Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Plastic Skittles January 3, 2015

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 9:39 pm

Stories. Every family has them. The kind that are told over and over again until they become legend. Until you’re no longer sure whether you actually remember the event, or just its repeated retelling.

My family has plenty. The time my sister got her knee stuck in the railing at Alton Towers. The episode of carsickness where we discovered that Quality Street tins are not, in fact, watertight. The night my dad forgot to pick me up from Girls Brigade. Or my Grandad’s runaway milkfloat. Which, incidentally, is easily done. Who needs handbrakes anyway?

We have lots of stories. Running jokes. Sweet little anecdotes, without an ounce of malice in them. But there’s one that has always bothered me. That gets retold on a regular basis, and confuses me every time. Whilst stoking my already well fueled fires of utter-misunderstoodness.

It happened one night when I was four or five. And particularly strong-willed. My parents had, evidently, reached the limits of their patience, and my dad decided it was time to instil a little obedience into me.

Family legend has it that he put up a set of plastic skittles in my room and sat on the floor, demanding that I bring him the blue one. And then the red one. And then the green one. Over and over again. Until I did as I was told. Whilst I begged him to let me go to sleep, and Mum cried on the stairs.

I’ve never understood it. Why my Mum stood by and let it happen. Why my parents were so determined to crush my blossoming, charming independent spirit. Why I didn’t call Childline, when I had their number memorised for just such emergencies.

I’ve never understood it. Until tonight.

When, for the fourth day this week, Elvie has refused to listen to a single word we say. Pushed every button we possess, and introduced a few new ones for good measure. Chatted back, hit, screamed and generally behaved like the spoilt brat we have tried our utmost to prevent her becoming.

We can hold it together. Just about. When we’re both around.

Until it gets to bedtime. Bath done, pyjamas on, story read, prayers recited, lights off. And then, just as you reach the bottom of the stairs, there’s a little click. And her light’s back on. Like clockwork.

Really annoying clockwork.

And so begins a battle. Which continues until about 10pm. Based on the evidence so far. There’s always the possibility she’ll make it to midnight eventually.

There is absolutely no reasoning with her. None at all. All you’ll get for your efforts is a hands-on-hips, smart-arse retort. Or the promise that she’ll never listen to anything you say ever again unless you let her stay up forever. All delivered at a volume that threatens to wake the rest of the street, let alone her brother.

We’ve tried softball. We’ve tried hardball. We’ve tried threatening to lock her in her room and tie her to her bed. And yes, I know you’re not supposed to give children idle threats, but I can promise you that in the heat of the moment, there was nothing idle about it.

We are, for want of a better word, buggered.

Outsmarted by a four year old with blonde curls, a will of iron and pyjamas depicting a woodland creatures sleepover.

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I have absolutely no answers. Neither does the internet.

The current plan revolves around telling her that, as long as she’s quiet and stays in her room, she can stay awake as long as she likes. In the desperate hope that, with the element of challenge removed, she’ll just give up and go to bed.

That has been the plan for just over an hour. She’s still reading. Light on.

As I said, I have absolutely no answers.

I do however, have a new and profound level of solidarity with my parents. As well as the surreal experience of watching as-near-as-I’ll-ever-get-to myself as a small child.

And a sudden, burning desire for a set of plastic skittles.

 

Keep. Your. Head. Still. November 26, 2014

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 12:26 pm

I knew having a daughter would be fun. I’d spent years looking forward to precious moments of female bonding. Misty-eyed vignettes of brushing hair, painting nails and side-by-side crafting.

Four years into mothering my girl, I’m filing those images in the folder marked ‘delusional’. For now, at least.

There is nail painting. Plenty of it. Almost every weekend. Unfortunately I’m not usually invited. Unless the pot is really hard to open. Apparently it’s much easier to varnish the floor / Joel’s entire arms / our crockery if I’m not in the same room.

Crafting is much the same. An endless barrage of requests. More glue. Different colour paper. The right size pompoms. Admittedly, we often craft side-by-side. Living the dream. But that’s only so she can steal my supplies when I’m not looking.

Nail varnish and crafts are basically just threats to our fragile peace treaty. Disguised as opportunities for quality time.

Hair brushing, on the other hand, is a live grenade. There’s no pretence there. None.

I have friends whose daughters wear their hair in elaborate plaited arrangements. With more hairbands than a branch of Claire’s accessories. I have literally no idea how they do it.

Just the sight of a hairbrush is enough to make Elvie run for the hills. So much so that her own brush has mysteriously disappeared, leaving us with sole option of the soft, entirely useless baby brushes. Which have no impact on the knots whatsoever. Just as she planned.

There are whole Youtube channels dedicated to cute hairstyles for little girls. Numerous pages on Pinterest. Full of french plaits, angel braids and other words that pass for curses in our kitchen on a school morning.

Nowhere is there a guide on what to do when your four year old styles her own hair, using what’s left of yesterday’s unbrushed, slept-in plait and refuses to let you touch it until it’s so late that the school gate’s about to close and you just give in.

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The basic rule appears to be ‘the more clips, the merrier. No matter where they are.’ I’ve not seen that on Instagram.

If I had a pound for every keep-your-head-still-for-goodness-sake-how-hard-can-it-be-to-just-stare-at-the-plug-socket-for-two-minutes I’ve shouted, our mortgage would have been paid off long ago. It’s exhausting.

Seriously. How hard can it be? Keep. your. head. still.

Simple.

Or not. Turns out it’s not just Elvie whose head is incapable of a pause, however brief. Turns out it’s tricky for me too.

This time of year is always hard for worriers. All the planning and the organising and the multitude of opportunities to fail. Throw in a few last-minute requests from school, a broken television and a building site in the lounge and getting through the day can feel impossible.

My brain just cannot let things go. No matter how many lists I write. Or how much planning I do. Yesterday I went to town to buy cranberries for bookgroup Thanksgiving. Having promised myself that I wouldn’t think about christmas again until we come out the other side of my birthday party.

And yet, there I was. In the pound store. Where they definitely don’t sell cranberries. Looking at festive table cloths and serviettes and crackers. And dishwasher tablets. Of course.

It’s unstoppable. My relentless, reckless, ridiculous brain.

Getting myself tangled up to the point of shutdown. Because there is too much to do and too much to make and too much to organise. And, most importantly, because so much of it is new.

I’ve never made a miniature top hat before. Or bread from scratch. Or grown up party food for an indeterminate number of people. Or, for that matter, anything involving fresh cranberries. It’s definitely a good week for adventure.

Problem is, I want to do it. All of it. This is what makes my soul come alive. Trying new things. Achieving something. Feeding people. Creating an atmosphere. Making pointless, beautiful things. Beauty for beauty’s sake. It’s so much fun.

Unless I’m racing through it. Thinking about everything else that needs doing before Saturday. And how I’ll probably mess it up anyway. Cursing the American measurement system. And dying on the inside when my daughter throws up in the night, requiring two days off school according to their sickness policy, despite it being entirely down to her stinking cold. Because now I won’t get anything done at all. And it’s not fair. And I probably should never have said I’d have a birthday party in the first place. And…

Keep. Your. Head. Still.

Just stop.

It’s actually impossible to be in more than one place at once. Believe me, I’ve tried.

It is, however, just about possible to do one thing at a time. To make a slightly-shabby miniature top hat out of a recycled space ship costume and some fabric scraps. To enjoy whole moments of the process. Despite the constant audience of small children. To only cut your finger once.

It’s possible to scale down your plans and rein yourself in. And to try not to be too disappointed. It’s possible to believe your party will be worth having even if it doesn’t look like an exact replica of a vintage big top.

It’s possible to cross things off your lists without having done them. And not miss them too much.

It’s possible to decide that sleep is more valuable than hand-painted circus signs. It really, truly is.

It’s possible that your friends will love you anyway.

It’s possible that there’s no point doing any of your wonderful plans if you’re too stressed to enjoy them.

It’s possible to keep your head still. If only for a minute. A minute, it turns out, is better than nothing.

Now, who’s going to tell Elvie?

 

7 things we’ve learnt at school. October 13, 2014

Filed under: Elvie,Family,Parenting,School — hannahoakland @ 3:42 pm

Elvie has been at school for a month now. Crazy. It’s been one whole month since Joel butted into this otherwise classic ‘first day of school’ photo. Little monkey.

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A month that’s seen more than it’s fair share of hairbrush related tantrums, 9am sighs of relief and reading folders full of pilfered stationary.

It’s been quite the adjustment. Elvie is learning a lot. As are we all. And so, flush with the spirit of continued, lifelong education, I thought I’d share my findings.

You, my friends, are welcome.

1. Hairslides are communal.

At nursery it was a miracle if Elvie ever wore a hairslide at all. Now she wears them everyday, due to a cunning combination of peer pressure, Frozen bribery (see 2.) and the ever-present threat of nits. She even brings them home. (The hairslides, not the nits. So far.)

On any given day, there is only a 50% correlation between the hairslides she starts the day with and the ones that come home. Which are normally newer ones. Shinier ones. ‘Donated’. Apparently. By any number of friends. Who, presumably, have the ones she started off with.

Honestly, I don’t mind all that much. Mostly because it feels like we’re winning. It’s the mum who keeps buying the sparkly butterfly clips that I feel sorry for.

2. The Elsa plait.

My outlook on hairstyling has always been somewhat relaxed. Meaning that Elvie usually looks like this.

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Apparently that’s not uniform-compatible. Although it’s very cute.

Needless to say, the sudden requirement for sensible, actually-brushed hair did not go down well. With anyone. Especially not at 8am. We had screams, and shouts and possibly even a few punches. All over a stupid ponytail.

I was losing the will to live. Fast.

Until – my masterstroke. The ‘Elsa’ plait. Which consists of dragging her hair into a braid on one side of her head, and securing it with as many rogue hairclips as possible. In the vaguest of nods to the Ice Queen herself. It worked. And it still works. To the extent that Elvie walks into school every morning wondering if her friends will recognise her, or if they’ll think Elsa has “really come to our class.”

It’s the simple things.

3. Mean Girls start young.

Elvie is 4. Only just. Already the girls are mean. Every day brings a different child who isn’t speaking to her anymore. Or another run-in with the main culprit, one of the older girls in the class who “won’t be my friend unless we’re wearing the same thing.”

Nobody should have to watch their baby girl pulling her polo shirt down over her skirt so that “perhaps she won’t see the bow.”

I knew this would happen. Goodness knows I’ve been on the rough end of it enough times myself. I just didn’t expect it to start so early. At least she’s talking. We’re having plenty of chats about what makes a good friend. And why we don’t need to play with the nasties.

Urrrgggghhh. Thankfully she has lots of little boy-friends as well. For balance. And mud throwing. That’s more like it.

4. Timetables are a test. For parents.

Honestly. That early in the morning I’m lucky if I remember to take both children out of the door. Let alone bring some tinned food for the harvest festival. Or a water bottle. Or the sight words we were supposed to look at last night.

PE kit on a Wednesday. Unless it’s the alternate Wednesday, when they’re cooking. Wellies on a Thursday. For school in the woods. Raincoats. Warm coats. Weather appropriate socks.

Name labels in everything. School dinners booked before 9am. Parents evening slips to be returned. Assemblies to attend.

There’s probably an app to deal with all of this. But I bet you can’t get it on a Windows phone.

5. The marital status of your teacher is important.

At least, it is to Elvie.

Who marched up to her teacher, hands on hips, and asked “So, is there a Mr Hook?” Leaving me to profusely apologise for my four-year-old-Jane-Austen-matriarch.

Thankfully the actually-not-married-yet teacher thought it was hilarious. At least, that’s what she said.

6. School rules are easily misinterpreted.

For the first week of school, Elvie came home every day with eyes aglow, telling tales of the creative corner. Where she could find paper, pens, glue, scissors and all sorts of wonders. Available for her to use at any time. Whenever she liked. All under the banner of ‘please help yourself.’

Which is nothing short of heaven for my girl. Who has everything rationed at home. Partly for the sake of the trees. And partly to avoid too many incidents like this.

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Seriously. Those arms.

It took me an entire week of siphoning lollipop sticks, reams of paper, glue pots and exercise books out of her reading folder to realise that the banner should perhaps be rewritten. To say ‘please help yourself, while you’re at school, to things you’re actually going to use in lesson time. If you want to use it at home, buy it.’

Yes, it would be a much longer sign. But it would halve their stationary budget.

7. Vanish* will save your life.

Or at least your sanity.

I have my suspicions that the school uniform industry is at least partly funded by the sales of laundry products. There is no other reason on earth that anyone would put a four year old in a white polo shirt and give them bolognese for lunch.

Unless it’s all part of a masterplan to reduce mothers to neurotic, paranoid wrecks who buy replacement clothing every week.

In which case, pink spraygun of power, I salute you. You and your stain-removing, mama-empowering skills.

Thank you. We are eternally grateful.

And only a little exhausted. Turns out school is tiring. Not just for the children.

Anyone for wine?

 

(*other stain removers are available. Whatever.)

 

Playing on swings. Writing books. And other difficult tasks. September 17, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 10:42 am

Earlier this month, Joel turned two.

Two years old. Already. Finally. It’s confusing. I think we all deserve medals.

To celebrate, we took both children to the park. Followed by pizza with the family. I know. There ain’t no party like a toddlers party.

In fairness, we took them to a good park. Full of wooden play equipment, natural building materials and opportunities for risk-taking. We even ate marshmallows. It was quite the treat.

Joel had a wonderful time. Running up hills and flinging himself down slides. Bouncing on the trampoline and greeting every new child with a shout of “Hello, friend.” He’s delicious.

Elvie was struggling. Partly because it wasn’t her birthday. So she wasn’t allowed to open the presents. Partly because it hadn’t been her idea to go to the park. And partly because, after the Great Bear Hunt of 2014, she hadn’t been allowed to take her special night-time teddy with her.

All in all, she was less than impressed. Which she made very clear. I would have heard her screams even if I’d stayed at home.

The swings were the final straw. I was pushing her, like the dutiful mother I am. Except that I was pushing her ‘too high’, or ‘too slowly’, or ‘too wonky.’ Continually. For about ten minutes. At which point, considering that I didn’t even want to  push her in the first place, I decided that I’d had enough abuse for one playtime and left her to it.

I muttered something about how she should try to use her legs, and sat down to imagine that I had, in fact, stayed at home and was curled up in bed with a cup of tea.

Oh, how she screamed.

Wes took Joel to play in a tunnel, and I was left with a human tantrum. Of nuclear proportions.

I had a lot of sweet, kind, empathetic smiles from other parents. Whilst I watched their children swinging. By themselves. Using their legs. On reflection, there probably would have been better times to point that out. Suffice to say, the screaming continued.

Eventually, something inside me broke. As it usually does. When I get beyond the point of anger and frustration and annoyance, and remember that actually, Elvie is my daughter. In every possible way.

That underneath the screaming is usually a fear that she can’t quite put her finger on yet. Like I said, she’s my daughter. In every possible way.

It took a long time. A lot of gasping, and snot, and false starts followed by more raging tears. But we got there in the end.

She was scared.

Not of the swings. But of the swinging. The new challenge. The risk.

Scared of getting it wrong.

My sweet four year old was so scared of not being able to swing properly that she had spent half an hour screaming at the top of her lungs. And come perilously close to spending the rest of the afternoon in the buggy.

My wild, crazy little girl. Who, when given the materials to make a bear-ear headband and an outfit for her teddy, created this.

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A tiara and a fairy skirt. For herself.

She’s never been one to play exactly by the rules. She’s an incredible negotiator already.

And yet.

She is driven by an insatiable urge for perfection. By a desperate fear of not being good enough. By the preference for self-sabotage over embarrassment.

Just like her mother.

We had a long chat that afternoon. Sitting on the grassy slope, looking at the swings. A chat about being brave. And taking risks. About right-or-wrong not being the most important issue. About trying. And learning. And making mistakes. And trying all over again.

She got on the swing. Eventually. All on her own. She tried to move herself. To use her legs. And when she couldn’t, I pushed her. This time, she didn’t whinge. So much.

We’ve had a lot of these conversations lately. Me and my girl. I’ve tried to praise her for trying. Rather than succeeding. To not jump on her if something goes wrong. To let her help. Even when it makes the process painfully, tooth-pullingly slow.

We’re working on it.

Which makes yesterday even more ironic. When, after a day of painting playhouses, reviewing and renewing prescriptions, and fraught school runs, I found myself weeping into a bowl of Phish Food. Because I wanted to write a book. But I couldn’t bring myself to start.

Because I’m scared. Scared of getting it wrong.

Because of my own insatiable urge for perfection and my own desperate fear of not being good enough. Because of the voices in my head that tell me I’m deluded. Because I’d almost rather end up sad and bitter than try and fail.

Almost.

Last night I heard my own words parrotted right back at me. Not by Elvie, thankfully. That would have been a bit too much. Besides, she would have wanted my ice cream.

By Wes. Who sat with me and hugged me, and told me in no uncertain terms to stop fannying around and get on with it.

So here I am. Procrastinating a little, admittedly.

But I’ve looked up publishers. And literary agents. And submission guidelines. I’ve made a reading list. And, so far, stayed off Pinterest.

I am beyond terrified. If you try to talk to me about it, I might throw up on your feet. Sorry. In advance.

It will all be worth it in the end. I hope.

Either way, I’ve heard it’s the trying that counts.

Meet you at the swings?

 

Woohoo! Or, the day Elvie started school. September 10, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Depression,Elvie,School — hannahoakland @ 1:53 pm

It’s here. Finally.

The big first day. Of actual, real-life school.

As I write this, Elvie is doing goodness-only-knows-what in her classroom, dressed in her delicious little uniform, surrounded by her friends.

Whilst Wes walks Joel around outside in the buggy, to try and calm the toddler tantrum that ensued when he wasn’t allowed to stay with her.

It’s been a long time coming. For me, anyway.

7 weeks of summer holiday. And 10 days fuming at everyone else’s “first day of school” pictures on Facebook. Seriously. What school in their right mind waits until the 10th of September to open?

We’ve done our very best to make it an occasion. And to conceal at least a little of our bare-faced joy.

She’s had little presents from family members. Special pens. Alphabet charts.

Last night she had a we’re-proud-of-you card, and a free-choice dinner. The opportunity to eat anything in the world, as a special treat. Whatever she wanted. Which, as it turned out, was chicken pie, baked beans and raw carrot. She’s easily pleased.

Today she was up bright and early, asking if it was morning yet? Could she put her uniform on already? Could she wear her special blue hairclips? What bags did she have to take? Could she decorate her water bottle?

Who knows? She’s not the only one that’s new to this.

Several hours, photos, changes of hairstyle and stretches of double-sided sticky tape later, and she was waiting again. This time, in the playground. In a cluster of old friends, new faces and parents trying to get their overexcited offspring to just-stand-still-for-one-picture-please. And the little girl who turned up a few days early for the start of nursery. Oops.

She was nervous, by her own admission. Holding my hand. Not wanting to run off and play just yet. Turns out she is human after all. If you ignore the green skin on her stomach where yesterday’s paint proved a little too stubborn to remove.

And then we went inside.

She is amazing. Just turned 4. In a brand new environment. Albeit one that the nursery staff have prepared her brilliantly for.

Her confidence blows me away.

We found her peg, her drawer, the box for her water bottle. She found her chair, her whiteboard to write her name on. Her own pen and rubber. And she was away. With an absolute gleam in her eye.

A few minutes later, having demonstrated the use of the rubber, I was dismissed, with the traditional “Goodbye, Mummy,” that I’ve come to expect on such occasions. And I watched from the doorway for a moment, as she sat in her chair. Her little blonde head bent over her board. Rubbing. Concentrating. Completely absorbed.

And I smiled. She’s going to be just fine.

As are we all.

This is a big change for everyone. The first day of the next seventeen years of our lives – if you count Joel’s schooling too. Which we probably should.

It’s a change of pace. A change of intensity. More bake sales, more parents evenings, more letters home and endless form-filling. A sabbatical for the Frozen soundtrack. And a gradual letting go of the total influence I’ve had over what she sees, or hears, or learns.

I’m not as scared of that as I thought I’d be. In fact, I’m mostly grateful. Grateful that she has somewhere, just round the corner, to spend her days. With an outdoor classroom in the woods. And a vegetable garden. Not to mention her friends, and the occasional deer.

I’m grateful that she’ll have hours of stimulation, every day. For her mind and her body. Grateful that she’ll have a way to satisfy her desperate thirst for knowledge. That doesn’t involve Google. Or our fridge door.

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I’m grateful that even as I write this, I can see her from my bedroom window. Speeding round the playground on a little yellow scooter. And hear the accompanying whoops.

Yes, she’s very young. Yes, she doesn’t always cope brilliantly with authority figures. Yes, she hasn’t tried the school dinners yet.

But, from where I’m sitting, this looks like the start of something beautiful.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have twenty minutes, and an entire cup of still-hot tea before pick-up time.

Honestly. What’s not to love.

 

 

Our big fat summer of slow. I hope. July 22, 2014

Filed under: Elvie,Family,Nursery,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 12:54 pm

Summer is almost here. So close I can reach out and touch it.

This time last year I was shaking with terror. Literally. This year, it’s different.

Tomorrow is Elvie’s final day at nursery. Before seven weeks of glorious, laid-back summer. And then Big School.

At least, that’s the plan.

This morning we made cupcakes for the teachers. Despite being utterly intimidated by the hand-decorated wrapping paper on the implausibly large presents that another parent brought in yesterday.

It was fun. We cracked eggs everywhere, covered the table in sugar sprinkles and mixed up some icing in a pretty lurid shade of pink.

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Elvie had a great time. Joel mostly licked things. Between them they consumed so much sugar that the traditional pre-nursery meltdown was at least ten times the usual volume.

We’ll miss nursery. Elvie especially.

We’ll miss the structure it gives to our days, and the friends we see on a daily basis.

We’ll miss the toys, and the climbing frame, and the seemingly unlimited craft supplies.

We’ll miss the wonderful teachers, who deserve much more than a day-glo pink cucpcake.

They have treasured her throughout this year. They’ve let her play in the mud and draw endless pictures. They’ve given her such a positive introduction to education, and opened her mind to a hundred new ideas.

We’ll miss them. Seven weeks is a long time to fill. But I’m optimistic about this summer. I’m even (whisper it) looking forward to it. A little bit.

Mostly because of last weekend.

On Saturday we spent all day in the garden. Literally all day. It was beautiful.

The sun shone. Wes built a play-house. Joel bounced on the trampoline. I was weeding. Elvie was covered in mud. Completely covered. From head to toe. As is her way.

It was perfect. Warm, relaxed and surprisingly productive. Followed by a friend’s party in the evening, where we sat outside eating delicious food while the children ran wild into the night.

It was the epitome of calm and gentle. Of our own particular, cherished brand of slow.

It just can’t happen during the week. When we need to eat lunch by midday to get to nursery on time. And we daren’t stay out late because the consequences are disastrous.

Unless it’s the holidays. Which, thank goodness, it very nearly is.

This summer holiday feels like the perfect chance to practice living slowly.

To eat more meals outside. On the floor. To spend hours in the mud. Or digging up weeds at our beautiful new allotment.

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To have lazy movie nights. And ice cream. And lots of parties with friends. To take my eye off the time, and the calendar and the to-do list. To breathe deeply. And relish the chance to really connect with my children.

Before Elvie starts school in September and everything changes again.

It won’t be easy. Wes is away a lot. Seven weeks is a long time. The heat makes Elvie spectacularly grumpy. As does being bored. It’ll be a delicate balance to maintain.

But, for the moment at least, the chance of arriving at September as a blissed-out, tanned, tie-dye wearing hippy seems a very real possibility.

That’s already a big improvement on last year. And the holidays don’t start until tomorrow.

I’ll keep you updated.

Unless, of course, I’m too chilled out to bother.

In which case you’ll find me in the garden. Feel free to bring cakes.

Whatever colour they are.

 

 

Charity begins at nursery. July 11, 2014

Filed under: Community,Elvie,Faith,Nursery,Operation Slow — hannahoakland @ 2:23 pm

Elvie has gone to nursery in football kit today. I say football kit. I mean shorts and a t-shirt.

Seriously. She’s three years old, and football kits are expensive. Not to mention that if the football’s ever on the telly, she settles down with a gleeful cry of “ooh, rugby!”

Nonetheless, the note from nursery said that the children needed to wear football kits today, for a kickabout with the Royals mascots. And that we should pay £1 for the privilege. Of not wearing uniform. Which the nursery children don’t wear anyway. It’s all a little farcical.

I do need to buy Elvie’s uniform. Ready for September. I’m considering only buying one outfit. Given the number of times she has to turn up wearing football kit / something spotty / a visual representation of her favourite haiku, I don’t think we’ll get much wear out of the little grey tunics.

Still, I mustn’t complain. Because they’re raising money. For charity. More specifically, on this occasion, “to help Africa.” That’s a direct quote from the nursery.

Brilliant. It’s always good to know exactly where your money’s going.

On closer investigation, it turns out that they’re aiming to build a school in Kenya. At least that’s what it said on the packets of the ‘football’ cakes the children baked on Wednesday. Which we paid 50p to take home.

I hope we see some pictures of this school. Otherwise I’ll be very suspicious when the dinnerlady gets a shiny new car.

Teaching children about charity is brilliant. In theory, I love it. In practice, if I’m honest, I find it really hard.

I’ve sponsored a girl in Kenya for the last twelve years, through Compassion, who are fantastic. But I’ve done it by default. The money comes out of my account on a direct debit and I never have to think about it. Easy. I’m great at that.

I’m not so good at the kind of giving that actually costs me something. Time, or thought, or money. Or the effort of remembering to take £1 to the school gate.

For a long time I’ve suffered from a scarcity complex. Living in a place of ‘not enough.’ Not enough time. Not enough energy. And definitely not enough money.

On one level, it’s true. I’m raising our little family of four on whatever Wes brings home. Which, as a self-employed craftsman, varies wildly from month to month. It’s easy to panic. To fret about the mortgage, or the water bill, or the cost of school uniform.

And when I fret, I go inwards. Every single time. Grabbing hold of every single penny I can hold in my hands. Squirreling away anything that’s spare. Stockpiling any freebies that I set my eyes on. Ignoring anyone else that might need help.

It’s not a good look.

The ironic thing is, all this grabbing and stockpiling and fixing my eyes on us, actually makes the feeling of scarcity worse. It makes me feel less secure and more as though we’re going to go under at any minute.

The reality is that we’ve always survived. We’re frugal and creative and fairly easily pleased. And we have a net around us. A support net of friends and family. Who tell us constantly that we’ll never go hungry. Or homeless. No matter how bad things get.

I’ve been trying, consciously, to change my mindset. I don’t think all this scarcity and insecurity is helping my depression, and it certainly sucks all the joy out of everyday life.

I’m taking small steps. Perhaps that’s a little generous. I’m taking baby steps.

When we had a clearout, I put all our unwanted things on Freecycle. Instead of trying to sell them, in the desperate hope that they’d make enough money to justify the effort I was making.

I’ve made endless, mostly enforced, contributions to the nursery charity collections. And not been too grumpy about it.

I’ve decided that I genuinely like getting rid of belongings. It makes me feel lighter, less encumbered. Like I can breathe more easily. And there’s less stuff to tidy up. Bonus.

I’m not so good at giving away money. That still hurts. We have a jar of loose change in our dining room, and I’ve often thought how good it would be to give that money away. I’ve never managed it.

Until this week.

Over dinner on Wednesday, we were discussing the Kenyan school, and why they needed help to build it. Elvie was fascinated by the idea of people who couldn’t afford to eat. Or put a roof over their heads. Of children without parents. Children just like her. Who happened to have been born somewhere else. And were suffering because of it.

My parents are in Tanzania at the moment, visiting a charity that they run. Providing care and education and sponsorship for orphans in remote villages. Children who have been abandoned by their communities. Children who need our help.

I explained this to Elvie. Told her where Grandma and Grandad are. What they’re doing. How those children are being looked after.

She’s a deep thinker, my Elvie. She listened, and listened, and then thought for a while. And this is what she said;

“Mummy, we could give them some of our money that we use for bus rides or food…what about all the money in the change jar? We could give them that. To help build their house.”

Needless to say, there were tears in my eyes. Tears of pride for my beautiful three year old. Who runs rings around us all for most of the time, and then shows her soft little heart, and her wonderful compassion. And a few tears of embarrassment. That it had taken this child to show me what I should have done weeks earlier.

I told her how proud I was of her. That we’d count the money and give it to her grandparents. That it would be used to build a house for the orphans.

That met with her approval. On the condition that she could draw pictures and send them to every single one of the children. To let them know that we love them.

With that, wise words over, she proceeded to wedge a baked bean between each toe on her foot, admire her handiwork, then take each one out. And eat them. That’s my girl.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to collect the bean monster herself from nursery.

And take another 50p for a picture of her with the mascots.

I’ll try not to be grumpy about it. I promise.

 

Night terrors and trading standards. October 2, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 12:57 pm

There are many parenting phrases that could come to serious blows under the Trades Descriptions Act. ‘Family fun time’ at the swimming pool for instance. Which should actually be known as ‘sitting waist deep in water for an hour while your daughter screams because someone splashed her in the face.’

Morning sickness is another term I take issue with. Apparently midwives have never been under so much pressure – I’m willing to bet that if we called it ’24-hours-a-day-unless-you’re-asleep-sickness,’ the pregnancy rate would drop a little.

Even ‘toddler groups’ are misnamed – giving the impression that they’re put on for the children who attend, rather than the caffeine, sleep and conversation deprived mothers who cling to them for dear life. So much of the language around parenting is softened, or sweetened. As if we’re not quite able to handle the truth.

There are, as always, a few glaring exceptions.

My current favourite: night terrors.

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There’s not a lot of softening or sweetening going on there. Nobody’s getting shielded from that particular brand of nasty. Which leads me to believe that whoever named it had a child who experienced it for themselves. One of the 1-6% of children that are affected. It’s an elite little club. Unfortunately, Elvie has joined it.

In the past, we have come downstairs after dealing with a nightmare, having calmed her back to sleep, and commiserated over her terrible night terrors. Ignorance is bliss. Turns out, nightmares are just nightmares. Unpleasant, and very distressing for Elvie at the time, but nothing compared to this.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to hear your child screaming in her bed, rush in to help her and find a scene from a horror movie. Where she’s screaming your name, but can’t tell that you’re right there in front of her. When she’s dripping with sweat and completely hysterical. Eyes wide open, but looking straight through you. Flinching away if you touch her. And screaming, always screaming. At whatever imaginary threat she’s dealing with on that particular night.

Eventually she’ll stop. Of her own accord. Just stop completely, and pass out in her bed. Occasionally she’ll even open her eyes, smile and ask for a ‘tuck in’, as if nothing has happened. She doesn’t remember any of it. Not in the night, or in the morning. Which is good. I’m pretty sure she’d never go to bed otherwise.

It’s just me that’s completely traumatised by the heartbreaking sound of my daughter screaming for me and pushing me away at the same time. By the knowledge that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. And, as happened last night, by a terrified screaming baby who had been rudely awakened by his sister and decided to take all his fear and anger out on me.

Initially I thought she was just having a really bad dream. Anyone would. But now, after four separate episodes, I’m beginning to realise that this is actually ‘a thing.’ Late-night googling has confirmed it. She’s absolutely textbook. The eyes-open, not seeing. The sweating, The screaming. The sitting up and shouting. The not wanting to be touched. The suddenly going back off to sleep again. We’re in the land of night terrors and, even when it’s only once a fortnight, it’s not much fun.

The internet informs me that there’s a strong genetic link between night terrors and other sleep disorders. As usual, it’s probably my fault. Although I never had night terrors as such, I was a definite sleepwalker as a child – I’ve grown up listening to stories of the times I would wander, eyes wide open, into my parents room “looking for the light.”. During my student years there was one morning when I woke up wearing a different set of clothes than the ones I’d gone to bed in. I hadn’t even been drinking.

It would seem that there’s nothing we can do. Other than turn on the light, talk reassuringly, make sure she doesn’t fall out of bed, and wait for the storm to pass. Which is awful. I like to have a plan. Something I can do. Some way I can make it better. Waiting it out doesn’t feel very proactive. But it’s all I can do.

Apparently she’ll grow out of it as she gets older. Which is a relief. Until then, we’ll just have to deal with them as they happen. It won’t make a funny story, but at least I’ll be able to tell her I was there with her. Even when she couldn’t tell.

 

Letter to Elvie – Now you are 3! August 8, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:27 pm

My darling girl,

Happy Birthday – 3 years old today! Not that you know it yet. We’re saving the celebrations until Saturday, when Daddy gets home from Birmingham. I don’t think you’ll notice. Or mind. You certainly didn’t last year.

I wanted to let you know how incredible we think you are. This year has been hard on you. Since your last birthday you’ve had to deal with a new brother, a new house, new friends, and a Mummy with depression. There was definitely a time when you lost your spark. That beautiful, inexplicable joy that makes you who you are. You’ve struggled, and that’s ok. We all have. It’s been a hard twelve months. But you have done so well. Amazingly well. And I look at you now, so grown up and beautiful and full of mischief and I know that I have my little girl back. Older, wiser and a little bit less naive. But back, and bonkers. I love it.

There are so many things that I love about you. Your imagination being one of them. There are times when I wish I wasn’t called to your bed in the middle of the night to sort out “teenagers on your pillow” or “pebbles with teeth”. Sometimes even you can’t control it. But in the daytime, it is the source of endless joy. To hear you playing, or be invited to take part in your latest imaginary scenario is an indescribable privilege. Every character has a back story, and every tale you’ve ever heard makes its way back into your games. Yesterday you spent the day carrying around a beaker of squash, which you called ‘baby Clara’. You even pushed it down the road in your buggy. I wish I could record everything you say, just for one day. In twenty years time you’ll be, to use your own word, “astonished.”

You are so determined to be your own person. I love that. There’s no changing your mind once you’ve made a decision. Except, occasionally, if we offer you sweets. You’re fairly powerless against that tactic. But for the most part you set your course and you steer it by yourself, regardless of anyone else’s opinion. Or health and safety. At the moment, the only place you want to read your books is perched on top of the cupboard, having climbed up on your Duplo box to get there. This afternoon, on the roundabout in town, you moved from the motorbike to the pirate ship to the bus. While the ride was moving. In spite of the shouts from me, and the lady in charge.

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You’re unstoppable. I really hope that lasts. That you’ll be strong enough to resist the temptations of peer pressure when you get older.

I love your exuberance. There’s no other word for it. The part of you that throws off all your clothes as soon as you see a paddling pool. Wherever you are. That sticks two fingers up at social norms and runs around with no shoes on. Just like your Daddy.

I could watch you dance all day; the joy on your face as you give in to the music – be it real or in your head – and spin around like a whirlwind. Nothing makes me happier than to see you running in the park or in the garden. Singing and throwing your arms around. That’s what makes you really come alive.

That and your drawing. When you grow up, you want to be an artist. You’re in with a good shout. As our eldest, you’re our measuring stick – if you’re drawing fully fledged people, with hair and crowns and outfits and shoes and handbags, holding hands and driving buses, then we assume it’s normal. Turns out it’s not. You’re exceptional. We’re saving every drawing you do. We joke that it’s our retirement plan, and that we’ll auction them all off when you’re a famous artist. Really, we want to show you how much we value your skills and your passions. One day we’ll show you the boxes of childhood drawings sitting in the loft. And hopefully you’ll realise that we’re behind you. Every step of the way. Whatever your dreams.

You are a dreamer. That’s for sure. You’d happily spend all day with your head in a book, creating new stories for the characters that you know and love. Your brain wanders off to some incredible places, and always comes back with questions…”why do whales float?,” “why can’t I see God?,” “how will I discover if there is no world?” I’ve had to resort to Google more than once. Who knew our eyebrows were designed to keep the rain out of our eyes! You keep us on our toes, all day everyday. It’s exhausting, but it’s wonderful. When I was pregnant with you, I told Grandma that I didn’t want a boring baby – I wanted someone with character. You are that. And more. Several times a day I just stand back and look at you – amazed by the amount of character and wisdom and humour packed into your little three year old face.

You have a gorgeous face. Stunning. People stop me in the street to tell me how beautiful you are. I hope you know that. I plan to tell you every day. I know people say that I shouldn’t talk about it. That I should pretend the whole beauty thing doesn’t exist. But clearly, it already exists for you. So we’ll take it one step at a time, together.

Because you are beautiful. Inside and out. And I’m so proud to be your mama.

Happy birthday baby girl.

xxxxxx

 

Tonight… August 6, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 6:57 pm

is the kind of night that needs to be guarded. A rare chance for Wes and I to sit down and chat. The last few weeks have been hectic, and the next few look no different. This is our tiny moment of peace. And with that in mind, the post I promised about the christening / baptism / screaming children with wet heads will need to wait until tomorrow. It will be worth it.

In return for your patience, I’ll give you a window into our day today…one which could only be described as ‘mixed’. We started picking blackberries, in the sunshine, by the park. Summertime sibling bliss. Note the berry stained trousers. And the cute baby smile. And the helpful big sister pushing the swing, even if she did insist on referring to her brother as “baby Clara.”

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Then this happened.

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And this.

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He didn’t put those stickers there himself. As I said, ‘mixed’.

We’ll deal with the christening tomorrow. For tonight, I leave you with our quote of the day, after I made the mistake of asking Elvie what she would like for her birthday. Her reponse…

“A real moving chicken that I can twist around and take for walks…or a flamingo.”

Her birthday is on Thursday. Wish me luck.