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."


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...


...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. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dinosaurs and Elephant Poo

Life has felt rather ploddy and un-blog-worthy for the past couple of weeks but I was looking back through the photos on my phone today and realised we have been on some cracking trips recently.

Depending on how far you are able and willing to travel, there is an incredible range of one-off educational sessions, visits and trips on offer to home educators, usually with group discounts to fit in with the average HE family's tight budget. Two in particular stand out for us. 

First, we went on an adventure on the train with some other families to learn about dinosaurs at Bristol Museum. In the space of an hour in their education room, we learned about teeth shape and what they say about an animal's diet; the topography of the Bristol area in the Jurassic period; the tools used by palaeontologists; and what ammonites looked like before they were fossilised (basically squid with snail shells). Then we were let loose in the pliosaur exhibition with an eight-foot model called Doris and several toy medical kits with which to bandage a gashed flipper, find a heartbeat and give dental care that was enthusiastic if not efficient. Definitely somewhere to visit again, preferably on a weekday when we have the place more or less to ourselves. 

A week or so later, we were pootling up the M5 with friends to Noah's Ark Zoo Farm. I'd seen the signs before but never been and it was brilliant! The first zoo I've been to where none of the enclosures felt too small, and with plenty of space between animals so the kids could play and think about each thing they had seen before moving on to the next. 

It took us the first hour and a half to get past the play area by the entrance - a massive complex of wooden pirate ship, high rope walks, climbing walls and tube slide. Not only did this shake out the wriggles after an hour in the car, there was also some lovely interaction between the kids. Daniel struggled at first on the climbing wall but after encouragement from his friend persevered and finally mastered it. Adam got stuck on a ladder and was a bit wobbly when rescued but happily accepted a hug from the other mum and told her all about it - always nice when they have other people they consider to be 'safe''. The other toddler wanted to come down the big tube slide but was a little unsure and Daniel spent a good 20 minutes or more gently coaxing him and going round the place with him, never crowding but always close enough to be a reassuring presence. I absolutely love this photo of the two of them up on the high rope walk (credit to the other mum for the picture!) Oh, and the coffee from the cafe next door was great too :-) 

The educational session saw us handling/admiring fur from a lion's mane, part of a rhino horn, an elephant's thigh bone and a massive snake skin before the live animals were brought round - Colin the cockroach, Sidney the African land snail, a bearded dragon, a corn snake, and two guinea pigs (by far the most popular!)

And there was an elephant poo slide - genius! 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

An Ad-Libbing Gruffalo

It has been a packed couple of weeks and most evenings have disappeared in a fog of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, followed by sod-it-I'm-going-to-bed. No apoogies for not blogging instead of taking every available opportunity to sleep. I have reached that stage of pregnancy where the average night involves anything up to 4 sleep-befuddled staggers to the loo, and the near-vertical tower of every spare pillow in the house that is required to stave off vomit-inducing heartburn also makes it ridiculously difficult to get to sleep in the first place (or second/third/fourth on my return from the toilet). That is a lot of hyphens in one paragraph. I'm not apologising for those either. 

Despite all that, we have managed some really cool stuff in the last few weeks. If I try to write about all of them at once we'll end up with a dissertation, so you'll get them in installments. This one is set nearly two weeks ago.

We introduced Adam to the theatre for the first time at a performance of The Gruffalo. This was a schools' performance with a big group of other home educators, who stood out just a teeny bit (!) next to the uniformed school groups. Both boys were hailed by friends before we even got into the building and by the time we got up the stairs they had both disappeared to hang out with various kids they knew, chattering like starlings, while we grown-ups drank coffee at the bar and enjoyed watching the long lines of identically-uniformed schoolchildren being herded to their respective doors. Those of us who have ever worked in schools looked on with a large dose of sympathy, though we had to laugh at the staff member insisting that her charges could not possibly talk while they walked (they seemed to be managing perfectly well but maybe there had been a near miss with a lamp post on the way in and Miss was feeling twitchy about the impending accident report paperwork). I wonder if the National Curriculum covers breathing and walking simultaneously? Presumably not until Key Stage 2. 

The performance was brilliant, very funny and interactive. Adam was intrigued by the changing colour of the sky on the backdrop (I love how small children notice details adults don't clock at all!) He was also fascinated to realise that the words were the ones he knows. I was instructed to put the audio book on as soon as we got back to the car. 

As with many children's theatre shows we get down here in the sticks, small budgets make for a very creative approach, and we had a good discussion about it afterwards. Daniel noted that there were just 3 actors covering multiple parts, and the staging was very simple and multi-purpose (he particularly liked the bright orange butterfly that was flown across the stage by the actors at various times and then parked in special slots on the trees, disguised as a pair of leaves). We talked about the costumes (also simple, multi-purpose and very clever), which ones we liked and which we didn't. I was interested that he had noticed the Gruffalo changing his mind about running up into the audience when he saw a little girl clinging to her teacher in terror, and ad-libbing his way back down and along the front row instead. Daniel felt this was very kind and considerate. It was done extremely smoothly so I was surprised he had realised it had happened. 

The performance had started late thanks to several schools who had either arrived late or taken too much time walking-not-talking to their seats. As a result, they were all herded out at top speed at the end in order to pile into coaches and get back to school by 3:15. We HEers had come well armed with snacks to get through the inevitable delay (and take advantage of the lights still being up). At the end, several of us took refuge from the manic herding on the stairs and relaxed with a drink in the cafe again, then nipped out the back door and admired the fountains on the way back to the car park. 

Anyone would think home educating was fun...