Tag Archives: balance

A question of balance

The unschooling diaries: week thirty-six

Finding balance is at the heart of any parenting journey, whichever way you choose to do things.

But I feel like having headed off down the unschooling path there’s a whole other challenge to be faced – because it’s not just your own views and needs and desires you’re trying to factor in, and those of the people whose opinions you value, but those of your child(ren) as well.

I thought, when Arthur was just a hypothetical, that I knew exactly what kind of parent I’d be. My experience as a teacher had taught me that I was likely to be fairly child-led, but I also knew (or thought I knew) that I would eschew screen-time in favour of more ‘wholesome’ pursuits, and envisaged hours spent elbow-deep in arts and crafts (to satisfy my own desires as much of those of my hypothetical child).

It turns out that, apart from in very special circumstances, Arthur’s not super keen on painting and gluing and sticking. And he really, really loves his iPad. I guess that’s partly my fault for letting him loose on it in the first place, but there was always a niggle in the back of my mind (birthed both by my genuine belief in the power of cinema (teaching again), and by the residual resentment left by my own television-starved childhood) that suggested that maybe moving image (and video games) has a potentially vital part to play in the development of a modern child.

IMG_1621.jpg

So he watches things. Movies, mainly – and more recently a few TV shows. I favour retro offerings: there’s something about modern editing that reminds me a little too much of the addictive appeal of drugs – hallucinogenic, exciting, but ultimately leaving you hollow and empty. And so yes, I curate the range of films and TV shows I give him access to.

I also refuse to let him sit and watch as much as he might like to. For most parents I imagine that’s not especially controversial – the idea of setting strict limits on the amount of screen time a child should have is pretty much a given – but in the unschooling community it’s enough to make me at the very best an outlier.

It comes back to the whole addiction thing though, for me. To that innate human tendency (maybe not all humans, but certainly lots I know) to do the thing that’s bad for you even when you know you’d be better off doing something else. With Arthur, I see the switch from real engagement to glazed-over eyes, the prickliness when I ask him if he would like to do something else, the closing down of perspective on the ‘real’ world as the virtual world becomes increasingly compelling – and it is then that, for better or for worse, I intervene.

I get the whole unschooling thing about letting kids find their own way through the multitude of distractions on offer. I get that it has huge payback for their self-efficacy to genuinely get to choose how they spend their time. I get that I might not always get it right when I make a choice for my son – and that the impact of that on him goes beyond my simple error to something deeper in his developing personality.

And yet, I will still push to get him outside. I will fight his desire to stay cocooned on the sofa on a sunny day, because I know that once he crosses the threshold he will remember how good it feels to breathe fresh air and have the space to run.

IMG_1624.jpg

We had a day like this last week. Arthur basically wanted to hibernate: stay in his pyjamas, cover himself in soft things, and hunker down in his nest. And we did that, for a bit. I hunkered down with him – because more than often when he wants to sit and watch a movie he wants one of us to watch it with him – and we watched Peter Pan, and we talked about it.

IMG_1619.jpg

And then he wanted me to to put something else on, and despite the fact it was getting close to lunchtime he wanted to stay in his pyjamas: and I said no.

So instead we got up, and got dressed, and got out of the house. We took the aerobie to the green, and raced each other through our giggles, and looked for blackberries. And it was awesome. And he loved it.

IMG_1623.jpg

And part of me thinks (or at least thought, in that moment) that we should be doing that all of the time, because of course being outdoors is way better than being cooped up inside with a screen. But then part of me knows that his imagination is relishing in the inspiration it is getting, day in day out, from its exposure to the Disney and Studio Ghibli back catalogue.

Ultimately I have to remind myself that it is all about balance. And my balance won’t necessarily look like yours, or my mum’s, or my friend’s, or my sister in law’s.

But that’s ok, because if there’s one thing that I am learning about this parenting business it’s that we all get to do it the way we want to – and it’s only when we’re persuaded to make decisions that we really don’t believe in that the trouble really starts.

 

 

Don’t look down

IMG_1182

I feel like I’m walking a tightrope with this edit at the moment. I’ve mastered the juggling, just about, and am pleased with the pace of progress I’m maintaining. But as I get deep into the novel again I’m realising just how tricksy my main character is – and the considerable challenge I’ve set myself to take you, the reader, with me on her journey.

I’m finding myself wondering just how far I can go with Grace before I lose you… Her mental health is fragile from the start, although she’s becoming a little less insular – a little easier to relate to. Her disintegration, though, is crucial to the plot. It is linked to her own substance abuse, and the man who takes advantage of this and her, and his own narcissistic tendencies, and how that makes her question her perception of reality. And that’s just the start of it – but I don’t want to give too much away.

Not only do I want you to care about Grace, I want you to literally come with her on her journey – to question things as she does, and ultimately to question her. To doubt her, but without fearing that she (or I) have purposefully misled you in any way.

I’m focusing on the end goal, the solid ground of another completed edit, but each step I take towards it needs to be made carefully, gingerly – just one foot after the other. And I can’t look down, otherwise I might lose my nerve altogether.

In the earlier stages of working on this novel the worry was that Grace wasn’t likeable enough. I’m not so worried about that now, but I do want to make sure that you believe in her. And it’s that process I’m finding fascinating at the moment: how, as a writer, we carve out a version of reality that appears to be true.

It’s not as simple as just telling the truth. The truth is often dull, or off-putting, or just plain difficult to believe – particularly where depression and anxiety and psychosis are concerned. My job is to create something that is truer than true: that captures an essence of reality that many different readers will relate to whilst at the same time preserving Grace’s uniqueness and humanity.

And in doing this, I’m not just walking a tightrope – I’m dancing on it. Each word, each step, is part of a complex routine that feels clumsy at first but will appear increasingly seamless, even effortless, the more I immerse myself within it.

I’ve never thought of writing a novel in quite these terms before, but it makes a strange kind of sense. The end result needs to be a performance that will play out flawlessly in the reader’s mind. I am no stranger to performing – be it a sequence of moves on a trampoline or bringing a character to life on the stage, you may begin with a clear idea of what you want to achieve but it is only through practise, through gruelling rehearsals, that you begin to get close.

And that is where I’m at right now, twirling the words around on a tightrope in the sky, waiting for the moment when they are finally ready to present to the world. And whatever happens I won’t look down until I get there.

 

Muddled Manuscript