Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

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.

 

Letting go – and also, well done Kate! July 22, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Nursery,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 7:41 pm

Let’s deal with the royal baby first shall we? I’m a sucker for babies, and am incapable of watching a birth on television without a little tear. Which is impressive for someone who used to be famous for having no emotions whatsoever. So I’m looking forward to the pictures as much as the next person…unless the next person happens to be Carole Middleton. She might just edge it.

Obviously I’m thinking of Kate, and hoping that everything goes as smoothly as it can. (Sometimes it goes smoothly, right?) Mostly, I’m impressed by the royal family’s dedication to providing an event of national signifiance during every year of Elvie’s life. First there was the wedding…

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then there was the jubilee…

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and now the royal baby.

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We’ve gotten more use than I expected out of that flag.

It’s enough to make you come over all patriotic. I briefly considered making something red,white and blue for dinner. (Then I remembered that it would just be me and two under-threes who don’t care at all. We had curry.)

The world and his wife will be giving advice to poor old Kate over the next few weeks (months?/years?) I’m not sure that I have anything worthwhile to add. All I would say is, keep your eyes peeled, because those milestones creep up fast.

This morning was Elvie’s trial session at nursery. As of September, she’ll be there five afternoons a week. Which means I’ll have 15 hours a week one-on-one time with Joel…admittedly, I’m hoping he’ll have a post-lunch nap. We’ve been going to ‘nursery club’ for a few weeks now – she’s met some of the children who’ll be there with her, and chatted to several of the teachers. But that was at the Children’s Centre – which is her second home. Today was her first visit to ‘proper nursery’. I’ve been crossing my fingers for weeks that it would go well.

And it did. She loved it. She was out of sight within minutes – beside herself with excitement at the trikes and slides and sand pits and buggies and space. She wasn’t bothered at all when the older children came out to the playground. She had a litlte wobble when I went off to the parents meeting, but by the time I returned she was tearing around, hitching lifts on the back of other children’s bikes.

I knew she would love it. I’ve always known. She’s wildly independent, very happy in her own company and not normally worried about new places or strangers. She’s bored of being at home with me and the brother, and needs more stimulation than I can give her. She’s talked of nothing but nursery since she found out it existed, and has been trying to persuade me that she is already “a grown up girl” so that she can start earlier. I’m sure there will be a few bumps along the road – especially when she realises that she has to go every day. Or that not everybody wants to be her friend. Or that she’ll actually need to do as she’s told. That could be tricky.

Today was a formality for Elvie – with some great toys and a carton of milk thrown in for good measure. It was a bigger deal for me. I’d always known that I wanted my children to go to nursery and school and have a ‘normal’ childhood. Until Elvie was born. At that moment I knew that nobody else would ever look after my babies. I wasn’t going to let them out of my sight. I wasn’t going back to work. I told Wes that I had decided to homeschool.

He has a great look that he saves for just such occasions. It’s a very kind look, usually accompanied by an “ok darling”. It sounds like agreement. This is deceptive. What it actually means is “this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, but I’m just going to sit back and let you figure that out for yourself.” He’s used it a few times over the last seven years.

I was determined. I looked up homeschooling on the internet. I looked on Pinterest for cute project ideas. I checked that it was all legal. I had visions of our kitchen as a schoolroom – with the children sitting sweetly and working on their lessons. Elvie would be wearing a gingham dress. And pigtails.

The problem was – none of this homeschooling plan was about Elvie, or Joel. It was about me. I was terrified of letting them go. Letting them out of my sight. Letting someone else look after them. I was nervous of them meeting ‘undesirable children’ and coming out with choice words at dinnertime. Or that they would be taught things that I didn’t agree with. I didn’t want them to think I was abandoning them.

I’m sure most mums sending their children to nursery for the first time feel the same. There’s a reason for all those tears in the playground. But honestly, that was a tiny part of my homeschooling motivation. Truth is, I just wanted to be the best. I wanted people to be stunned by how brilliant my children were, and how it was all my doing. I wanted to nail the homeschooling, self-sufficient, hippie-chic lifestyle. I wanted to be great at something. And I wanted people to be jealous.

It’s been a long time since I felt like I was great at something. At school, I may not have been the most popular, the sportiest or the prettiest, but I got good grades. I knew that I was achieving, and that I was doing well. Since then, success has been harder to define. I left school twelve years ago. That’s a long time to spend feeling as though you’re muddling through.

I found my feet for a while at Central but, while my classmates are now actors, directors, writers, teachers and magicians, I’m changing nappies and singing nursery rhymes. There’s no interesting answer to “so, what are you up to now?” I figured homeschooling would help. I’d have a purpose. I’d be a bit wacky. At least it would sound like I was doing something. And, when my children turned out to be world changers and artistic legends, I’d be a hero.

People homeschool for great reasons, and I stand amazed by them. I know for sure that it would have killed us. But  still I dream of the schoolroom kitchen and the homemade pasta and the shiny, perfect, awe-inspiring family. Turns out it’s not only Elvie that I need to let go of. Motherhood is not a competition – at least not one that anyone can win.

Perhaps that’s my advice for the Duchess.