Women and children first? Not under this Government

Kirstie Allsopp does know what she is talking about when it comes to women’s choices. Her advice about having children in your twenties (assuming you are in the right relationship) makes sense when we live in a society where women assume the role of the primary carer of children.

I went to university, got an education, then had children. I could arguably earn more money than my husband but it is very difficult for him to work his job around childcare – so whose job has to adjust? Mine of course. I have had to decline interviews for good jobs because it is  not possible for me to balance childcare, commuting and full-time working hours.

But what job exists that makes use of an education but fits in around school hours and term-time? Not many. So I would go a step further than Kirstie and say what is the point of University for women who intend to have children when they are older? There is of course another option, where both of us work full-time hours and we enjoy our children at weekends but neither of us earn enough to make those sacrifices worthwhile.

But even though I am lucky enough to have two healthy children, why do I feel cheated out of a career? Is it really that important? Why is the onus on us all to achieve and achieve (if Gove’s new KS1and KS2 curriculum is anything to go by). Why do all children need to count to 100 by 5 years? Why do Year 6 children have to know long division using traditional methods? What is the Government really trying to achieve by all this? You dont have to be brain of Britain to get on in life and you dont have to be intelligent to be happy or to be a good global and community citizen.

I heard my daughters school headmaster use the word ‘cramming’ when describing preparation of Year 5 pupils for their end of KS2 tests – tell me Mr Gove are you pleased your legacy is a stressed out 10 year old, trying to learn an equation in order to meet objectives and improve pisa rankings?

I worry our 5 -11 year olds are being set-up to fail in this new system and the failure will be that they never got the chance to enjoy the process of learning for fear of missing attainment targets.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Can you spare 5 minutes for a child?

I felt like a bad Mum today, not a nice feeling.

I was busy making final arrangements for our holiday in a few weeks time while baby boy was concentrating on a number two for the potty. I glanced at the watch and panicked as I realised I needed to be at the school bus stop to pick up my daughter. But baby boy was in mid poo……

I can sympathise with his predicament as I was scarred for life when my mother, impatiently waiting for me to finish my business on the potty, scooped me up, potty and all and planted me on the back seat of the car while she raced to pick my dad up from work (this was before the era of car seats and slap bang in the era of ‘anything goes’). I recall thinking it strange to be watching buildings go by the window while I  was still, to all intents and purposes, still on the loo, albeit a potty. It was the hardest poo of my life.

So, i didnt want to disturb baby boy prematurely. This resulted in me being 5 minutes late. “Not to worry” I thought to myself as I raced down the alleyway, “another parent will no doubt be standing with her to keep her company”. But when I got the other end and raced o the side of the road, I saw her standing on the opposite side alone and looking very worried while the disappearing backs of other mothers and their children made their way home, apparently not the slightest bit aware of my daughter’s predicament.

This made me angry. Of course I was angry at myself for not getting there sooner, but I was also angry at the lack of care from others.

It is at times like these when you realise how easy it is for awful things to happen to children regardless of how many ‘grown ups’ there are in the vicinity. “It’s not my problem” ….. But what if it was your child?

I am blogging every day for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

 

Merry Mums enjoy Merry Wives

Apologies for my absence yesterday, another £1 in the pot to Unicef, but I was busy with a family friend and fellow mum, enjoying Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives’, in the beautiful idyllic grounds of a boarding school in the heart of the British countryside. It was oozing with national charm, right down to the 1950’s setting, the cameo appearance of a vintage car and good old-fashioned fun-poking at the aristocracy, the Welsh and the French (in no particular order).

The lead role of the overweight, boozy and letchy Sir John Falstaff was played by Northern charmer, Ste Johnson, whose wicked wit, genuine 44inch waist and willingness to poke fun at the audience (and judge them on their wine from Lidl) as well as his salacious appetite for their crisps, was unlike anything I had ever seen. Knowing our hubbys were at home dealing with bath-time and bed-time while we sat in St George’s flag themed deck-chairs, eating picnic food rom M&S and drinking mojitos while guffawing at one elegant and poetic innuendo after another was different and bliss all rolled into one.

I did not know the plot of The Merry Wives before last night’s performance but the brilliant acting made it so easy to follow, freeing the audience to fully appreciate the prose and poetry that makes Shakespeare so entertaining and so admired.

In fact understanding the plot is key to really enjoying Shakespeare, thats why a book that has converted all of the key Shakespeare plays into cartoons for primary school children is genius. I bought a copy for my daughter and it puts Shakespeare’s lines next to illustrations as well as explaining, in modern-day English, the complexities of the story and the many characters and how they relate. I figure if she reads some of these in bedtime stories, by the time she has reached secondary school a basic understanding of  some of the key plays will have sunk into her psyche.

I have started to read some classic texts as part of my bedtime reading too. I have just finished ‘The Age of innocence’ by Edith Wharton and was blown away by her descriptions of characters and emotions, it is this ability to use words that effortlessly describe a feeling or an emotion, that makes enables a nook to give pleasure regardless of the century it was written in.

This blog is for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

 

Truth or lie

My daughter came ‘boincing’ (baby boy’s term) out of school today full of talk about her new teacher for next year. Apparently she asked all the children to say 3 facts about themselves, except 2 are true and one is a lie. God knows what the teacher thought about us when my daughter replied, ‘i can sleep on a boat that we sail on, i once had 7 pets and i watched the world cup matches’. I knew the world cup was a lie but i wasnt entirely sure about the 7 pets either until she explained it was when my older dog had her puppies, which we kept until they were old enough to be sold, plus the fish. What was a bot morbid was that she counted the boy puppies, who later died sadly (it was either hypothermia or fading puppy syndrome). Ever since i have been kicking myself that i didnt have a heat lamp or hot water bottle in the whelping box when they were first born. I was then obsessed with the girl puppies’ body temperature as i didnt want o lose any more to something so trivial. The boy puppies are buried at the bottom of our garden. It was a disastrous situation. She gave birth in the middle of the night, i had not checked her before i went to bed because i had been distracted by an argument i had with hubby. He then woke me at 6am when he got up for work to say she had already had a puppy and it was dead. I was devastated. I had carefully bought all the books and equipment i needed and had helped my mum with her whelping bitches throughout my childhood but to let d day slip because i got distracted was unforgivable. She had given birth to the biggest puppy of the litter first with no help. I tried to resuscitate but rogpr mortis had already set in suggesting he had been dead a while.  I remember looking at his perfectly formed body and the entire process of gestation and thinking he had fallen at the final hurdle because of me and my negligence. I was there for the other 5 puppies, not that it made much difference because the two boys started ok and then slipped away. The girl puppy that we ended  up keeping i had to resuscitate but thankfully she pulled through – and thats dogs. I cant imagine the responsibility that rests on midwife’s shoulders.

I wanted to have another litter to put the bad experience behind me but figured that was selfish so will just put it down to a bad mistake. The worst things that happen in life are down to mistakes caused by a momentary lapse in concentration. The lucky ones are those who dont have too many of those experiences between birth and old age.

So back to the teacher’s question, it is a good one. It pears you can tell quite a lot from a person through truth and lies, but how you interpret it is a different matter entirely, she probably thinks my daughter was born  into a wealthy family with all the pets and a boat.

This blog is for Unicef. Thanks for reading.

 

Deadlines

It is 8pm. My daughter is busy creating an elaborate pack of home-made cards as part of her homework, I ask whatever happened to a standard worksheet? Baby boy has (i think) finally gone to sleep after several false alarms followed by successful visits to the potty. In an attempt to wind him down i sing ‘ba ba black sheep’ at his request and he then has the audacity to say ‘try again’. The dogs were unimpressed when i put down a handful of bonios for dinner because i haven’t had the chance to buy proper dog food and my husband has passed out on the sofa catching flies with his mouth wide open,exhausted after a day at college and his motorbike ride on the M25, which took all his concentration to prevent accidentally ending up on the organ donor list. A prospective client rang earlier and asked when he would be able to call her, i said it may not be this evening because he works late on Wednesdays to which she replied, ‘well can he try and call me tonight as i do need to get my trees looked at’……i dont fancy her chances.

I am typing this blog upstairs because despite all my best attempts, bombs keep exploding downstairs resulting in a permanently dishevelled existence, in fact ‘dishevelled’ is a very accurate description for most things at the mo.

I just overheard my daughter explain to a sleepy/semi-grumpy daddy that she has to cinish her jomework, ‘otherwise i am going to be dead’. I think her teacher needs to let them in on the secret about ‘deadlines’ what is the point in trying to burn them out at 8.

Talking of which, that is why I missed a blog post last night (£1 in the pot to Unicef) because i was reviewing my husband’s homework till 11pm last night and after helping out my daughter with her homework earlier in the evening, i didnt fancy staring at another screen of text. I would hate to know how many hours we lose just struggling to meet deadlines and staring at bloomin screens.

I am blogging for Unicef, thanks for reading.

 

 

Happiness is perfect yet perfect isnt happy

I read an article by actress and stand-up comedian Francesca Martinez. It was brilliant and inspired me to order her book ‘What the f*** is normal?’ It also made me re-evaluate some of my views, particularly relating to parenting disabled children. I had always thought that parenting a disabled child overwhelming, although I could never have brought myself to abort a baby based on a predicted disability forecast by health professionals – a predicament that would have no doubt finished our marriage. My husband’s views on bringing up a disabled child are in contrary to his own childhood, which was marred by severe hearing loss due to brain damage.

Francesca looks at it from a different angle, ‘Most parents-to-be still fear that their beloved Newborn will turn out to be -oh, the horror – disabled. My personal fear is that my future child will turn out to be unhappy. I don’t care what he or she can or can’t do, how they talk or walk or how many fingers and toes they have. Because I don’t think that is a good indicator of happiness. Forget aborting babies because of the suffering they might endure. What about the suffering they will create? Wouldn’t it make sense to develop a test to check for the arms-dealer gene, the advertising executive gene, the corporate-overlord gene, or the gossip-magazine editor gene? That would eliminate quite a lot of suffering.’

I wish I had read Francesca’s article in The Guardian before I passed judgement on my daughter’s maths test mark. She described the scale of marks to me with 6 being the top score. I cant pretend that I was disappointed she had got a 3, they then get a sub mark in the form of letters, with A being the lowest and D being the top. Her total mark was 3B. I couldn’t hold back this disappointment and said that I didn’t  think her mark was ‘that good’ and that if she wanted to get into boarding school (her wish not mine) she was going to need to get a 5 or 6. What made me suddenly turn into a mother with the support and encouragement skills of an amoeba? Why did I turn into one of those pushy mothers who focus so much on grades they don’t recognise their daughter’s anorexia and anxiety attacks because of this unnecessary pressure to perform. Most parents say they just want their child to be happy, but also gets lots of qualifications and a high-earning job, the stress of which will put them into an early grave? I managed to halt the destructive path I was proceeding down when she explained to me that she had done her best and I later described it to Daddy in front of her as a ‘good’ mark, to which he said, ‘well that’s OK, it’s average’ gah! So I quickly added that no doubt Mummy and Daddy would have scored a 0 or a 1 if we had taken the same test at her age. Then I thought about the research that found those  who doubt their own maths abilities pass this down to their children. A fine case of how not to support the school life of an 8 year old. Next time I will apply duck tape to our mouths.

So tests are meant to give the teachers a steer on how the child is progressing and what additional support the child needs. I just wish teachers would give parents a steer  as to how we handle the news of the scores and whether we do nothing, praise regardless or encourage to try harder.

I agree with Francesca that kids and adults should just aim to be happy, so why as parents are we so f***in obsessed with perfection, when we are anything but.

I am blogging for Unicef.

Thanks for reading.

 

The mathematics of confidence

My daughter is to have a maths test tomorrow and she said that she is ‘”dreading it”. I could have kissed and hugged my husband when he said, “why? You are good at maths”. The reason for my elation is that I have been unwittingly putting my daughter off maths by confessing that I am not very good at it. My daughter is 8 and in Year 3 at a British primary school and already she is feeling the pressure to be in the ‘top group’ and do well in tests. Such is the nature of our education system. Although we don’t apply pressure to her because she is the type to apply pressure to herself supported by a teacher who uses children’s competitiveness as motivation to try harder.

Research has shown that just by admitting that they are no good at maths, mothers unwittingly lower their daughters’ attainment – so I have scored an own goal. Why does my mathematical version of dyslexia continue to plague me and now my children!

I was flicking through a magazine and I came across an advert designed to support primary school children with maths revision. One of the cartoon characters posed a question – 64 / 8. Normally I would glance at it, my inner voice would shout ‘eurgh, numbers!’ and then I would quickly move on. I decided to attempt to work it out and came up with 7. I have no idea if this is correct, I am assuming not because I have no faith in my calculating skills. I am also confused by the criticism of our curriculum being too focused on arithmetic. To me that is maths. I didn’t know there was anything else involved, other than the long convoluted equations seen in films about maths geniuses but teaching other mathematical concepts at primary school age? I mentioned it to my mother and she didn’t get it either.

I have bought the book ‘maths for mums and dads’ to try and help me go beyond my current poor ability so that I may at least be able to support my daughter, but in reading this and hearing other commentary on modern-day mathematics teaching I feel let down by my own experience as a pupil. I wasn’t aware of this wonderful concept called ‘growth’ or ‘challenge’ mind set. Because it seemed to take me ages to work sums out, I felt a failure. Particularly when my mother would show me several different ways I could have arrived at the same answer but ‘quicker’ (thanks Mum). I have had to tell her off for doing the same thing with my daughter, because she doesn’t realise that the journey helps you to understand. That is one of the reasons why my maths is founded on shaky ground, because I missed a few of the building blocks along the way.

So when I see my daughter struggling, I encourage her to enjoy the struggle – the brain is working hard so that is a good thing. I also don’t reward her for solving something quickly, instead I suggest that the sum can’t have been a big enough challenge and to attempt something that will take longer to solve. The same applies to tests, I encourage her to enjoy solving the questions and not get frustrated if some take longer to answer.

In supporting my daughter’s mathematical confidence, I am learning to enjoy maths and not to fear it. However, having read the changes planned for the national curriculum (gulp) I don’t envy the pupils of today and tomorrow.

Now this gets political. I endured a crap Tory run state system in the 80s and thankfully had the chance to go private for secondary school. I wholeheartedly support the state system providing someone good is at the wheel. I fear we are heading back to the 80s, in which case my kids are going to need growth mind set in bucketfuls to sustain any ounce of self esteem and confidence academically.

I am blogging every day for UNICEF.

Thanks for reading.