My Blatherings, The Bard and World Book Night

Fashionably late or just plain tardy? Call it what you will, the fact is I missed World Book Day. But I am going to rectify that as I sit here all immersed in World Book Night.

World Book Night is right now, as in April 23 2014. It coincides with Mr Shakespeare’s birth-death-day. It also coincides with St George’s day. The Brits amongst you may wonder what our Patron Saint, associated with real ale, sausages and dragons, has to do with World Book Night. You will be intrigued to know the Spanish also have a thing for St George and over in Espana the Gals celebrate by giving the Guys Books. Lovely.

World Book Night is all about sharing books. So let’s start sharing, eh?

Rather serendipitously, the last book I actually read was gifted to me on World Book Night about 2 years ago. The book was “All Quiet on the Western Front”. It was shared with me by a lovely friend always trying to rekindle the faint and flickering little reading lamp inside of me.

It’s not that I have purposefully switched off my inner reading lamp, it’s just that things such as demanding children, lack of sleep, and, let’s be honest, this blogging habit have led to it being turned off once too often. Now the bulb needs changing.

I do still read, but snippets, short blogs, columns. It’s a long time since I got my teeth, imagination and mind into a meaty novel. I miss that.

Here is my suggestion. From now until March 2015 (or whenever the next World Book Day is), I’ll share with you some of the books that sum up bits and pieces of my life. Some of these books are truly cringe worthy, as indeed were some chapters of my life. It could be fun though – certainly for me. For you, it could just be just the blatherings of a nobody talking about a life you barely care about. But hey, my blog, my rules.

In exchange, all I ask is that you recommend some novels worth reading, so I can get back to the books. Other than you liking your book recommendation, the only requirement I have is that it has short chapters. Seriously. I get interrupted so often that anything I read needs to be presented in bite size chunks. Judge me, I don’t care – I am realistic about my limitations.

I have had a think about some of the books that might make an appearance in my musings. Here is what I have come up with so far….

The Little House Virginia Lee Burton

Mr Tickle Roger Hargreaves

The Twits Roald Dahl

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret Judy Blume

The Color Purple Alice Walker

The Movie Louise Bagshaw

Ralph’s Party Lisa Jewell

Animal Farm George Orwell

The Edible Woman Margaret Attwood

The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton

Kill Your friends John Niven

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year Sue Townsend*

I for one am thrilled with my new blogging whim. I appear to have created a little regular feature for this blog in the form of a monthly book chat. I (like to think I) look all intriguing and thoughtful with my eclectic mix of books. The parenting side of me can harp on about how great reading is for children. Basically, I can use books as a decoy for actually just talking about myself. Yay.

I’ll let you know when I actually manage to write a post about one of these books. If you care to read the book-posts, bring a bottle and a book recommendation. The bottle can be big. The Chapters must be little (I really am not joking).

I’m off the bed now, not wanting to be the last one to leave this Book Night party. With that, all that remains left to be said is a Happy Birthday Bill, and a Happy Reading to All and to All a Good World Book Night.

 

*Assuming I finish it in time!

Don’t go changing Easter Bunny, I love you just the way you are

It’s official. I’m a bunny girl. As the sun sets on the Easter holidays, I reflect on the last two weeks. Despite having three young kids at home full time, it has been chilled, funny and fun with hardly any a hot-cross word spoken. I’ve realised I much prefer the Easter Bunny to Father Christmas. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. The Easter Bunny does not demand rooms full of baubles, and positively insists on no pine needles all over the carpet – I suspect it would cause serious paw damage.
  2. The Easter Bunny does not encourage small children to write large lists detailing all the crap they require to find, wrapped beautifully  come Easter morning.
  3. The Easter Bunny does not require sustenance in the form of milk, brandy, carrots (not even carrots!!!!) or mince pies.
  4. The Easter Bunny does not have a plethora of imposter Easter Bun-chums demanding hard earned cash in exchange for rubbish presents, received after hours of queuing in shopping centres, church halls or school fetes.
  5. The Easter Bunny hops in and out of our life to the tune of bird song and spring, not over played Christmas pop songs.
  6. The Easter Bunny does not care for sprouts.
  7. The  Easter Bunny does not suggest it is appropriate for small children to send illegible cards to everyone in their class.
  8. The Easter Bunny does not demand we see family members we would rather not see. But, we see them anyway and it is kind of nice when we pop in out of choice rather than out of obligation.
  9. The Easter Bunny does not live in Lapland, and thus does not require us to wonder if we have deprived our children by not going on an overpriced one day holiday there.
  10. If we are extra lucky, the Easter Bunny brings sunshine thus allowing us all to play out in the bluebells.

The Easter Bunny is our friend. She is on our side. She is all about the fun, and not the faff. I love the Easter Bunny, but hang on, is she turning on us?  I have noticed over the last few years a steady increase in photos of heavily decorated Easter themed dinner tables, of expensive  baskets full to the brim with overpriced chocolates, of highly competitive East Bonnet Competitions. And I beg, and I plea,

Easter Bunny, don’t go changing. I love you just the way you are.

 

 

 

 

Happy Half Birthday Cogito Ergo Mum

On the 26 March 2014, Cogito Ergo Mum turned 6 months old. She’s the youngest of my offspring, and so I am pretty much dragging her up. This possibly explains why I forgot her half birthday. I am here now, full of apologies,  giving her my best wishes, a big hug and a slice of virtual cake.

Cogito Ergo Mum keeps me sane(ish), keeps me amused and keeps me thinking. Through her I have began to forge friendships and acquaintances, both here, and over at Twitters-ville. I’ve finally found a hobby that I love. She’s good fun is Mum!

She’s become her own living ‘thing’, getting me out of all sorts of scrapes. For example, this week I have struggled with the post that I was trying to write. Just as I was resigning myself to having to miss my publishing goal of one post per week,  there before my eyes was my first post ever. Then it dawned on me: Happy Half Birthday To Us.

On the one hand, this feels a cheat of a post: just me blabbing on about a half birthday, not even a whole birthday. On the other, I believe many bloggers stop blogging after 6 months. Surely the fact that we made it this far is worthy of a small celebration.

For us, it is the Easter holidays from tomorrow so I am going to have a couple of weeks away from Cogito Ergo Mum. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that. She’ll still be here though, so have a browse through what we have done to date. For a bit of a laugh (at us, not with us), read the first two posts. This one is truly terrible. This one is a bit less cringe-worthy.

Now you’ve got a bit of reading for the next couple of weeks, and we’ve got a bit of cake. With that, we very much hope to see you back here after Easter, full of chocolate and thoughts and good will.

Our half birthday wish is that Cogito Ergo Mum makes it to her first birthday. Wish us luck.

What my Mother taught me: A poem for Mother’s Day

What mother's teach their children

Mum didn’t teach me baking skills
She didn’t lead me to the sink
She kept me close, without the apron strings
She taught me how to think

She taught me if I shaved my legs
I’d need eternal depilation
She taught me even without cash
I deserved an education

She taught me Christmas smells of oranges
And Chanel number 5
She taught me when problems  block your way
Onwards relentlessly you strive

You may worry about the little things
But on the big stuff, show no fear
She taught by keeping your friends close to you
Your enemies disappear

She taught me about Bob Dylan,
And Bruce Springsteen’s greatest hits
She taught me that no-one’s too tough
For a smacker on the lips

She taught me everything’s a diet food
If dunked in cottage cheese
She taught me mindlessly complying
Is not the only way to please

She taught me all a woman needs to do
To drive narrow minded folk beserk
Is to wear a Meatloaf t-shirt
Rather than a pleated skirt

She taught me caring for the vulnerable’s
A happy duty, not a choice
She taught me if you have an articulate gob
You give those scared to speak a voice

She taught me sometimes, those with power
Try treating mothers like they’re scum
And she’s taught them, and me, as I now teach my kids
You never mess with Mum

 

Happy mother’s day Mum. Love you lots, Abby. PS I wish I’d listened on the leg shaving bit. xxx

Image reprinted from Parent Map Magazine on this website, May 2007 and sourced via Creative Comms

A story about what happened when me, Mary Poppins and Aristotle got together to discuss the obsession with being the ‘perfect parent’.

Mary PoppinsYesterday morning, I was feeling pretty stressed out. The house was a mess, there was juice all over the 5 year old’s homework, and by 0830 there had already been a few tantrums. To put the icing on the cake, I’d totally forgotten that I’d invited Mary  Poppins over for coffee after the school run.

I rushed the kids  to school, rushed back, and I was just plugging the hoover in when  I heard the wind change. Resigned to the fact that Mary was going to see me in all my failing-parenting glory, I opened the door in time to see her flying in on a north-north westerly. She landed in her usual chipper fashion. I looked at her from behind my margarine smeared glasses. Her peachy complexion and sparkly eyes served only to heighten my general feeling of down-and-dowdiness.

I sighed and popped the kettle on. Mary, after finding a chair not covered in porridge, sat down and looked at me in a pointed way. Without her saying a word, I could tell she knew something was wrong, so I advised her that with her having no children of her own, living on a cloud, and being a made-up fictional character, she couldn’t possible understand.

“Try me.”, said Mary.

It took me a couple of seconds to decide that even Perfect Poppins couldn’t make me feel much worse, so what the hell. With that I regaled to Mary my woes that no matter how hard I tried, I never felt I was doing anything well enough. I could always do better and, given that my kids deserve the best, that left a bitter taste in my mouth.

“Go on then”, challenged Mary, “what does this practically perfect parent look like?”

Some images of the perfect parent floated around my mind. These women (and they did always seem to be women) tended to be dressed in Boden, while picnicking in the sunshine on home-cooked goodies.  I reeled off what I felt the perfect parent probably does: has an enjoyable vaginal delivery;  has kids once they are old enough to be financially independent; looks young enough to have  had the kids when they were 15; enjoys crafts, baking and growing their own; lives in a house that looks like no craft  materials, baking ingredients or gardening implements ever cross the threshold;  and never ever feeds the children anything containing refined sugar.

“Not even a spoonful?”

“Don’t even go there.” I said.

“Where are the kids in all of this perfection?”, Mary enquired.

“I am not sure. But I am pretty confident that they are not covered in jam, sat on the sofa, watching Toy Story for the 500th time.”

Mary pulled a bit of paper out of her  pocket. It looked to have been torn up, thrown on the fire, and then carefully stuck together again. It had been written on, and the writing was clearly that of a child.

“This”, said Mary, “Is what kids want”.

 I stared at her, incredulously.

“I know, I know”, she said, ” ‘never be cross’, ‘don’t have warts’. But keep in mind they are talking about the paid staff. The rest of it, though, pretty good, eh?”

“Mary, being cross and having warts are the least of my worries.  Seriously, my having rosy cheeks and playing games might be good enough in the fantasy land you seem to constantly inhabit, but it wouldn’t even get the kids through their phonics screening in my version of reality. I am afraid we have to give them more than that. We have to give them the best. Of everything. Including of ourselves.”

“Bollocks!” she said, and with that came a rather tenuous twist to this rather unexpected blog post – she drew an Ancient Greek temple on our Ikea blackboard, grabbed my hand and in we jumped.

“God Mary, I hate it when you do this.”, I said, picking bits of chalk out of my hair. But before I could get properly grumpy, a man in a toga, who looked suspiciously like a young Dick Van Dyke in a stick on beard, came over.

“Alwight Mary”, he said, in a gloriously appalling Mockney accent, “who is your mate?”

“This is Abby”, said Mary, “And Abby, this is Aristotle.”

“Of course it is.”, I said, no longer phased by these quite frankly incredulous jaunts.

Mary retold the story I have told here to Aristotle. Once she had finished, Aristotle stroked his beard, frowned, and then shouted, excitedly.

“Eudaimonia!”

“Bless you!”, said Mary.

“No, you muppet.”, Aristotle explained, “I said ‘Eudaimonia’”. It roughly translates to mean ‘human flourishing’. If you don’t mind my saying so, Abby, if you carry on as you have been, then flourishing your children certainly won’t be: Stressed out, working in a bank at all hours – yes. Feeding the birds – not so much.”

He had a point.

“And as for all this, ‘being the best’, you can be too good, you know.”

“Try telling that to Ofsted.”, I said. “Or my ex-boss.”

Aristotle looked bemused, “Regardless of that, don’t you think this so called perfect parent might be a bit frightening, what with the constant perfection and all that?”

“Well yes”, I conceded, “It could perhaps be rather hard to flourish, happily in that environment I suppose.”

“There you go, your image is actually too good, too perfect, and therefore, in what I have termed my ‘golden mean’ view of the virtuous life, so good she is actually not perfect at all. Try and find a middle ground. Even Mary lets her hair down, slides down the banisters and dances on the roof tops now and again.”

“Up the bannisters Aristotle”, said Mary, “And I never let my hair down. But regardless, yes, agreed.”

There was then a contemplative pause.

“Hmmmm. Human flourishing…..”, I mused.

“Hmmmm. Eudaimonia…….”, pondered Aristotle.

“Hmmmm. Supercalerfragilisticexpialidocious……”, murmured Mary.

“Whatever you call, it, you get the gist.”, said Aristotle.

“Yes”, agreed Mary, “just stop trying so hard, Abby, and you could find that you are practically imperfect in every way, and it is that, in fact, that paradoxically makes you pretty marvellous when it comes to parenting.”

It started to rain, which was a surprise, it being Greece and all that, and we found ourselves back at my place.

I looked around and instead of seeing a mess, I chose to see a lived in home, instead of seeing a pile of dirty nappies waiting for the bin, I chose to see a house blessed with lovely children, instead of seeing  phonics home work, I chose to accidentally not see it at all and I chucked it in the bin.

“Now”, said Mary, “Putting to one side the fact that you have just got two more opinions that you didn’t ask for from two so-called child rearing ‘experts’, do you feel a bit better?”

“You know what Mary, I think I do. Thanks for that.”

With that, the winds changed once more, she picked up her brolly and off she flew.

Later that afternoon, when the kids were running around screaming and shouting  just being kids, I called my husband.

“Husband”, I said, “why not come home from work on time today.  And on your way back, could you pick up some bird seed?

“Why is that?”, said he.

“Eudaimonia” I replied.

“Eudai-whatia?” He enquired, perplexed.

“Bless you.” came my response. Then I hung up, sat down and wrote the most random blog post of my life, while the kids played around me, happy in the company of their imperfect mother.

How to help children enjoy writing – a challenge in 100 words (or thereabouts)

We ask children to write in school but often there is no apparent purpose that they can see other than pleasing their teacher! This can prompt some very reluctant writers in our classrooms. The 100 Word Challenge seeks to address this problem.To encourage a passion for writing, kids blog a 100 word story that 100wc volunteers read and comment upon.        The 100 Word Challenge website

Slouched idly, mindlessly scrolling through the status updates of strangers, I stumble across a tweet. Julia Skinner @theheadsoffice appeals for volunteers to help with the 100 word challenge.

Curious, I click the link. Here is what I find.

I sit up, I sign up, I join in. I am bowled over by children of all abilities contributing so passionately. I comment. I’ve helped out. I’ve  enjoyed myself.

I wonder if you would like to help out too? If you do (and I hope you do) then:

  • contact the team, via the website
  • Find 1 hour a week to comment
  • Join in
  • Tell others (in as many words as you like)

Feeling flat: A poem for pancake day

I wrote down everything that came to mind when I thought of pancake day. Turns out I listed the ingredients for both pancakes, and a border-line abusive relationship. Who knew! Enjoy the poem. Enjoy the pancakes.

Pancake dayYou really are a tosser
You leave me feeling flat
While you often buy me flowers
You often call me fat

You whisked me right up off my feet
Then gave my heart a battering
Your sugar-coated, bitter words
Milky sweet, yet ego shattering

For cracking my self-confidence
How can I help you to repent?
I could whack you with a frying pan
Instead, I’ll give you up for Lent

Image by emosewa-chan sourced via creative comms

The Unbearable Lightness of Blogging


Culture is perishing in overproduction, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity. Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being 

Since the eldest started school, my years run from September. They are no longer split into quarters or months or tax year ends. It is all about half terms. In the first half term of 2014, I immersed myself in blogging.

The first four weeks of the 7 week half term, I took part in the WordPress Zero to Hero challenge – a blogging task for each day of January, designed to help us develop our blogging mojo’s. Here in the UK, the task was published at 5pm. I was hooked, and at 4.55pm each day I was hovering around the nearest wifi enabled device, awaiting the next challenge.

As a result I have tarted up my blog a little, learned some valuable techie bits, and found some wonderful blogs (Clare Flourish, War By Other Means and Domenica Rose for example). I also formed some great ideas around how I want to use tools such as twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr and even Pinterest (I didn’t think I was a Pinterest kind o’ gal – I am). I drafted whole publishing schedules, including thinking of tweets, status updates, and ways to grow my audience.

She loved to walk down the street with a book  blog* under her arm. It differentiated her from the others Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Come 31 January I was pleased with the overall look of Cogito Ergo Mum, and absolutely overflowing with ideas, material, dreams and aspirations for the blog.

Come 1 February, I thought, “What the fuck am I doing?”.

If you have read any of my previous posts, you will know my writing style does not really include the word ‘Fuck’ very much. But needs must.

I started to feel like a bit of a loser. Why was I spending all this time and effort on the blog? Why do I feel the world needs another blogger? How can I ever make this worthwhile, via making some money out of it? So many blogs are so much better than mine. Your blog gets 20,000 views a month?!?!?  - clearly, in comparison, my existence is futile. You get the picture.

In the midst of all of this, I commented over at One Cool Site. A wonderful friend to all WordPress.com bloggers, it is written by TimeThief. In a response to a comment I made on her post called Celebrate your Blogging Journey, where I summarised the low I felt after investing a months worth of time into blogging, she gave me a most wonderful, motivating response that included these words:

Aiming to publish weekly is a righteous choice for any hobby blogger and accomplishing that is worthy of a celebration weekly

I read the above sentence, and it was like being slapped around the chops. “A hobby blogger. A hobby? But this isn’t a hobby. It’s a need. It’s a potential career. It’s a…it’s a….it’s almost an actual calling.”

Then I thought a little more. I thought how I had gone to the Mumsnet Blogfest, relieved to have something to do with my weekend away from the kids other than go and have my nails done. I thought how nice it was to sit upright in front of the Mac once a week, rather than flop exhausted in front of the TV. I thought about how I’d always envied my husband his interests, and my friends with their knitting and their baking and their sailing and their never ending lists of great stuff-to-do that just are-not-for-me.  Then I realised I have not had a hobby –  a non competitive, just for me, thing to do hobby -since I was about 12. Perhaps tellingly, that hobby was writing poems.

I stopped writing the poems when I approached teenage years. Ever since then, it’s all been about achieving. Piano exams, competitive sport (competing as an individual, not as a team), academic exams – lots of them; a career where every year I got promoted or moved to a ‘better’ job.  And now, here I am 25 years since my last hobby, finally finding another one (or perhaps just continuing the old one).

Knowing it is a hobby, not a means to an end, not a route to cash, not a page-view contest, has been truly uplifting and calming in equal measure. It’s interesting that my hobby of choice is still one that demands the attention and recognition of others (I’ll cover  more of that in an imminent post on blogging competitions). But I’m not going to worry about that for now!

Right now, for this half term I am just going to enjoy my myself, celebrate this blogging journey, and keep in mind:

I have no mission. No one has Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Thank you TimeThief – (please check out her website. It is a gem).

And thank you everyone on the Zero to Hero Challenge and at WordPress (especially Michelle Weber, who blogs at King of States), for all of your help in getting me sat a little prouder on my hobby horse.

*Sorry Milan!

Cash, kids and the skeleton bob: why there’s no reward without risk

The family is currently watching the Winter Olympics, as I sit looking at the finances. I’m wondering if we can find a way to invest money so we could afford to go skiing one day. The kids are wondering if they can re-enact the skeleton bob using a tray and a muddy hill, while they leap and bound trying to do snow-board inspired somersaults from the settee to the chair.

I look at the finances and think how precarious the cash is. An unexpected redundancy, a run on a bank, a rogue investor – things largely out of our hands – could lead to us quickly going from being comfortable, to struggling day to day. I don’t like entrusting the cash to others, especially given the recent reputation of our bankers. I’d feel happier squirreling the savings we have away, safe and sound under our mattress.

As I worry about the risks we are taking with our cash, one of the children falls after spinning around at least 50 times, trying to emulate the actions of an experienced ice dancer. I tell them to sit down, to watch the telly, to be sensible, otherwise they will get hurt.

Everyday, it feels like my kids take a huge amount of unnecessary risks. I have taken less risks with my cash in the last 10 years then they take with their bodies every day. Aside from three trips to casualty, a ludicrous amount of broken toys, and holes in the knees of every pair of trousers, their risks have, so far, paid off. The rewards are huge. The kids are strong, far more agile than their physique and age should allow them to be, they are interested and interesting and happy. 

Yet, despite these tangible benefits, I often wish the kids didn’t take these risks. I wish I could squirrel them away under the bed together with the savings.

Their Dad, in his teenage years, spent evenings stealing corporate flags from the top of corporate flagpoles, leapfrogging letter boxes, and launching himself from the top of one phone box to the next. I think of my drink fuelled antics when I was younger. I wonder, with a lurching stomach and fast beating heart, how me or my husband are still alive. I worry what sort of risk takers we have genetically programmed our kids to be.

I’m a pretty boring  steady human being nowadays. Nothing demonstrates this more that my chosen career path, where I spent years in Financial Services pootling around the periphery of various Risk Management departments. As a result, I ponder about risk a fair amount.

I think about how terrible we are at assessing risk and reward – how easy it is to convince many of us to buy lottery tickets, but how  it is an uphill struggle to get us to buy life insurance and write wills. I think about how we view some risk taking as more noble than other types – if one of my kids got fatally injured whilst skeleton bob-ing in the Olympics, that somehow this would be perceived as a ‘better’ risk than if something terrible happened to them after taking Ecstasy.

More than any of the above, when parenting I think about something I learned while in paid work. This being that:

The riskiest thing you can do is to not take any risks

It feels so counter intuitive, but when it comes to money and our kids, we all know that squirreling either away under a bed is not really a viable option.

Think about it, put money under your bed today, in 30 years time it is likely to be worth very little at all. Try and keep your kids safe by storing them under your bed, odds are on you’ll end up raising an individual who is at best miserable (and riddled with rickets) and at worse, a severely damaged human being who is a rather large risk to themselves and perhaps even to society.

Take away the ridiculous ‘storing under the bed’ scenario and replace it with other ‘safer’ child rearing options: driving places, rather than walking; staying in, rather that going out; hideous ‘soft play’ days, rather than time lost in twigs and muck; and sitting down to watch the Olympics, rather than re-enacting the action. At what point does providing ‘safer’, less risky options to our children actually start to make our society a more miserable, more dangerous place to be?

With kids, as with banks, I think we have become afraid to let them fail.  So much so, economies and childhoods end up either unnaturally stifled or unnaturally cushioned when things go wrong. Sometimes, even with everyone acting in good faith and with the best will in the world, shit just happens.

While there are parallels with how we let our kids and our cash grow, there are also obviously significant differences. I spoke to my Grandma about the Depression – I reckon we could just about handle that together as a family. On the other hand, if my kids made an ill judged risks, and they died – however unlikely that is to happen, I am just not sure I want to, well, risk it.

What I think I must remember is what I see when I look at me and my husband now. In our younger days, we took a few risks, and got burned a few times. Perhaps we were lucky that no serious damage, emotional or physical, befell us. Now we are happy with our fish and chips on a Friday, a sherry before Sunday dinner, trips to museums and the Sunday papers. We are boring  steady, but happy. If our parents hadn’t let us take a few risks, I don’t know that we would have ever reached this place of living a relatively safe life in utter contentment.

It’s counter intuitive, but if I want my kids to become safe, satisfied adults, I am going to have to stand back and let them take those risks – skis, ice skates, tea trays and all.

How do you strike the balance of letting your kids take risks and keeping them safe?  What did your parents teach you?