed, yet so much remains the same. Whereas I did my research via handbooks, they use the internet and forums. I did not consider visiting the universities that I applied to; attending open days now seem to be de rigueur. Still though, it appears that the well regarded institutions for particular subjects have not changed over the years. This was a conversation that I could join in with, that was of mutual interest. With their research and my experience we had an adult discussion. For once I was not regarded as impossibly ancient and irrelevant, but as someone from whom interesting facts and opinions could be gleaned. It felt good.

So much of what I say to them as a parent comes across as me trying to tell them what to do. They often seem to believe that I have no understanding of the lives that they are required to live and wish me to back off, to allow them space to make their decisions unhindered. I have experienced another time that may as well have been another world given how relevant it is to their here and now. We do not talk as equals as we see what happens around us through eyes clouded by differing experiences.

This conversation felt more like a meeting of friends. I do not know if it is them growing up or me letting go, but they allowed their more typical guard to relax and I was able to see them as the amusing, intelligent and thoughtful individuals that they can be. I would be so happy if I could enjoy this more often. It can be exhausting being treated as a nuisance; a provider of food and clean clothes but with little else to add to their lives.

One conversation is not going to change the way we treat each other, but it has offered me a hopeful glimpse of our evolving familial relationships. Living with three teenagers can be challenging, but it is the potential for the clashes to damage how my children will see me in the future that worries me most. I want so much to remain close to them as they move into adulthood, and this showed me that it could be possible.

The only people who will be qualified to judge if I have been a good parent will be those who have experienced it, my children. I suspect that how I cope with this formative time will be critical in how they look on me in the years to come. When they no longer need me will they choose to include me in their lives? Despite the stresses that we are currently living under, I am feeling more hopeful that this could be possible than I have for some time.