Tag Archives: children growing up

Can we give that homeless man our spare room?

As someone who’s been involved with homeless shelters, I find this an especially hard question.  Part of us wants to say, yes you’ve got it right – no-one should go without food warmth and shelter and as we have a spare room, let’s suggest he or she moves in right away. With all the Christmas lights up and people excitedly buying for family and friends, it’s more poignant than ever. But of course, we don’t know the homeless person’s background and we could be endangering our children and ourselves. Of course, if we did know and had no qualms, we still probably wouldn’t would we? If we’re being totally honest. And that’s the heart of this.

I remember doing outreach work around London’s Kings Cross station years ago. I learned so much from going around with former homeless men talking to currently homeless people on the streets. The workers I went around with never bothered to get alongside the beggars by cash machines because they confidently wrote them off as professional beggars, exploiting a giving public. A tricky one to explain without sounding callous to your child and also a very disillusioning one. I recently gave money to a beggar asking money for selling tissues on the train, because I felt bad not doing so in front of my children, but I knew he was ‘a professional’.

Why someone is homeless is often complicated. It is safe to say that when you have kids you really can’t take any chances. But you can teach your children to treat them…as all people…with respect and buy them a coffee and something warm to eat maybe?

The other day was one of those especially horrid cold and drizzly days. My son said – unprompted – what a horrible day it would be to be homeless. The next day we went past a homeless man walking to the shops. Not even acknowledging another human being when they call out to you does seem particularly degrading when you think about it, but most of the time I manage to box myself up and put the feelings of guilt on hold. Thinking of my son’s empathy though, put me to shame and so we stopped and asked the man if he wanted a coffee. My son was a bit shy about doing it but I suggested he give the man the hot sausage roll we’d got, and he did. Walking down the dark passage way near an equally depressing car park, I saw him start to jog towards the man and hand it out to him keenly. Children so often want to give. They just don’t need us holding them back by our inhibitions, or whatever they really are.

Later we went into the local library to use the toilets. A rush of warm air hit us as we walked in. We’d asked the man his name. My son remarked immediately “Why doesn’t Peter come in here?” On our way back to from the shops it started to rain harder. And then my son said what really hit me and made me realise how far behind him I am: “What will we do if he’s still there?”(turns out he wasn’t). But my son felt that we had a responsibility, and it wasn’t spent having just popped to the local bakery.

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Last year my son helped me cook for our local shelter. He also went and helped pump up the beds. He felt like he was doing something really worthwhile – and he was. There are so many ways you can get involved, even if you just bake a cake, or notice something they need. Do they have gloves? What about a hat?

Our children challenge us. It’s disgraceful how I manage to section off my life….in a hurry I’m ashamed to say there’s no way I stop for the beggar near the supermarket. My children force me to be a better person…if I let them.

How have you dealt with questions like this? Do your children make you better? Do we dare take up their challenge? Please do share your thoughts and other tricky questions. 

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Is Santa real and do Angels have feet?

This season is so alive with wonderfully powerful and magical stories. Children and adults alike have their imaginations charmingly tickled as they strain their ears to hear sleigh bells in the night sky, or engage with the image of glowing hay surrounding  an adorable baby and baaing, fluffy lambs.

But as they grow up they want to know the answer to a question never far from their lips the rest of the time….Is it real? Sure you’ll agree that they ask it about as often as “Are we nearly there yet” on a car journey don’t they?

If it’s not real, what do they lose? What do we lose as parents, otherwise trying to make Christmas as magical and wonderfully mysterious as possible?

Why do we tell stories? Stories can show us truths and teach us things. Stories can be a way we deal with things we don’t understand. Stories can entertain us and we can lose ourselves in them and imagine we’re the characters. Stories can be inherited traditions, long cherished as part of our culture’s way of connecting across time with deep truths.

Do stories necessarily lose their potency if they are found not to be based in truth? Now, I’m not a philosopher as you know, so we won’t go into the whole ‘What is Truth?’ discussion here! But as far as our children are concerned, the question they – at some point – come to ask us about all the wonderful stories they hear, is whether the figures of Santa, God, Mary, Jesus really exist or existed and whether the events really happened.

I wish we adults had such meaningful conversations as our children. There was apparently a big discussion in the playground this week about whether you had to believe in Santa if you believed in God. The two were seen as inextricably linked. The whole idea of one package of beliefs going with another is a fascinating can of worms isn’t it?

Untitled design-9The other week I was playing the role of Mary in a dramatisation for local schools. (I always wanted to at school…didn’t know I’d only get to be Mary at 37! Not me above by the way!) I was rather tickled by one boy’s comment, that the elderly man playing the Angel Gabriel, couldn’t possibly be an angel. He added indignantly, “I saw his feet!” 

 

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We all have our own take on how to deal with reality and stories. My personal thoughts for what they’re worth, are that when my children ask me if Santa’s real I tell them he’s not BUT with a strict warning not to burst anyone else’s bubble. We still have loads of fun with Santa pictures on practically everything around the home; singing ‘When Santa got stuck up the chimney’ a zillion times, and leaving mince pies out for Santa, with a knowing chuckle that it’s really Daddy. But faced with a point blank question about what’s true and what’s not, I feel I need to answer.

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And if that means I re-examine my own beliefs about the account of the first Christmas and if I have to explore what I really believe about angels and how much I think stories within the Bible are figurative or imaginative models,  and how much they’re true to real life events, then so be it. It’s a good result for all of us.

And of course, if you don’t believe the Christmas story, then why would you confuse your children when they ask you if that’s real? But that’s just always puzzled me.

I want my children to decide for themselves what’s real. But they do look to us for opinions on the way. They ask for a bit of a steer  about what really happened versus what is a story of Disney-like fantasy.

I will tell my children I don’t believe in Santa. I will tell my children I believe that Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in very humble circumstances long prophesied by spiritual people through the ages – something which never fails to excite me. I will tell them I find believing in angels – especially the gold winged flying variety – really tough! (And of course, when we look a little deeper we may see that this version is more due to Victorian artists than Biblical accounts.) 2

But what an opportunity…whatever your beliefs, to be able to explore with your children how a story is never simply JUST a story, and perhaps never simply true.

Some stories can have more basis in fact than others. Some can be literally true, although they’re bound to have some spin on them. Some can be figuratively true in that they point to truth. And of course, if we separate Santa from St Nicholas we see where both the Santa and the Christmas story connect:  bringing kindness and joy to the world, irrespective of race, wealth or beliefs. We need both stories, and what bits you think are true is inevitably the compelling discussion of the holidays both for children and adults. May feel a bit daunting, but I think it’s worth grabbing the bull…or the reindeer…or the oxen…..by the horns/antlers/horns!

Please do share your thoughts – how do you deal with Christmas stories with your children? At what point do you tell them about Santa? and what have you told them about the first Christmas?3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you going to do when you grow up?

I am not joking…that was my 6 year old son’s question to me. It was a general chat between us on the way to school, with him saying he’d be a policeman and my 4 year old daughter that she’d still be a princess. My son was disgusted:”You can’t be a princess!” followed quickly by, “What do you want to be Mama?”

It was a moment before my son’s double take. I could see the cogs turning “Oh yes!” he thought, “She’s not going to properly grow up!” What do they think about me I wondered?

This particular can of worms fascinates me. Firstly, how do children measure maturity? I know they struggle with the idea that I had any sort of life prior to their birth. (My daughter who loves a good wedding, asked me indignantly once “When you got married, didn’t you have I (sic)?”) So one thing at the heart of this question has to be their sense of history being totally confused, seeing you only in relation to them. A policeman is a policeman in relation to them. I am a mummy in relation to them.

Secondly, how do they value different jobs and roles. They only conceive of doing jobs whose status is evident to them. They see policemen/women, fire-fighters, teachers, nurses and doctors – interestingly the people pivotal to a community are the jobs most visible to them as children. And those are the jobs they naturally consider. 3

Thirdly, I wonder how their ideas about the value of different jobs affects how they view their community. I believe we remain a class-obsessed society.  Maybe less cap-doffing and curtsying, but there is still a rich seam of prejudice in how we view people based upon their working day.

At the moment, our children see front-line services as synonymous with “grown-up jobs”. They don’t knowingly interact with hedge fund managers or traders. When and why will they start to value those jobs more? That’s where we come in.

At least twice now I’ve had a conversation with other mums where I say I’d be very happy for my son to follow whatever is his latest rescue worker vocation. And on those occasions, my comments have been met by utter disbelief. The thinking was that as both my husband and I have degrees and a profession, it would surely be a body blow for us to see our children in less professional roles.

But I don’t see it quite that way. A fire down the road needs a fireman and an elderly lady with no family needs the comfort of a care assistant looking after her. Yes, being a journalist, a politician or a lawyer may definitely challenge and protect society in fundamental ways (As you’ll see  in last week’s blog I feel very strongly about encouraging our children to engage politically. And there are so many other professions which give meaning and focus to communities of course.). What I’m saying is that front-line care should never be relegated to a different class of work: it’s literally “vital” and I expect my conscience would sit more quietly knowing I’d saved lives.4

Shouldn’t we be proud our children want to help others? We teach them how central it is as they’re growing up but when we start to actually talk about what they might end up doing, we perhaps show other values pre-eminent in our minds – status, wealth, class? Or simply an important and fruitful frustration with the established systems around us; as long as those frustrations are channelled, then that can indeed be of vital significance for the community.

But when my children ask me what I’m going to do when I grow up, they perhaps think there’s a wider role I should be fulfilling. As a Home-based Mum, I can say we’ve made the choice that I stay at home and explain why we believe that’s an important role.

Since my two children have both been at school I’ve taken on various bits of work, journalistic and teaching, and I wondered how they’d respond to that. My son was very encouraging in an hilariously patronising way. I told him I was a bit nervous about teaching these toddlers some music. He said, “Don’t worry Mama, I think they’ll love it”.  Cue I sing him a song about autumn leaves and he says “That’s good Mama!” nodding too seriously!! My daughter said she wanted to come and help and suggested various props I could use. Predictably, she then got really cross when she realised it meant I couldn’t come to the whole of assembly! Interesting. Fine my having another role until it impinges on my role as a Mum.2

What am I getting at? I think growing up for the children means having a role; having a clear and respected place in society (preferably with a cap and uniform to prove it). But society so devalues the role of a parent who doesn’t work outside the home. It also devalues front-line services, because of how it pays them and because of how people view those jobs given that they don’t come after a competitive graduate scheme,  with a healthy pay cheque and plenty of kudos.

I want my children to value some of the jobs society doesn’t appear to. I want them to value the people in those roles for what they do. I don’t want them to cheapen them because of how society cheapens them.

If my children grow up wanting to challenge the systems that cheapen them, then that’s a bonus. But…challenging them shouldn’t be seen as a superior role to providing day-to-day care which comes at such a cost.

What do you think? In forming our aspirations for our children, to what extent do we a) resist, b) succumb to society’s pressures and expectations?

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.