Now you are four

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Dear Arthur,

You know, you have almost got me lost for words.

I have been looking forward to writing this post, to reflecting on the wonderful little person who you have become, but now that I am here I have absolutely no idea how to contain you on this page.

Four really is the most magical age.

Over the course of last year, you began to shed the things I associated with your babyhood: the night waking, the nappies, the breastfeeding. That last one you only called time on in December – I was beginning to wonder whether you ever would, but I am so glad I left it up to you to decide when to stop. We were both ready, I think.

We still have the sling, used sporadically now but invaluable for long walks and hectic crowds. I love still being able to carry you when you need it, but more often than not you are charging ahead, leading the way – and I love that, too.

You are so confident out in the world – within our little town especially, but it doesn’t take you long to get your bearings wherever we are. We’ve taken lots of trips this past year, and you really are the perfect traveller. Curious and engaged and full of energy. I’m looking forward to all the travelling we have to come – and to learning Spanish with you, I know it won’t be long until you overtake me!

I know how privileged I am to still be spending so much time with you. By rights we should be gearing up to you starting school now, but we’ve decided to hold back at least a while – and for that I am very grateful. You love your forest school – and hopefully we will find another that will take you when you are deemed too old for that particular adventure to continue. The forest certainly feels like a more appropriate venue for your learning than within the four walls of a conventional classroom.

The forest, and the beach, and the gymnasium, and the theatre. The town you love to walk or scoot or bike through and say hello to familiar faces as we pass, your friends that range from 6 months to 60 years.

And then there are the worlds that you create at home. I thought your imagination was spectacular this time last year, but it really has exploded once again. You are fascinated by Star Wars – though you have only read the books so far. When we finally watch the films I think they might just blow your mind.

You do still love watching movies, but it’s playing out the roles yourself that you have really revelled in over the past few months. Luke Skywalker. Peter Pan. Buzz Lightyear. Woody.

You put on the costumes – at least the closest we can find – and leap around reenacting scenes and creating new scenarios. Or you use your lego to create ever more advanced vehicles for your characters to inhabit, combining the mini figures to create original narratives which can play out for hours.

Your lego has become your favourite tool for building, though you are fascinated by the construction challenge of your new marble run too, and cannot wait to make something with your new tool kit. A doll’s house, you said, inspired by the one I used to play with many years ago that you discovered at my parents’ house this Christmas.

There is something so alluring about those miniature worlds, and I am excited about the prospect of (re)discovering them with you.

I get waves of anxiety sometimes, worrying that we are doing the wrong thing by following the road less travelled. But there is no escaping the fact that our education system is sick, and I think if we follow your lead then we cannot really go wrong, feeding your curiosity and helping you access the world of grown ups as and when you are ready to do so.

It’s amazing how, as you grow, all preconceptions I had about this parent – child relationship begin to fade away. You have so very much to teach me.

And I still have so very much to learn.

All my love for always,

Mummy xxx

 

In search of clarity

I have never been a huge fan of the January detox.

The thought of depriving myself of the treats that make the longer winter nights easier to bear has just never really appealed, and I have been far more often found curled up on the sofa with iPlayer and a glass of wine than sipping herbal tea and counting steps as the festive season fades.

This year, however, is different.

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There are lots of reasons why. As 2016 hurtled along, each day bringing new disaster on a global or personal scale, I found it hard at times to catch my breath. Even though my little corner of the world remained relatively unscathed the noise in my head escalated until it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I found some space on this blog to give voice to the flashes of inspiration that fought their way through the mire, but I never had the clarity to follow them through.

I found temporary respite in a newly kindled love of cold water swimming – I just kept getting in the sea as summer turned to autumn and have yet to stop – but aside from those rushes of endorphins I spent way more time than I should have done wallowing in despair at the state of society, and fearing that my own small efforts were doomed to be forever futile.

Christmas and New Year were a real escape from all that – even with the hecticness of a fourth birthday in between it all it was a wonderful couple of weeks of hanging out with family and friends, the physical reinforcement of the wonderful online community that kept me going last year.

January, though, has brought me down with a bump.

My head is fuzzy through weeks of too much booze and too little sleep, my body feels ungainly and sluggish, my heart aches for something that I am finding it impossible to put into words.

This New Year angst is making me want to raze everything to the ground and start again – to shelve my blog, to resign from the council, to scrap the plans I began to articulate as 2016 drew to a close. It all seems like pointless clutter – although, writing and Arthur aside, I have no idea what else I want to be doing with my time!

It is that, really, that’s giving me pause, and making me realise that I need to take control. I need to get my mind back in proper working order, and I know that the state of my mind is intrinsically linked to the state of my body.

So: detox.

A resetting of my physical state driven by clean eating (and clean drinking). A renewed effort to build on the physical and mental boost that sea swimming has given me with more of the same, reinforced by finding as many other opportunities as I can to get outdoors and get active. I want to build in regular yoga again, too – and to steal a few minutes each day to meditate. And to sleep, properly and deeply, to recharge and rejuvenate my soul.

I’m not setting myself strict rules or targets (I’m still too much of a rebel to respond well to those), but I do have a couple of tools that I’m hoping will help. For Christmas I was given a Bellabeat Leaf, a health monitor that in the couple of days I’ve been using it has already had a hugely positive impact on my motivation. I have sought out a goal-orientated diary, too – the Inspire Now journal, which I can see has lots of potential to help me bring about the clarity I crave.

And I might discover, as this month unfolds, that the detox will extend to other parts of my life too – that I will need to make some difficult decisions about how I use my time, to become more focused and more selfish.

2016 was a challenging year, but I fear 2017 will not be any easier – the seeds that have been sown point to things getting a whole lot more difficult before they begin to turn a corner. I want the resilience to deal with that, and hopefully in my own small way to make things better.

And that’s not going to happen unless I am physically and mentally strong.

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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