Or is it? I'm not sure...maybe...what do you think??

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Fitting in or messing up?

This week we went to see The King's Speech and watched Colin Firth's Oscar-nominated performance of a man struggling to overcome his stutter, whilst finding himself at a turning point in history. 

In one scene we see Bertie discuss his unhappy childhood with his speech therapist Lionel Logue.   A nanny who pinched him and starved him, a daily "presentation" to his parents, a much loved brother locked away due to his epileptic fits.   A father who accepted his children should be scared of him.  Not to mention being forced to become right-handed rather than using his naturally dominant left - a situation often linked to stammering.    In some ways it seems amazing that it is only a speech difficulty he is left with as evidence of such childhood misery.

Such treatment can seem, to our 21st century eyes, a catalogue of parental cruelty and neglect.   Yet it was more a reflection of common attitudes at the time rather than just one particular family.   

My mother, a child of the 1930s, was also a natural lefty who had her hand smacked and was forced to use her right.    She was scared of her father all her life; but as an adult she had the grace to see that he had still improved on the parenting he himself had known, of a father who would kick his pregnant wife down the stairs.  
This makes me wonder about a few things.

Firstly, are we still guilty of pushing our children in ways they don't want to go, just to make them fit in?  I know mums now who have confessed to "encouraging" their left-handed child to use their right instead.    Why wouldn't I want my child to be the same as the majority? they may argue. To be able to use the same equipment in the same way as everyone else?  To write without smudging the ink, use normal scissors, standard sports gear?  

Even if we're not guilty of that, how many of us have pushed - ever so gently of course - in other ways?  To make a "geeky" child interested in football so they can have more friends.   To send a child to music lessons, whatever their preferences or ability, because lots of the other children are, and we wish we'd had the opportunity. 

Are these bad things to do?   Maybe not.   But they do raise the question of valuing our own individuality versus fitting in to our social grouping. 

I wonder what our parenting will look like to the eyes of future generations?   We may be shocked by the cold, distant, harsh approaches of our great-grandparents.   But what will our great-grandchildren think when they look back at us?  

Will they see children who have countless opportunities for development and exciting leisure activities?  Or will they see poor over-stimulated children who are shuttled in metal boxes from one lesson to the next, with no chance to stretch their legs; whose experience of playing outdoor games comes only from balancing on a strange white board in their living room?  

Will they appreciate parents who took the time to talk and discuss issues with their children, to help them understand decisions rather than scaring them into submission?  Or will they simply laugh at our need for TV nannies to get our offspring to behave?

Who knows where the best balance truly lies?  If we really love our children, is that enough to overcome any other parental misjudgements?   Colin Firth himself has been quoted recalling a friend's advice, that "every time I screw up with my children I put a dollar in the jar to pay for their therapy"!   Maybe every generation looks at the one before and thinks "you messed up, I can do better than that".   And maybe that's what keeps us moving on, keeps us hoping for a better world.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Home or Away?

I had to write an official letter today to explain myself.   My strange behaviour that needed to be justified?  Not having a current passport.   I had other documents - driving licence and so forth - that served the purpose of identifying me, but apparently being a grown adult and not having a valid passport is enough in itself to arouse the curiosity and suspicions of the powers that be.

This got me to thinking if it really is so strange to be lacking in this area.  I have had passports before - the temporary ones you used to be able to get for short, cheap, trips with student friends, and a proper one that proudly bore my new married name.   I've never been a huge traveller, but I've made a few trips, seen a few sights.   But this of course was all B.C - before children.

Since becoming a family, the idea of foreign travel started to lose its appeal.  I know lots of people manage perfectly well to explore the world with small people in tow.   But whenever we sat down to plan it we could only think about all the disadvantages: the possibility of being stuck for hours on end in an airport lounge with two hungry, shouting, rowdy boys; the endless sun-creaming of fair, eczematous skin; trying to persuade them to eat the beautiful local food when all they wanted was a jacket potato and baked beans.

Why, we thought, would we want to do that when we can pile everything (and I mean everything) into the car and head off to the beautiful places that good old Blighty has to offer?

We're fortunate in that we already live in an attractive part of the country - the capital of city-breaks and a surrounding area that draws those hoping to find the magic of Heartbeat/Herriot/some-other-heart-warmingly-northern-tv-show country.  So even a camping trip not far from home can offer outstanding views.   But so many corners of the country have offered us wonderful experiences.

We've climbed misty hills in Wales; body boarded in Cornwall; hand-fed deer in Devon; tracked dinosaurs and spotted seals in Norfolk; sunbathed and skimmed stones in Sussex; big-wheeled over London; visited zoos and played crazy golf pretty much everywhere.  And yes, sometimes its rained.  Often, to be fair.  But the boys don't care, and neither do we if we have a warm Aga and a glass of wine to go back to.

We have a map of the UK pinned up at home that shows all the places we've been and what we've seen.   And when I look at it I don't think how small it is, but how big, and how much of it we've still got to see.

But now I have started thinking about the world outside these shores.  I've started to remember the joy of sitting in a small taverna in a quiet Greek harbour eating feta and olives; the experience of standing in the ruins of Ephasus and imagining all those who had stood there before; the eternal magic of wandering hand in hand through Paris with someone you love.   I can almost taste the food and feel the sun on my back.

And there's so much more I'd love to see - Italian cities, Norwegian ffjords, ancient ruins.  I'd like to drive huskies and see the Northern Lights; to ride the train from one side of America to the other; to sit on an endless white beach and look out at an aquamarine sea.

So maybe, just maybe, I'll be finding out about renewing my passport.  But I think a part of me will still always be happiest eating fish and chips on the end of the pier.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Another Eden?

Do you ever wonder what that first Eden would have been like?

A beautiful carpet of flowers of amazing hues? A tall jungle, huge leaves giving refreshing shade?  Tumbling waterfalls and glistening lakes?

Or maybe a living buffet, where every tree and bush provided something new to eat?  Eye-catching colours, mouth-watering flavours, satisfying and nourishing.

As we look around at our world today, with all its fears and sorrows and disasters, we may long for another chance to live in paradise.  

But if we did, I wonder how we would behave?  Would we be able to re-connect with our Eden selves, our pre-fall, pre-selfish, selves and be able to eat just what we needed, when we needed it, content with what we had and trusting that the Gardener would provide more when it was required?

I hope so.

But a small part of me, unable to imagine such innocence, fears that we would still want to gather more, hoard it away (just in case), consume too much just because we could, always have more than the other person, and so still end up with paradise lost.   Not because we would be banished from Eden, but because we had banished Eden from our way of living. 

So this year I am trying to live a ibt more lightly.  Not in a huge way, but in the every day decisions.  To not buy all that food, all those books or CDs or gadgets to make my life more comfortable.   To not have 5 different sorts of biscuits in the cupboard at any one time just in case. 

To decide that it is ok that we might not always be able to meet our current desire instantaneously, that it might need to wait until the next time we go to the shops or the library. 

To recognise that even that is a trivial inconvenience not a hardship.

To accept that maybe a few occasions of going without might help us understand how life feels for those who only get to the fruit tree after our greedy harvesters have already been through.

Friday, 7 January 2011

The year is not new for me yet

Well, it is the New Year.  2011 is here.   Resolutions have been made, attempted and possibly even abandoned by now.   So do you feel all new and raring to go, or do you still feel like you'd like to crawl back under the duvet and sleep till spring?

For me, January 1st isn't the real new year, whatever my calender says.  The time-clock within me knows that this is just an artificial arrangement.   How can you have a sense of renewal, of new life, of starting again, whilst the trees are still bare, the sky a leaden grey and the sun can barely make it into the sky?   To put it bluntly, how can you turn over a new leaf when there are no new leaves to be seen?

As a child we all knew the real new year was the beginning of September.   The summer holidays had faded and gone, we were back at school, dressed up in our smart new uniform, and were in a new class, a new year, older and wiser and infinitely more grown up.  Oh the feeling of hope and anticipation when we neatly copied our names on to the covers of those brand new exercise books and opened them to that clean, white, unblemished first page.   What an opportunity to start again, and what resolutions we made, only varying slightly as we progressed through the educational system.   This year I will write neatly and keep my book nice.   This year I will keep all my pencils sharpened.  This year I will learn my times tables.   This year I will not leave my homework till the last minute.   This year I will start my revision early.   This year I will copy up my lecture notes straight away whilst I can still understand them...

Now, September does still have a sense of the new year about it, if only vicariously.  But for me, my real year follows that of Mother Nature.   Winter is the old age of the year - not without its pleasures, maybe even sweeter because of the pains - but often feeling like it is dragging its heels, reluctant to let go.   It seems like there will never be warmth or sunshine again.  

Then one day we draw the curtains and the sun is shining shyly at us.  When we step outside the air is still crisp, but with a hint of warmth and encouragement on the gentle breeze.   We look around and notice pale green buds appearing on the trees, stab of white, yellow and purple flowers dotting the ground, birds singing.   People start to lift their heads and smile at one another.   We cast off hats and gloves and scarves and feel the sun on our skin again.   We take a deep breath and feel how good it is to be alive and to see the spring once more.  And then, then we feel hope returning and can start to recognise all the possibilities that life offers us, the things we might do.  

So for now I am hunkering down and working my way through the winter, counting the weeks until that sunny day when my new year will really truly start.