The fairground ride you just can’t stop

Children.

They do this thing. They get bigger and older and more interesting every day.

And that’s all well and good when they’re teeny and you’re entranced by their every snot bubble, but when they hit that age and you realise that this incredible creature that shares 50% of your DNA is interested in baffling pursuits that frankly bore you rigid, it does become a slight issue.

Yes, I’m talking about FOOTBALL. Oh, and Pokemon cards and Wimpy Kid books and Rainbows and running club and all the rest of course, but mainly football.

Because suddenly you become that parent that you swore you would never be, that parent whose entire week revolves around Getting Children To After School Activities.

(a digression: No word of a lie, a doctor friend of mine who has three kids ended up writing two entire sides of A4 instructions on which kids needed to be where, when, and which other kids needed to be picked up and dropped off, and which other parents would be delivering child A, B, or C to which location after which event, oh and of course what equipment and clothing was needed: that was only to cover a period of 36 hours while she and her husband (also a doctor) had overlapping shifts and antisocial sleep requirements)

You seriously need a degree in event management to cope with the logistics once you have more than one child.

Once you have sorted the “no, you can’t do beat boxing class as well as guppy breeding; they’re on the same night”, and worked out when you will have a chance to do anything other than deliver small squabbling humans to different venues, you then realise the next horror: you have to Be Involved. Your child expects you to be interested in what they’re doing and Watch Them Do Sports.

Because of course if you don’t then they will know you don’t care about them and their future lives will be Ruined. Forever. Permanently.

So with this firmly fixed in your head, you now understand why I am actively encouraging them to watch Star Trek (the original series) and black and white films I remember from when kid’s TV didn’t operate for 14 hours a day. This is why I forcibly read my own book and get them to curl up with me while they read theirs. This is why they have a huge selection of whistles and harmonicas and other instruments that they are never told off for playing. Loudly. And why their dressing up clothes take up more space than their actual wardrobe.

Just a bit of me. Go on. Just enjoy a tiny fraction of the things I can genuinely be excited about….

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On being an aunt

I remember you.

Painfully sounding letters, then words

Looking up, expecting criticism

Surprised by praise. Your face smoothing

From worried frown to relieved smile.

 

I still see you.

Scared and fierce. Dreading the journey.

Holding your brother to keep him safe

Not releasing the last hugs,  the last goodbyes

Breaking inside, and already knowing to hide.

 

When you came back

Almost grown, protecting those you love

With secrets and denial. They grew inside

And destroyed what you tried to build.

Years of love rejected, nearly broke you.

 

And here you are.

Almost whole. Almost healed. Almost well.

Looking into your son’s smile, you’ve found

The meaning of love, and life, and hope.

And I hold you close in my heart.

 

Always.

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Will you represent me?

Will you represent me?

Will you speak the words I’d say?

Will you think of cause and effect?

Will you plan for future days?

 

Or will my words die in your throat

When headlines hate in strident font

and paint as villains to overthrow

those who question, and urge to plan.

 

 

 

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Social Justice Warriors, Political Correctness, and Butthurt

So here’s the thing.  I hate these three phrases/words.

The people who use them are offended by someone drawing their attention to other’s genuine discomfort or emotional pain.  And if you are offended by someone trying to explain to you that you could be more considerate, you are not a listener, you are one of those people who talks over everyone else.

Yes, you are effectively Donald Trump.

Let me give you a crap analogy.  You are a physical person, and greet friends with a friendly hug.  That’s fine, isn’t it? No-one minds a hug, it’s a sign of affection and should be construed that way.

Except this one person has a painful shoulder.  Possibly they have a surgical implant that is hugely tender, or an RSI, or permanent joint pain.  Whatever it is, it’s a minor constant wound you can’t see under their clothes.  And every time you see them, you hug that wound and it hurts.

So they say “Hey, please don’t do that.  It hurts”.  And a reasonable response to that would be “Oh I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you, what’s wrong?”, which opens a conversation where the person can explain the problem, and (this is the important bit) YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOUR BASED ON NEW INFORMATION.

The unreasonable response is to say “That’s a load of crap! That can’t hurt, I do it to all my friends, you are over-reacting MASSIVELY and you have offended me by implying I would want to hurt you.  See all those people over there? They LIKE to be hugged, they take it in the spirit it’s given! Put your big girl pants on*, man up*, and accept this is the way the world is.”  The other person tries to explain just why it hurts, but you keep shouting the same thing in different ways, and (this is the important bit) YOU CONTINUE HURTING THE WOUNDED PERSON BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT PREPARED TO ACCEPT YOU CAN CHANGE.

People who think the world can be better, that people can be better, they are not the enemy. They are trying to get you to think, to step outside what you may have grown up with, so that you can be part of positive change.  Sure, all groups of people have their diehards who won’t change – that’s a simple fact – but (this is the VERY important bit):

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE ONE OF THEM.

You can choose to listen, to grow, to change.  That’s not a weakness, it’s a sign of intelligence and an enquiring mind.  Because frankly, why would anyone want to stay bullish and ignorant? All you ever hear if you surround yourself with those who agree with you is a hellish echo chamber.

If you listen, properly listen to people, I guarantee you will hear things that yes, will make you angry, or frustrated, or occasionally genuinely fuming, but you will also get an understanding that your experience of the world is not the sum total. And in that, is a genuine beauty.

 

*I also dislike these phrases, but I’m prepared to let it slide.  Today.

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Christmas without the high street?

I am very privileged to live in an area with loads of independent traders, and I seem to have many friends who are unfairly talented and creative.

Wouldn’t it be pleasant,  I mused, to spend some of the Christmas shopping money I would normally throw at massive online retailers and soulless high street shops, with some smaller concerns instead? And wouldn’t I get far more pleasure in giving friends and family gifts made with care and talent individually?

Yes! Is the enthusiastic answer to that, of course.  So for anyone else who fancies a bit of a change in their shopping this year, here are some handy links:

Kid’s stuff (mainly)

Handmaids can be found at the farmer’s market in Stroud on the 2nd & 4th Saturday of each month, and sells a lovely variety of children’s boutique and regular wear clothes, toys, jewellery, and all sort of other beautiful things.

Crafty Fairy Designs not only make the most intricate nappy cakes and babygro bouquets, they also do super home “finishing touches”.

Ethos Kids will need no introduction to any Stroudie; fantastic quality preloved children’s clothes and toys, and an amazing range of one-off hand-made clothes, plus a wonderful collection of unusual gifts for children.

Boof does beautifully soft comforters for babies; perfect gift for a first Christmas.

Mother Goose is a dangerous shop for me to walk into as I always seem to find a dozen new things I *need* to get, either for my own crafting or for things to do and make with Son & Daughter. A must-visit.

Blue Skies is not only a great escape on rainy cold days, but the shop there stocks all sorts of ethically-sourced goodies, not just for children.

A bit more grown-up

Eva’s Leaves is a new company to me, but oh my goodness this takes a family tree to a whole new level of beauty. Yes, this is on my Christmas list if you’re asking…

Danidot Designs is not exactly local (unless you happen to be spending Christmas in Australia) but I love these unique beads and bits.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshops are REAL bookshops, with sofas and places to browse, and things for children to play with. They’ll order you in anything physically possible, and, in extremis, have lent me scissors and tape so I can wrap purchases to give as gifts immediately. Go!

Cotswold Craftsmen always makes me realise how much time I would have to invest to even become half as good at doing anything, as these craftsmen are.  Items beautifully made, for almost any budget too.

Made in Stroud is full of all sorts of everything. Pottery, handbags, clothes, prints – you just have to go in and see what takes your fancy.

Stroud Farmer’s Market has been voted the best in the country for a reason. Not only great food, but clothes, pottery, cosmetics, jewellery, and all sorts.  Make a morning of it and treat yourself to brunch while you’re out and about (I’m not going to recommend the doughnuts as they’re clearly unhealthy. Yes. That’s why I always buy one, obviously…)

It’s worth mentioning that although some of these places are very local and not accessible to those who live further afield, they nearly all would be happy to mail order anything specific that takes your fancy. Not the farmer’s market though. That’s a bit too big to post.

So, there you go. That’s my starter list of places to browse. Have you got any more you could share?

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Self-awareness

Further to a discussion* with a good friend** about school gate politics (post to follow), I have been thinking about how people become socially aware.

For me, as the youngest pet of a large family, school was just an extension of my already strange social life. I was still called clever by the responsible adults; as one of the youngest in my school year I still led games for older children. I was confident that everyone was my friend; what was there not to like about me?

Surprisingly, I managed  to keep this going for all of primary school. I was popular, despite being a swot. I had many friends and was  interested in all the exciting new experiences significantly elder siblings introduced me to. Fond memories of listening to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my eldest brother’s hellishly complicated radio rig; reading Robert Graves Tales of the Greeks at the age of 6; staying up late on folk club nights and joining in shanty choruses from the age of 4 to… well, now really. Totally average childhood. You can all identify with that. What, you can’t?

And, that, when I think on it, is where the problem was. I had all these fascinating distractions from growing up, that just seemed a lot more interesting than getting obsessed with pin-ups, or manufactured music, or any of the other frankly tedious things my other schoolies seemed to be devoting their attention to as we grew older. I stayed entranced by ALL the diversions the world offers if you open your eyes, and most of the others grew single-mindedly boring, to my view. Secondary school arrived and suddenly I wasn’t popular, my friends seemed embarassed by my presence, and I eventually became aware that *I* was the misfit, not them.

It took quite a few years and a total breakdown for me to understand that I never could be someone who fitted in, who knew the necessary pop-culture tender to join in any group, who enjoyed the company of my peers. So I learnt the art of seeming to belong. To sit & listen until I understood enough to make one pertinent comment, then another. To not talk about the things I was really interested in.

Honestly, I look back now and want to shake my 16-year old self. Why hide yourself? I want to ask. Don’t feel shame for being different, rejoice in your non-conformity!

But, of course, I wouldn’t have listened. BELONGING to a tribe is essential at that age, and any stupid adult who tried to tell me different would have just received a glazed look.

But here’s the thing. I knew then, that I was the misfit. I knew that any pretence of belonging was only a facade. It did not matter, as it meant I got to live through every school day without the appearance of isolation. It sufficed until I found people who I didn’t have to pretend in front of. Well, not all the time, anyway.

I’m now 40, and having been a parent now for 4 years I have re-discovered the fact that I am different. I have to mix with many other parents who have children the same age as mine, and the ones who have become true friends I value and cherish. There are however many more who I must converse with, I must spend lengthy periods of time with, and I feel like an alien suddenly transferred to a world where not only black is white, but running is marmalade and dogs are quantum mechanics. It’s bizarre, as I feel like I’m observing my teen self again but without any of the emotion. It truly does not matter whether we get on or not, we see each other regularly & make the correct socially appropriate noises and that’s an end to it.

And yet.

My beautiful Son & Daughter, what am I teaching you? Should you make all the right noises at the right time & suppress yourselves? Should you learn the useful skills of small-talk, and sociability?

Or should I teach you to be true to what you are, to spread your passion and love of the bizarre? Should I help you to use your wings, or teach you to disguise them?

Or is there a middle way we can find together?

*Heated row

**If you can’t have a row with them (and still be comfortable), they’re really not a good friend

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