Monthly Archives: December 2016

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

This boy turned four – four! – this week. I will hopefully find the time to reflect on that properly in the next few days, but in the meantime I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on his awesomeness.

We had a Peter Pan party at home on his actual birthday – it was a little bit crazy, but lots of fun. Then the day after we went to see a theatre production of his current favourite story in Exeter.

Arthur dressed up for the occasion, and sat spellbound as a talented cast of actors brought the story to life. I was so proud of him as he perched on the front row, eyes and ears open to this new experience and emotions kept in check just enough to be able to enjoy it all, right to the end.

I am so very proud of him, always.

Home for Christmas

The unschooling diaries: week forty-nine

For the first time since Arthur was born, we spent Christmas Eve at home this year. And it was wonderful.

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The day began with a treasure hunt, starting with a clue in the last advent calendar pocket and ending with Arthur’s Christmas Eve bag – complete with new pyjamas and bedtime books, a bag of reindeer food, and a little elf for him to share the Christmas secrets with that by this time were almost exploding from his head.

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We settled down after that with a fire and a movie, Arthur building lego and me putting the finishing touches to his birthday Peter Pan costume whilst Leigh power washed the deck ready for his party! There are definitely challenges to having a birthday to consider so soon after Christmas, but having a few hours to chill and get things sorted took the pressure off a bit.

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There were still Christmas jobs to be done too though, and after a lunch of cheese and mince pies Arthur and I went off to deliver the last of our cards to the neighbours. He even treated one of them to his rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – nothing like a bit of impromptu carolling!

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Then it was down to the pool for a cheeky snowball fight…

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I had to pop down anyway just to make sure everything was ok, and it was the perfect opportunity to try out Arthur’s pom pom snowballs.

We had a quick scramble on the rocks first…

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And then ran off our excitement on the green overlooking the sea.

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Finally it was back home for some final Christmas baking followed by a festive family supper of pan fried local gurnard. Yum!

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The next morning we were downstairs before dawn so that a very excited little boy could open his stocking.

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He especially loved the bow and arrow he had requested in his letter to Santa.

We opened some bigger gifts too, including the humungous beanbag we’d bought Arthur for his reading corner, before heading over to my parents’ to enjoy the rest of the festivities with family.

The next couple of days were lovely, hanging out with my folks and my brothers and my new niece. But there was something very special about imbuing our home with a little bit of festive magic – and maybe beginning some festive traditions that will become our very own…

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

We went to the most magical grotto today: having met one Santa on the train at the weekend this was another quite lovely experience.

The wait was longer than we expected, and the boys were bouncing off the walls by the time we got in. Watching them, though, transfixed by the fairytale forest and hanging on every word spoken by the youthful elves as they readied themselves to meet the man himself, was a powerful reminder of just how young and impressionable they are.

It is going to be a very special Christmas.

Christmas stories

The unschooling diaries: weeks forty-seven and forty-eight

The countdown to Christmas has been speeding along this last couple of weeks, accelerated by the party planning for the celebrations of Arthur’s fourth birthday three days later. I genuinely wouldn’t have him any other way, but a different birth month? I think I’d take it.

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That aside, the whole rapidly approaching festive season has brought with it all sorts of interesting discussion topics – for me and Leigh as well as for us and Arthur.

First off there’s the whole Santa thing. I love the magic of the Santa myth, and got totally sucked into it as a kid. I can see that, with his powerful imagination, it wouldn’t take much for Arthur to get completely swept away by it all too. But I don’t want to lie to him, and I don’t want his trust to be shattered when inevitably the truth is revealed.

So I am trying to find a middle ground – to get him to understand that imagination can be just as real as ‘truth’, and that what you choose to believe in the moment can totally shape your experience.

We have indulged in the ritual of writing to Santa, sending the letter off in the post and receiving a ‘reply’ a few weeks later.

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We’ve been to visit Father Christmas too – on the Santa Express on our local steam train line.

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But Arthur is aware that there is not just one Father Christmas, and we have taken to referring to his various incarnations as ‘agents of Santa’ – physical manifestations of the spirit of giving that is an important part of this time of year. I’m hoping that when the time comes it won’t be too much of a shift for Arthur to see us as agents of Santa too, and to accept that the truth behind the games we play is rather more abstract.

To be honest my main concern at the moment is that Arthur is a little bit too obsessed with the giving of gifts – or rather the receiving of them. For the last couple of years the whole festive period was a bit of a blur, with a seemingly never-ending flow of presents for Christmas and then his birthday. Now that Arthur’s a little bit older I’m trying to pre-empt this year’s bounty by engaging him in the process of gifting to others.

We started with cards, which we made together – heading to the woods to collect ferns which we brought back and used to print little Christmas trees, decorating them with glitter and gemstones.

Arthur helped me take these to the post office, along with parcels for family and friends – which hopefully in some way will give him a context for his excitement when yet another delivery arrives at home!

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I’ve tried to get him to think beyond our friends and family too, to the wider context of goodwill at Christmas time. This is something we’ve tied into the Santa myth: I am utterly uncomfortable with the manipulative rhetoric around the idea that Santa or his elves are watching his behaviour, that if he’s ‘naughty’ there won’t be any presents, but I am trying to engage him with the notion that this is generally a time of year for taking stock, realising how lucky we are, and being especially kind to the people around us.

This has of course brought us back to the original Christmas story, one which for me is as much of a metaphor as Santa given that Leigh and I are Humanist rather than Christian in our beliefs, but one which I think it is important for Arthur to know about.

He started asking questions when we were at a christening last weekend, curious to know who Jesus was. So we told him what we could about what Christians believe, and found a couple of books at the library to help bring the story to life a bit more.

We have even had a go at making our own nativity – something I have never done before, but which Arthur has really loved – and well and truly made his own.

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He was interested in the characters, in the angel and the shepherds and the wise men, but as soon as he started to understand that they had all come to see the Baby Jesus he wanted to give his favourite toys a chance to meet this special baby too. Soon the stable was inundated with lego superheroes and Star Wars characters, arriving in their spaceships to see what all the fuss was about.

I was wholly resistant to this at first, dismissing his hijacking of the Christmas story and wanting to make sure he understood the ‘real’ version. But then I realised that perhaps he’d actually found his own truth at the centre of it all – and that, ultimately, is what this is all about.

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The wisdom of a child

I have been working on two pieces of writing this week. My December resolution seems to have done the job, and whilst I haven’t written every day I have relished that blissful state of being immersed in creative writing – though interestingly both pieces have their roots in fact.

One more solidly so: each year at around this time since Arthur was almost one I have written a book about the previous twelve months – lots of photos, and words that attempt to capture the essence of his adventures and how he has grown.

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The first was a chunky board book made by a company in the states. I couldn’t actually find anyone who would create a custom one off in the UK (business opportunity anyone?), so that was pretty expensive… The next two I made myself using blank board book templates. Totally achievable, especially with some sticky-backed printer paper, but more than a little time-consuming.

This year I really couldn’t face the logistics of actually putting the book together, and now that Arthur is old enough that chewing books isn’t generally in his repertoire I figured a standard paperback would be fine. So I went to Blurb, and used their very excellent software to put this year’s book together. It would have been almost entirely painless had I not left it until the last day for ordering to get it delivered in time…

I can’t wait to see it, and to read it with him. It’s interesting for me seeing how these books are developing year on year: there’s a lot of rhyme, and more so this year just because there’s more text in general. There’s also definitely more imagination creeping in, reflecting Arthur’s cognitive growth and understanding. I think as he gets older the foray into metaphors might be quite fun – and there will still be the base pleasure for him of a story that is based on his own experiences.

The second piece I’ve been writing this week is too, in a way. It was inspired by something Arthur said to me a little while ago – actually woke me up with, as in crept into my room and whispered it into my ear whilst I was still half-asleep. He said “I dreamt this house was the Millennium Falcon, and outside was the entire galaxy”.

Recalling that now I guess I could have taken the story it inspired into a whole intergalactic sci-fi direction, but in fact the world it brought to mind (particularly in the context of those sleepy mornings) was one where a mother and son were trapped, facing seemingly unsurmountable challenges together.

It has an aura of Room about it, but it’s actually closer to 28 Days Later – without the zombies. I really enjoyed the process of writing from a very intimate, domestic starting point and through my characters (who are not exactly me and Arthur) discovering a whole other backdrop to their existence that I had no clue about when I began.

I took the time to plan once I started to realise what was going on, though, so I think I know where things are headed now. One, or maybe two, more sessions and I should have a first draft done – and I’m quite excited about crafting this piece into something submittable.

It’s all been a wonderful reminder of how utterly inspiring hanging out with a little person all day really is. There is no doubt that it’s hard work, and sometimes I find myself wishing that I had more hours in the day that were not filled up with the mundanity of family life.

But it took having a child to finally empower me to realise my dream of becoming a writer: and when I take a moment to stop and reflect on just how magical that child is it is not hard to understand why.

Writing Bubble

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

It was dark and foggy when we arrived back at Exeter station last night, and this one cut quite a figure in his pyjamas and leather jacket, wearing my bobble hat and clutching his new monkey.

He led the way through the empty corridors and back towards the car, where after a weekend of London adventures he fell asleep within seconds – and stayed asleep till he woke up in his own bed this morning.

This boy totally has this travelling business nailed.

Start: write

So despite all of my self-directed pep talks and statements of intent, the last couple of months have been a bit of a damp squib as far as writing is concerned.

Not necessarily in terms of the bigger picture – things are fizzing with potential there on all sorts of levels – but definitely in terms of the actual getting-new-words-on-the-page part of this whole writing lark, which ultimately is the only thing that keeps it sustainable.

It’s been getting me down, if I’m honest. I’ve been so busy doing stuff, some enjoyable, some less so, but all eating up my time. And the sitting down and writing creatively thing, the thing that was my priority (baby aside) when I decided to not go back to teaching after having Arthur, has just faded into oblivion.

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I think it was partly meeting up with all my lovely writing buddies that reminded me how much I missed it, the writing. And I don’t mean the blog – between here, Connecta Lives and eye-wateringly epic grant application forms I’m doing plenty of that kind of getting-words-on-a-page.

I’ve even managed to tie in my local lido obsessed campaign work with the building skills for blogging thing, having set myself the target to create a self-hosted wordpress blog for the pool which will (hopefully) teach me how to do it for myself.

But it’s all a bit too grounded in the real world. I’ve been missing my imagination. And I think especially in a year as crazy as this one has been that imagination is frankly the only hope we have.

So.

I have decided that I am going to bring my creative writing to the foreground again – to give it priority over all of the other jobs I have to do. I can normally convince myself that they are way more urgent – generally because in a coldhearted cut and dry way they are. The writing is, of course, important – but it gets totally lost when the pressure of time is applied.

It is time, though, to override that urgent-important matrix, or at least to elevate the creative writing bit so high on the importance scale that it doesn’t matter if no-one notices if I get it done.

Because I do, and actually maybe that’s the most important thing of all.

I have a bit of a plan, which involves my creative project being the very first thing I open when I sit down at the computer. Not necessarily at the start of the day – I might try to get back to the blissful state of crack of dawn writing, but given that we’re in the depths of winter I don’t want not managing that to be the excuse for not doing anything.

The other excuse I’ve been giving myself is that I’m not working on a novel. I should probably get into the edit of the third one at some point if I’m honest, but for now I have various short story ideas swimming around my brain.

So the first thing I did yesterday was catch them, and put them in a Scrivener document. Much as I love the thought of scribbling in a notebook the past thirty six hours have taught me that I get many more words down on paper when it’s the virtual kind.

I realise that this is exactly the wrong time for resolutions, what with Christmas and Arthur’s birthday to contend with over the next few weeks, but at least this way I should be going into 2017 with a much clearer idea of where I’m at.

And might just have the chance of getting out of this annus horribilis with at least a scrap of my sanity…

Writing Bubble