Thursday, April 05, 2018

A Passover Journey

Of all the Jewish festivals, Passover is definitely my favourite. There’s a great story with plenty of audience participation, edible props, bonkers traditions and a lot of singing - what’s not to love? 

This year we decided to get hands-on with the story and talked about what we would take with us on the kind of journey the Israelites made into the desert. 


Food and water came up first, and cups for getting more water from streams. Daniel considered string would be pretty useful, while Adam fancied tools (he got a toolkit for his 3rd birthday recently). After some debate, we concluded that a Swiss Army knife would do as most other tools could be replaced by rocks of various kinds along the way. Matches would help with fire for warmth and cooking (some conversation about alternative methods such as flint and steel, or rubbing two sticks together), while a picnic blanket would provide something to sit on, sleep under and shelter in. Finally, a first aid kit seemed sensible. 

Then we made our own matzah, following the tradition of allowing no more than 18 minutes to elapse between the water hitting the flour and the dough going into the oven, to ensure that no leavening could take place. While it was in the oven, we read the story again, packed everything into our rucksacks, and put on our walking boots. Adam, who had grasped that the desert is hot, sensibly insisted on his sun hat too. 

As soon as the matzah was ready, off we went! 

Our trek took us up the road to the park, followed at one point by some rather noisy Alsations (we decided they were the Egyptian army), whom we escaped by crossing the road (or Red Sea, depending on how you wanted to look at it). There we settled down to a brief and slightly chilly picnic of matzah, hummus and charoset. 


The original plan was to continue to the Promised Land (cafe up the road) for the fabled milk and honey (hot chocolate) but we ran out of time so headed for home, talking about modern-day refugees on the way. 

I can see this activity growing with us and becoming a family Passover tradition, maybe a proper hike in years to come, and hopefully inspiring conversations about refugees that lead into positive action like our amazing friends here

The matzah wasn’t bad, either!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Constipated Hi-Fi

Many moons ago, when Daniel was a toddler, he posted a piece of tailor’s chalk into my hi-fi. It was one of those multi-CD changers and the next time I pressed the button to change the CD deck there was a nasty crunching and whirring and the mechanism seized up. I always meant to take the side off and see if I could fish out the offending item but since it was the spare hi-fi and not much used, I never got round to it. 

Yesterday, however, the stars aligned, a screwdriver was in the right place, I had a spare ten minutes, and off I went. Predictably, I was interrupted halfway through and ended up leaving it partly dismantled, so when I resumed today I had a fascinated audience who had spotted that something was afoot and switched on their mummy-is-up-to-something radar. 

At first they just watched while I gradually took the thing apart to try and get inside the CD unit (becoming increasingly doubtful that I would ever manage to put it back together again) but after a while I concluded that the only way to get at the two CDs stuck inside was to sacrifice the hi-fi. Since we have another we use more often and have managed perfectly well without the constipated one for at least four years, this wasn’t a major trauma. 

And so the fun started! Adam did a bit of "I fixin’ it!" with his wooden hammer but Daniel spent several hours (with breaks for swimming and dinner) carefully dismantling every part he could get to. He tried out different screwdrivers, pliers and a hammer; unplugged wires; experimented with bending copper; and had involved conversations with DH as they pored over circuit boards. He extracted two small motors and used pieces of his electronics set (a birthday present when he was 4 and played with often enough to understand the basics) to make them work, much to his delight. Well after bedtime he was still racing up and down the stairs with ‘one more’ component (including a fan) and a huge grin: "This stuff is AMAZING!" He only agreed to go to bed when we promised to leave out the rest so he could carry on in the morning. 

I think he needs his own set of screwdrivers for his birthday next month! Meanwhile, I need to invest in an idiot’s guide to electronics. 


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Living in Narnia

"Mummy, there’s a problem," said Adam. "It’s not floor snow, it’s just window snow."

"You mean you can see it falling but it’s not settling?" I said. "No, it’s the middle of March, it won’t settle this time. Definitely not."

Ahem. 


On the up-side, our lovely neighbours lent us their sleds as we trudged past to the park to admire the 7-foot snowmen. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Sibling Bake-Off

This morning I made two rookie parenting errors. Number 1 was saying absent-mindedly "Yes, ok" when I had no idea what my 3-year old had just told me he was about to do. Number 2 was failing to notice or investigate when he then went very quiet for rather a long time. 

So what had he said?

"Mummy, I’m going to do some cooking."

The first I registered was when he popped up looking a bit bemused and informed me that he needed my help because he was making a cake and had used lots of ingredients but wasn’t sure how to cook them. 

It must have been my lucky day, since there was not a trace of the mess that I absolutely deserved. He had actually cut up a potato, a couple of green beans and bit of red pepper, and put them all into a saucepan, so I added some boiling water and cooked them for a bit. We all sat at the table to solemnly eat our tiny portions (note: boiled red pepper is slightly odd) and he glowed with pride, apparently unfazed that his creation had not turned into cake after all. 

Later in the day, after a visit from friends, Daniel suddenly appeared with a similar request. He had raided the fridge and prepared smoked mackerel, cabbage and red pepper, carefully separated into separate saucepans and a dish for the pepper. A bit more water and a grill later, we sat down to our miniature meal. 


The game was on! Adam declared his intention to make a cake with icing (I think he was trying to recreate his birthday party a couple of weeks ago as he had mysteriously changed into his pyjamas while our friends were here so it could be "two more sleeps until my birthday"). He flicked through his recipe book and presented me with the page on lemon cake. 

Several hours of chopping, mixing...


...stirring...


...and baking later, and Adam had provided us with pudding. Lemon cake with homemade lemon curd and lemon glaze (we made the icing a bit too runny so renamed it). 


Not to be outdone, Daniel is spending this morning making chocolate roulade, and intends to attempt baklava early next week. After that I am putting my foot down and insisting on something savoury before our teeth rot and fall out, we all become morbidly obese, and I am sick from too much sugar. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Grieving the birth I didn’t have

I have been putting off posting. I had imagined my next post would be a description of a wonderful straightforward homebirth and writing about what actually happened means letting go of the birth I dreamed of and hoped for and didn’t get. 


What happened was a placental abruption and my second emergency caesarean, followed by a heart-wrenching 36 hours largely separated from my baby who was slow to breathe and had to spend his first day and a half in an incubator on the neonatal unit. 

There is so much around having an unplanned caesarean that isn’t talked about, so while it is still fresh in my mind it may be helpful to someone (even just to me) to get some of it out in the open. Bear in mind this is my experience and others may feel differently. 

1. Sympathy just after the birth may not be particularly welcome or helpful. Initially, I was flooded with happy hormones and actually quite prickly about comments about the birth not being what I wanted. To anyone who was on the receiving end of this, I apologise! It was several weeks later that the reality of the experience hit and I started grieving for the birth I couldn’t have, by which time everyone assumed that things had settled down. I am quite proud of myself for managing to tell a few close people that I was struggling so I could talk about it and get the support I needed to process those feelings. 

2. Saying “Healthy baby and mother, that’s the important thing” .... don’t. Just don’t. Although meant kindly, the subliminal message is that it somehow doesn’t matter that things didn’t go to plan. 

Firstly, what is the definition of ‘healthy’? The mother is left scarred, at risk of complications in future pregnancies, and will almost certainly be faced with all kinds of negativity and unwanted intervention from health care professionals if she has another child in the future. In our case, our baby was on his own in a plastic box with tubes and wires everywhere (he had to have three canulas because he pulled out the first two), needed oxygen, had antibiotics over the first two days (for an infection he didn’t have and possibly causing damage to his gut) and was largely deprived of the human touch that newborns need. The first time I got to hold him he was 10 and a half hours old, which seemed like an eternity. He and I were both biologically programmed to be together and the thought of him all on his own for all that time breaks my heart. Who knows what effect that early separation will have had on his development, or on my own mental health?

3. The recovery from the surgery is brutal and especially hard when you have other children to care for. Two weeks paternity leave isn’t much help at 4 weeks when you still can’t lift your toddler onto the changing table or pick him up when he is hurt/tired/upset. Everyone gets cabin fever, the house is a mess, and when you still can’t drive (it was 5 or 6 weeks before I felt ready) you are largely trapped at home, since if you are not able to drive a car you are certainly not ready to pack everything you need into a bag and shlep that and three small children on the bus. 

Yes, we are both alive and reasonably healthy. I have now healed and he seems to be fine. Yes, many other mothers and babies have far worse experiences and outcomes. Yes, I could have been rushed down the corridor and chemically clubbed over the head for a Category 1 c-section to save both our lives, rather than having a bit of warning and time to discuss the options before making the only decision we could under the circumstances. Yes, this was one of those times when modern medicine is a life-saver. 

But I am still sad. Part of me is still waiting for the birth I had been preparing for for so many months. Like any loss, the grieving process takes time and there is no way to speed it up or make it hurt less. No amount of ‘look on the bright side’ will help at 1am when you are still awake, putting off going to bed so you can stay on the sofa holding your baby close because you desperately want to fill that horrible dark hole of his first few hours when your arms were empty. 

And it’s ok to feel like that. Those feelings do not take anything away from those whose experiences were worse than mine. It’s ok not to be ok. 

So if you know someone who has had an unplanned caesarean, know that you don’t have try to make it better. Remember that the feelings will be all muddled up and one minute they will be laughing that their huge baby was three times bigger than every other child in NNU and the next their heart will be breaking in two. Just listen. And bring tea and cake. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

And Then There Were Three...

The youngest member of our family joined us in mid-December. After an extremely straightforward (if exhausting) pregnancy, our plans for another homebirth went out of the window rather fast thanks to a placental abruption, and Benjamin arrived by emergency c-section. He had a rocky start with breathing and spent the first day and a half in the neonatal unit but is fine now.


His big brothers absolutely adore him and he directed the majority of his first smiles at them! He sleeps through most things, which is just as well as the other two average a fairly hefty decibel level! He is just starting to ‘chat’ to us and is generally pretty chilled. 

As it has been cold and wet, we have mostly been hibernating for the last couple of months. Daniel has been doing Reading Eggs (and, more recently, Maths Seeds) virtually every day and his confidence with reading has soared. We have discovered David Walliams’ books and read most of them now (inspired by an upcoming theatre performance of Awful Auntie) and Daniel loves his use of different typefaces and font sizes for extra effect, turning the text itself into another dimension of the reading experience. 

There has also been cooking. Adam makes his signature jam tarts every time I do anything involving pastry...


...while Daniel has mastered choux pastry to make the most incredible profiteroles! He informs me that chocolate soufflés will be next.


There has also been a little progress at the allotment. The boys claim to be preparing their potato patch but at this rate will be planting them in Australia!



As a contrast, freak weather at the end of February resulted in this:


DH is teaching Daniel to play chess, and we have all started learning Italian at a new local class. We have found a new home ed group we like, done the usual museum/theatre/cinema/soft play group trips, carried on with music and swimming and gymnastics, had numerous playdates with friends... hmmm, maybe not quite as quiet a few months as I thought! 

We are looking forward to the change in pace that the warm weather will bring. With that in mind, I am going to challenge myself to blog every day to show how things shift according to the time of year. I reserve the right to cheat by adjusting the dates of posts. So there! 

Friday, November 17, 2017

It takes a village

One of the things I most love about getting out to places is the opportunity to learn from people who are passionate and knowledgeable about their particular area. We tend to frequent places at quiet times during the week and so get the chance to monopolise these wonderful experts for as long as we want. 

There are the old codgers at Men In Sheds, the Age Concern shop that sells reconditioned tools, who will discuss with the deepest seriousness with a 4 year old the relative merits of various designs of hand drill. 

The volunteers at Bristol Museum who took the various groups in the HE session and each brought a different style and approach to the activities. 

Then there are people like Harry at Escot's Anglo-Saxon village, who will answer any question about the Anglo-Saxons (turns out Daniel had been listening to me after all!), gets small children involved in using hand-carved mallets to split kindling and build up the fire, recruits their help to cook a full meal for the other staff, and just so happens to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of dinosaurs.


The friend with a degree in Classical Civilisations who will happily answer urgent questions about Roman emergency services via Facebook Messenger at 11pm. 

The restorers working on an obelisk we came across on a woodland walk, who told us all about steeplejacks, safety ropes, repointing and guilding. 

The lady at the Dulux centre who took the time to explain and demonstrate the colour-mixing machine to the boys. 

Craftsmen, academics, amateur enthusiasts. All so generous with their time and knowledge. Where would we be without them?

And, of course, there are the people we see regularly - other parents, forest school leaders, extended family. 

The grandfather who will drop everything to make quill pens using a real pen knife, or introduce a 5yo to soldering by helping him fix a broken police siren using parts from a pocket torch from a Christmas cracker. (Incidentally, that same grandfather is just as likely to produce Tibetan singing bowls or bagpipes, or answer in-depth questions about British Roman archaeology!)


The uncle who is THE person to ask about all things lego or medieval knights and castles. 

The grandmother who explains the life cycle of a coddling moth while collecting apples for juice, or helps them identify a frilly parasol mushroom, or provides a real working stethoscope and blood pressure monitor when teddy falls out of a tree. 


There are times when the term ‘home education’ seems like such a misnomer, and ‘community-based education’ would far more accurately reflect what we do. Whatever we call it, I am so grateful for our ‘village’. Our lives - and our children’s education - are so much richer for having these amazing people around us.