The Germans are the Baddies aren’t they?

I felt a bit winded – especially given that my son’s god-father is German – when my son saw a German flag outside an international hotel a few months back and pronounced it a “Baddy” flag. And of course, with poppies everywhere at the moment and our children somehow observing the silence in school, it’s bound to be discussed over the meal table this coming week. Who are the baddies? And why are the people who were baddies not baddies now? Combine that with, why are there still wars, and you’ve got your work cut out.

My son’s god-father, whose grand-dad fought against us in the war….he was a “baddy”. Uncle Martin, who is great fun to play footie with…. is related to a “baddy” I told my son.

War turns normal family-orientated, loving and caring people into killers.  Empathy is, according to a study out this week (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/07/18/are-you-raising-nice-kids-a-harvard-psychologist-gives-5-ways-to-raise-them-to-be-kind/  ) something we don’t teach our children enough. Certainly, we should prize it more and it’s the only way to really answer this week’s confused jumble of war questions.

Quite simply – put yourselves in the shoes of Uncle Martin’s Grandad. Do that and you realise that he knew he might have been imprisoned for NOT fighting.  Do that and you realise that, back then when Hitler’s media machine was in full swing and, at least superficially, the country was developing well, Uncle Martin’s grandad may have actually been pro-Hitler. Untitled design-6

How many times are we in favour of things but we don’t really understand them? How many times do we bow to peer pressure when we should simply do what we believe to be right? I think that’s the lesson I want to teach my son from war. We are responsible for our actions, but the State can wield an almost indomitable power over its citizens, and this must always be checked.

In a moving school assembly the other day to mark Black History Month, children – based on Martin Luther King’s speech  – said what their dreams were. One boy, with the kind of innocence that reduces adults to tears – said how his dream was for world peace and for “all the soldiers in the world to realise that it’s bad to fight”. But of course, soldiers are servants of the State.

So how can we achieve world peace, especially when many governments around the world are unjust? Maybe we can start by telling our children, and modelling for them, how important it is not to distance yourselves from someone just because they are different. Maybe we can encourage them to see who are the most vulnerable people in our community and consider how we can help them? And because wars often start out of injustice, maybe we can consider what we think is unfair in the world and challenge this? We could focus with our children on making trade fairer for impoverished farmers in developing countries. We could help them write to our MP to raise the issue of children working in unsafe conditions in factories supplying British clothing companies.

Of course, I’m not saying war starts because bananas aren’t all fair-trade. I’m not saying that there’s a war going on because of poor standards in factories in Cambodia. (And I’m mindful someone reading this in a country with unthinkable human rights abuse would count all this as staggeringly easily written…as if it would make any impact in their country).

What I’m saying is our children need to learn that they are not impotent to at least challenge systems which support the kind of injustice perpetrated or condoned by governments around the world.

All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men and women, and boys and girls, to do nothing. Doing nothing may put us closer to the “baddies” than we’d like to think.

What do you think? How do you tackle questions about war with your children? Please share your thoughts.

Why are you always on the phone?

My children haven’t actually asked this yet, but it’s just a matter of time and I dread it coming up. I will feel so awful if they ever think I’d rather spend time linking with other people – many of whom I don’t even know that well – than spending the precious time we have together. And so  – starting this half term – I’m making a pact with myself and with you….Maybe you’ll join me? Smart Phoners Anonymous?

I am going to control how much time I spend on my phone. And because it’s easy to get sucked in, I’m going to be quite legalistic about how I control this. So, on days when the children are with me, I won’t check Facebook, the Internet (unless direct and immediate need – i.e. how do we get where we’re going?) or email, or reply to any but essential text/calls (friends/family crisis) more than once during reasonable waking hours. On school days thereafter (told you was being legalistic) I won’t do the above between pick up and (reasonable) bedding down time.

Can you imagine how you’d feel if your children looked back on their childhood and had an abiding memory of you on the phone? Or making that dreadful repeated plea we sometimes get, “Will you play with me?”

I know, children need to learn that adults have tasks they need to do and can’t always play with them. (And you have my heart-felt sympathies if you’re juggling work and child care this holiday – this obviously can’t apply to you in the same way as those not.) Children do need to understand that adults have their own interests and needs. But to put Amazon browsing and passing on funnies on Facebook into the mix on top of cooking dinner and tidying up, is going to squeeze them out utterly unfairly. Obviously.

This small black rectangle I cling to as if it was my life, isn’t my life and it could damage it….and more importantly, the lives my children  – not perhaps through radiation anymore, but through how it affects our relationships. The pathetic part of it is that I’m not actually that bothered about doing things on my phone, it’s just become a habit….and it needs breaking. That’s why I’m starting Smart Phoners Anonymous.  This is a kind of addiction and it is destructive so let’s try and beat it together.1

Can you see where I’m coming from? Will you join me? Will you consider a pact? And maybe share with other friends? I think we’ll find our times with our children will be far calmer if they’re not fighting for attention with the extra child that is our ever-demanding phone!

If I don’t reply to your message within 8 hours, this blog is why….

Why don’t we celebrate Halloween?

Halloween has lost its way.  It WAS all about light repelling darkness. Druids carved out frightening pumpkin faces and lit them in their windows to ward off evil spirits; they were seeking to reassert control of good over evil and to protect their homes from malign powers, on the night the dead were thought to visit the living. 1

Today, it’s children who are decked out in gory wigs and skulls, pretending to be those visiting ghouls. I totally appreciate that many Mums I know choose to tightly control how Halloween is marked in their homes. Wearing an old sheet in a bid to get some chocolates from the neighbours hardly means inculcating a sense of the manipulative power of evil in your children. However, the question I’m left with is this: why are we – on one level – somehow fascinated by evil and how does it affect us?

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I understand how going into Poundland and seeing a mass of green witch wigs, orange spiders and plastic blood-stained fingers, gets many children excited. That’s the crux of the matter for me.

Hardly a night goes by without some documentary on television detailing horrific crimes. The Sunday Papers give break-downs of exactly how a hostage has been tortured in minute detail. It sells. Under the cover of current affairs, it’s permitted by society. I believe there’s a streak within us all  – and it surfaces with different prompts – that gets excited by evil. This is complicated and I don’t profess to understand it, but it’s why the most docile of people can be gripped by a thriller about an axe murderer, or the grimmest of crime dramas.

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I think it’s important to recognise this proclivity, but it’s vital not to indulge it. When we indulge it, we let go of a bit more humanity and we also tell our children that’s ok, or possibly worse still, that it’s a joke.

I remember reading a grisly book. It was well written, by a highly regarded novelist, but it detailed dreadful crimes. I couldn’t give it to the charity shop, so I put it in the bin. I didn’t want anyone else carrying the burden of having read what I’d read and feeling guilty for keeping going too long. Choosing to read another chapter was wrong and I lost a bit of humanity in the process.

Today, whatever you believe about the tangible presence of evil, we can all recognise darkness in our society. If only we were able to remodel Halloween and encourage our children to see this as a time of celebrating light overcoming darkness, in how we engage with poverty, homelessness and vulnerability in our communities.

We often feel overwhelmed by suffering we see around us. This Halloween our children will be putting up lanterns (still pumpkins) and remembering people who need light in the darkness of their lives. We’ll be dressing up as Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia and going to one of the many Light parties churches and other organisations put on around this time – children can still do the apple-bobbing and pumpkin carving, but with a positive message to take home.  And, because we don’t just want to be merely spinning the story, we aim to try and shine some light, however small, in a practical way, buying some hats to be taken by a friend of ours helping refugees in Calais.

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The days in the Church calendar of All Hallows and then All Souls (both following Halloween) are about remembering those who’ve died. Their lives may have shone a powerful light on our own.  Maybe we can start using Halloween as a way to lighten the lives of others and bring hope rather than fear?

So how do you mark Halloween? Should I just take a chill pill and have fun? Or do you think there’s a sinister side we need to keep in check? And if we want to, how can we be light overcoming darkness? Please do join in the debate.

Why do you always drink cold tea?

My Mummy-friends and I spent many years talking of how one day, when our kids were in school, we’d have…..wait for it…. a whole cup of hot tea. It was the symbol of spiritual wholeness almost – the point after which we’d realise we were an individual and not a bottom-wiping service. However, oddly enough, our youngest has hit Reception, and I still drink tepid tea…. and I hate it. I’ve come to the conclusion that many of us suffer from Tepid Tea Syndrome – the inability to manage our lives so that we can encounter tea as it’s meant to be.

Tepid Tea Syndrome

….or TTS – is really part of a bigger problem. And it’s not a ‘Mummy Problem’ and it’s not just about drinking a whole cup of tinglingly hot tea. It’s about your attitude towards yourself and the value you – in practice – place on focusing on things and completing them.

I’m not saying that I’m not good at getting things done and fitting things in and multi-tasking, but everything is done all at once in a great cloud of logistical smoke. It’s not that pleasant and it leaves you trying to get your breath, physically and emotionally.

I never walk anywhere without thinking about what I’m going to do as soon as my key goes into the front door. It goes something like this:

If I’m home by 915 I can put the washing out, clean last night’s casserole dish that I didn’t put in to soak, stick bleach in the loos and then by 925 I can start tonight’s meal and have it cooking while I clear up the lego before tonight’s play date………Oh good, there’s loads of time before the playgroup I’m volunteering with starts at 10.”

Crazy. And so I’m frazzled – although I don’t count it as such – before I’ve even got home. What a waste. It could have been wonderful walk, connecting with people, nature, history,……but it’s wasted time, all because of TTS. (And how many tepid cups of tea will I have half drunk by lunchtime? I wont have enjoyed one.)

What is Life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare,

No time to stand beneath the boughs.

And stare as long as sheep or cows  (Leisure, William Henry Davies)

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A poem that’s ended up in the Clinton’s cliché charts, but that sort of gets to the heart of it. I don’t actually want to stare, but I want to experience each part of my day without always planning the next ones. It devalues what I’m doing in the meantime and that sort of devalues me.

The Next Thing is the Next Thing

3So, even if you’re a Mum with small kids…..even if on one day a month you have to put them in front of the TV, check there’s no sharp objects in the room…leave the room, sit on the hall floor if necessary, and drink one whole cup of hot tea – DO IT!  As that dreadful advert would say...”Because you’re worth it!” In taking that time out, you are saying,“I need this time”. And it is important our kids, and all those making demands on our time, realise that we have our own needs….including an occasional HOT cup  MUG of tea.

So, are you a victim of TTS? It’s good to talk? How does it affect you?

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Why doesn’t everyone collect conkers?

He who is tired of conkers, is tired of life.

What’s not to like? Those glossy, chocolatey-coloured shells covered in dew in the morning. The smooth feel of them in your pocket. Maybe I just come from a long line of conker-nuts. I remember my grandmother fondly cupping a plump one in her hands and saying, mischievously “What a beauty!” . Crazy for her to get excited about them at her age? No, not at all. When our children marvel at the marvellous and we don’t, we need to take that as a wake up call.

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Because while our little ones – at 4 and 6 – glory in collecting, stroking, counting, rolling and generally competing with the nearest child over how many conkers they have amassed, the majority of us grown-ups think this is firmly in the category of ‘childhood pleasure’.

Marks of love!

“My conker has a heart on it!” my daughter shrieked at me in delight. She was right. The white ‘circle’ was actually slightly heart-shaped. Intrigued, later that morning I checked out some others and found that many of them were. DSC00292Some have a flat side of course (a friend tells me they’re called “cheese cutters”….anyone know why?) and this is because they are one of twins. As you’ll see in my blogs to come, I believe our children stimulate us to think in new ways, learn new things and, put simply, to engage properly with the amazing world around us with the kind of wonder we’ve nearly forgotten.

What on earth do we do with them?

I hear you. The romance of conkers is all very well, but how many times have you slipped and nearly broken your neck on a conker?  We obviously can’t keep them forever. A friend was telling me about the carrier bag of mouldy conkers she found from last year. How do we stop them becoming dry and shrivelled like prunes? DSC00277

One Dad (self-confessed conker fighter in his youth), suggested baking them.  Definitely hardens them, but they lose their sheen and as the wrinkles are starting to appear nonetheless, I’m thinking botox could be the only sure-fire solution! Vinegar was the other suggestion, so I’m off to try that. (Might incorporate that into my face wash if my experiment works!)

Keep the Faith

We need, of course, to let go and keep them as memories. Every year there’s new delight precisely because the season doesn’t last, and the conkers don’t keep their satiny sheen. We have to gather them ‘while we may’. And each time there’s fresh delight as we see them easing their way out of their silky white sheets.

Collect with pride!

The first big morning of conker season, we were walking to school berating the naughty squirrels for vandalising so many of the conkers. So, naturally, after drop off, I went home via the magnificent Horse-Chesnut-tree-lined parade in our park and began picking up the shiniest of shiny conkers that had barely touched the ground that morning. Why did I look up sheepishly at the passers-by in their business suits and smart jogging outfits? Why should I? Why doesn’t everyone collect conkers? As Franz Kafka below reckons, it’s far better for us than botox (and much better for the knees than jogging!).

Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”

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So, what have your children helped you appreciate with fresh eyes? Please share. We have an amazing world! And remember, realising this can help keep us young.