Tag Archives: Parenting

Why did it happen?

“I don’t want to go on school trips outside this country?” I knew that was when we were finally going to have the Paris conversation with my 7 year old.

Year 6’s trip to France has just been cancelled. This means, inevitably, the whole school from 4  years up somehow has to know why.

The night before, my daughter, popped her head round the door to ask “Will the world end?” Apparently two 4-year-old boys were discussing it?

I keep my children away from the news. I would prefer to be their filter at this stage in their childhood. But cocooning them also has a price: we need to actively be the filter.

My son wanted to know “Why did it happen in the first place?”

This may be that first news story that winds him; that makes him realise we are vulnerable; that makes him see the world as a dangerous place, and that frightens him.

I think there’s disbelief for many children that young. They want to know why? Why could Year 6 go on the school trip last year, but next week it’s suddenly too dangerous.

Change and permanence are key concepts children have to assimilate into their daily life. Sometimes there will be a supply teacher that won’t be so helpful as their own teacher. Sometimes football will be cancelled because of the weather. These changes can throw them.

But sometimes, bombs and guns will kill people simply going about their daily lives in normally safe countries, very similar to our own. How do they have any framework for dealing with that reality?

By “Why did it happen in the first place?” perhaps my son was also saying “How could everything so dramatically change….just like that?”

Nothing happens just like that. I didn’t say this to my son at the time. I was fumbling around for the right words. ( If you ever think that writing this blog means I’m able to come up with coherent and helpful answers on the spot, you’d be very much mistaken.)

On reflection, I’m thinking how children that young are still grappling with the cause and effect of not sharing, let alone the cause and effect of behaviour across millennia, races and continents. But to understand how this particular trajectory of violence started in the first place, we need to understand humanity, and – posture as we all do about this from time to time – we really can’t come close.

So, how could everything so dramatically change? It all changes when a group of people wants another group of people to live their lives a totally different way and won’t allow the other people to say they disagree.

Perhaps that’s the element of human behaviour we do all understand, however it’s disguised or presented and however inconceivably grotesque are the means used to try and achieve that control.

“Will the world end?” How can we answer that?

I bet there have been children asking that for hundreds and hundreds of years. Maybe your Grandad did during the war when he had to run outside in the cold and dark to the shelter in the garden?

Sometimes it feels like everything is changing. Sometimes we can’t imagine how things will get back to normal and we won’t feel like this.

We understand human beings can do terrible things. But just as much, if not more so,  human beings have a deeply ingrained resilience: like an inbuilt hope, that made them run soup kitchens on bomb sites, and today makes them distribute clothes and food to refugees, defend Muslims subjected to abuse on trains and, sacrificially, and with no thought for their own safety, go back into the Bataclan theatre having escaped, to rescue friends.

The pain of loss can never go away. But showing love gives hope: hope that humans can find a way to live together with different views at no-one’s expense.

Our capacity for faith, hope and love is immense. “But the greatest of these is love.”  

Somehow, if our children can leave our “Paris conversations” with hope in people’s capacity to love, rather than with quite so much fear of their capacity to break hearts and lives; if  our children can leave these discussions with an awareness of people’s resilience, to say, ‘We will carry on and care’, then I hope they will, somehow, be empowered by seeing good overcoming evil.

How have you been dealing with this with your children? What sort of questions have they asked you? Please do share your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 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.