Waiting…

Home-painted tiger

Home-painted tiger

My son starts school this year. Except he hasn’t. Yet.

The school we selected for our children is awesome, but they do have this terribly long settling-in period for Reception children.

Even though my daughter went back last Thursday, my son won’t have his first session until tomorrow afternoon. Random sessions for the rest of this week, 9-12pm next week, 9-1pm the week after.

Only on 28th September will he start full time (which is only 9-3.10!)

I know he’s nearly five, and one of the eldest children, but seriously – his class mates are all friends from nursery, even the only-just-four ones. They’ve been used to childcare days – 10 hour days for some of them (including mine when they were little!) and often five days a week.

I understand that school is different, and my daughter was exhausted for most of Reception year. Also the year group share a smallish space and there are sixty kids starting. Introducing them all slowly allows the staff to get to know them better.

Face painting at Burghley

Face painting at Burghley

But it’s hard on the children who are more than ready. The ones whose siblings already go to school. My son starts every day with, ‘Am I going to school today?’ and then a sad little face when the answer is no.

As it turns out, he’s come down with a cold this morning, and so another day and a half at home watching TV is probably not a bad thing.

I got the face paints out this morning, because his sister had her face painted at Burghley Horse Trials yesterday, and he wanted his done. But almost as soon as I’d painted a tiger, he’d sneezed most of it off. (Is it bad that he’ll be starting school with black pirate eyebrows?! You can tell he’s second child.)

So, in the meantime, we wait. I wait until I can get the house straight again. The dog waits for a decent walk. My books wait for some love and attention. And my son waits to start school.

Books!

Books!

At least I’m getting a bit of work done while the poorly man watches TV. (And as he’s poorly I don’t need to feel so guilty about his amount of screen time!)

I decided to get paper copies of all my children’s books, so I can hand them out to friends for feedback. I formatted most of them during the holidays, while the kids were in childcare. The Seren Kitty series and Moon Pony arrived in the post last week – don’t they look cool!

All I have to do is finish the Will on The Water formatting and order a copy of that. It’s my favourite cover, so I can’t wait to see it in print.

Of course, printing them out is dangerous – it feels like ‘job done’ when it’s far from done. I can’t self-publish these books – I’d need an illustrator, and I can’t afford one of those. So I need to find an agent. I should be contacting agents, not playing publisher with front covers.

But it helps fill the waiting and make it all feel more real..! Until they’re really in print, I’ll just keep waiting…

 

Reviews, Revisions and RSI

The coveted snippets

The coveted snippets

Septembers are shaping up to be crazy months for me. It doesn’t help that this is the second year in a row that hubbie has been between contracts in September, so added to the usual mayhem I have an extra child at home to feed and worry about 🙂

September marks the return to routine, but is exacerbated by a new school year – new lessons, homework, after school clubs, teachers, expectations – and the fact that my son’s birthday is three weeks in. Even though we opted for the easiest party ever this year, at a soft play centre, so no food prep, no painting giant sharks or making decorations, we still had invites, party bags and presents to sort, and sibling grief “when is it MY birthday?” to contend with.

I buy for all the family, as I know my son’s various requests best, so I have the added stress of sourcing gifts for grandparents and aunties. The party was a blast though – the first I’ve actually been able to enjoy – and he’s as happy with his toys as a four-year-old who watches too many TV adverts can ever be.

Cheeky monkey

Cheeky monkey

September is also my chance to return to writing. As I discussed in my previous post, that wasn’t as straight-forward as I’d hoped, after discovering my old manuscript was dire. I decided to stick with it but I’m more re-writing than revising, and the going is slow. Thankfully the story is coming together, with some help from my shelf of craft books. I don’t think it will hit my Christmas deadline but, as I’m hoping it will form part one of a trilogy, it’s more important to get it right than get it out.

That’s particularly the case after Class Act’s rubbish launch (I struggle to give it away!) To boost morale (and in the vain hope it might help Class Act sales) I ran a free promo for Baby Blues a couple of weeks ago. I had a whopping 8,000 downloads, mostly in the US. And while it didn’t result in as many residual sales as I’d hoped, It has led to some lovely reviews. I finally have enough reviews in the US to get the little snippets next to my rankings. I was disproportionately chuffed!

The final thing that’s made September crazy is my knitting obsession. I’ve moved on from cats to monkeys, at my son’s request. I can’t read patterns so I’m making things up as I go. It’s extremely liberating, after all that loom-banding when one tiny mistake resulted in a pile of bands instead of an amazing creation. The downside is, apparently, knitting gives me shocking RSI. My hands are numb, my wrists swollen and my arms sore. Gutted. To find a satisfying hobby away from the iPad, and then to have to keep stopping from pain is so frustrating. But I daren’t risk not being able to type!

Anyway, a rather prosaic update. I just wanted to say I’m still here, still alive, still plugging away, and shocked that September’s nearly over already. At least I’m never bored!

Wonderful Teachers and Winding Down For Summer

Gorgeous thank you

Gorgeous thank you

Today my daughter has her ‘Moving Up Day’ at school, when she will spend the day with her new teacher for next year. I can’t believe it came so quickly. Any regular followers of the blog will know that I didn’t take to school very well (slight understatement, as I ended up on medication to handle the extra stress of the school routine) so it might come as a surprise that I am sad the year is over and I will miss Reception and the teachers.

We took leaving gifts in today, even though there is still more than a week left, because there are so many other things going on between now and next Wednesday. I nearly cried when my daughter’s teacher hugged me and said thank you for choosing to send my daughter to their school (she knew it wasn’t an easy choice).

It shows you get out what you put in. It’s important to me to build strong relationships with the people who are in loco parentis for my children. I felt like I was being a pain, constantly talking to the teachers, double-checking everything, basically being that controlling parent. Clearly I haven’t been that annoying! And, for me, it has been returned ten fold.

Thank you card

Thank you card

My daughter’s teacher often goes out of her way to reassure me that my daughter is happy, well rounded, well liked. The teaching assistant listens to my rambles every day, and makes sure my daughter is happy and settled.

And, on Friday, when my daughter sobbed because she didn’t get the year one teacher she wanted, her Reception teacher took us through to meet the teacher she’s been allocated and they both spent ten minutes reassuring my timid daughter that she’ll have loads of fun next year.

To do such a thing at 3.45pm on a Friday, when suffering from laryngitis, shows care above and beyond expectations. As a result my fearful daughter, who has been crying about going into year one since Christmas, said “I’m so excited about Moving Up Day.” What more could a mother want?

This morning the teaching assistant, who has held my daughter’s hand at drop off every day this year, and talked me down off the edge more than once, said, “I’ve been worried about your daughter all weekend.”

Bless them all.

And so we wind down for summer. Not the best start, with Daddy having tonsillitis, but we’re muddling through. Loom bands have been ordered to keep little hands busy, craft has been stocked up and the paddling pool purchased.

For the lovely teaching assistant

For the lovely teaching assistant

All writing projects are on hold, although I’ve spent the last few days enthralled by the K’Barthan series by M T McGuire (you are personally responsible for the filthy state of my house, I’ll have you know!) does that count as working?

The blog will be sporadic in the coming weeks (nothing new there!) especially as I can’t seem to work on the iPad since I foolishly gave in and upgraded to ios7. I’m hoping to get in a few posts about days out and book reviews, but I’m going to give myself a holiday too.

It’s been a long and stressful year, with lots of achievements and a few battles. I feel like July might become my new Year End, when I take stock and down tools. It’s only six weeks, and I’m going to try and enjoy it with the children.

Of course, I’ll be on here moaning how they’re driving me mad in a couple of weeks, but for now I’m looking forward to a change of pace.

Happy holidays!

Help me help Ria

Please read this post about an inspirational woman seeking to make a difference in the world.

kenthinksaloud

There are two versions of this post today. You can read one or the other or both. They are complementary though cover the same ground. This one looks at this project from the Bangladesh side of things. The other, on my writing blog WriteOutLoud looks at the project from the angle of the e-book I’m about to bring out. You can read that post here

I have about four books on the go, all very close to being ready to publish. These have been set aside, temporarily, to put together a book which I hope will raise money for a special lady in my life.

Let me introduce you to Ria.

Ria 1

Ria Mollick is a young woman I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for more than seven years. I taught her while living in Bangladesh and her family and mine are very close friends. Ria has worked hard through…

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If It Aint Broke…

Happy at school

Happy at school

We had my daughter’s parents evening this week, just to add some extra fuel to the fire of my schools dilemma. Oh my goodness.

We knew she was doing well, that she has considerably more merits than the other children, and that she enjoys reading and numbers. What we didn’t realise is how well she’s doing in every area, including social. I took the fact that she doesn’t have a close friend, and is clingy at drop off, to mean she hung out with the teacher all day. Apparently she did in the beginning but now she’s off playing with this group and that.

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion if it aint broke don’t fix it. We have the same issue on a wider scale (with a similar division of opinion between me and hubbie) with regards to the local schools generally. Our local council currently operate a 3-tier system, with kids going to primary school ages 4-8 years, middle school aged 9-12 and upper school from 13 to 18 years old.

I went through the same system, albeit a different primary and middle school to the ones my daughter will attend, and I like the system. I like that those tricky pre-teen years are experienced separated from the young children and the almost-adults. But there is no doubt some of my school concerns involve not wanting to send my daughter to the upper school I went to. There is also some difficulty, if we do decide to go private, at moving her at 11 when she’ll be half way through a school rather than at a natural transition point.

When news of the consultation came in, therefore, I was supportive. Then I started reading the anti-change literature and felt the arguments had merit. Hubbie went to the consultation meeting and he’s all for it. He thinks the academy status and cash injection will be brilliant, and moving to a bigger, newer building will only be beneficial for our primary-aged children. On the other hand, I see more congestion at two already-busy sites and terrible upheaval, particularly for our son who will start school in the year of the change.

Then today I watched a promotional video for the middle school and was blown away. The eloquence of the head of site and the headmistress (pilfered from our primary school to sort out a dodgy Ofsted rating), the passion and humour of the children, the lovely middle school building (which I’ve never been inside) were all much better than I could have anticipated for a school currently struggling to achieve a ‘good’ rating. It just shows the power of video (although in general I never watch them because I prefer to read stuff on the internet).

So now we have a division in the family: one for, one against a move to private, one for, one against a shift to a two-tier system. It’s all pretty good humoured, because most of it is out of our hands and the rest is irrelevant while our daughter continues to thrive in her current school. What does it matter if she doesn’t have access to a wider range of subjects, a posh new building or gourmet lunchtime food? She’s happy, she’s learning, she’s doing well. That’s good enough for now. And all the rest? Time will tell who is right. 🙂

The Perfect School?

Sudbury Valley School

Sudbury Valley School

Almost as soon as my nephew was born, my sister began to speak about sending him to a particular school in America. A free school, a democratic school – run by the children for the children. A place where a child could ride their bike or play video games all day, everyday, if they chose.

I scoffed. My parents rolled their eyes. I’m an academic at heart, with straights As and a first class degree and a Masters (we won’t mention the B in A Level General Studies – after all it wasn’t a ‘real’ qualification – it was only about life and that’s not important to a student who wants to succeed.)

Over the years, my brave, courageous, determined sister never let go of her American dream. Her husband’s sister’s children went to the school and her desire grew. I never got it. Three years ago, after untold hours of effort, my sister and her family emigrated to America to live near my brother-in-law’s family, with a view to my nephew and now niece going to the school.

The school run for my sister

The school run for my sister

I still didn’t get it. School is about learning and classes and exams and school uniform and all that, and my children were going to love it. There were going to be reading and counting to a hundred by the time they were five, they were going to be top of the class. After all, I was, and that made me happy, didn’t it?

My daughter started school six months ago, and my confidence began to waver. School seemed so regimented, especially for these tiny four-year-olds looking so serious and adorable in their smart uniform. The school run was chaotic and emotional and full of stressed parents snapping and snarling (particularly me).

To begin with, my daughter loved it. As suspected, she thrived on learning and was reading and counting to a hundred by her fifth birthday. She loves the community of school, idolises her teacher, and adores singing, reading and PE. But, here’s the thing: after spending a whole year desperate to go to school, my bright, academic, sponge-like learning child doesn’t want to go anymore.

“Mummy why do we only do PE once a week, I love PE.”

“Mummy, I love singing, is it singing assembly today? Is it?”

“Mummy, we didn’t get to do reading today.”

Drumming with his sister (click for video)

Drumming with his sister (click for video)

Then, yesterday, I watched this video on the Sudbury Valley school my sister has set her heart on. And I cried. Oh my. I want that for my children. I want them to be able to play piano for three hours straight if they choose. I want the calm, majestic, green surroundings, the rocks and the lakes and the books and the teachers there to facilitate enthusiastic learning. I want my children, my artistic children who often spend hours playing in their band, to have that.

Who cares if they meet some government-decided tick box of success. I want them to know what makes them passionate by the time they’re fifteen, not fifty.

Already, in six months, I’ve seen my daughter lose her edge. Become less able to find things to do without direction, become more concerned about breaking rules than having fun. She gets some of that from me, but where did I get it from?

I read a post yesterday written by the talented and successful writer, Kim Bongiorno, who wondered if the fact that she didn’t finish college would affect her own children’s desire and ability to go to college. She wondered whether she was a good enough role model for them. This was my reply (before watching the Sudbury Valley video!)

“I think you are being a better role model by not having finished your college degree. I don’t think university is for everyone. I went to university because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. For people with vocations, like doctors or teachers, of course university is essential. However, if you’re not academic then it’s a way to run up huge debt and be no nearer to a job at the end. Certainly that’s true in the UK.

Fifteen years ago I graduated with a first class degree and it marginally improved my chances of getting a good job. Which I did. But I hated it and had a breakdown after three years. The next job was no better except I lasted five years before realising I don’t handle office stress well and I need to be creative.

And I AM academic, I loved studying. What about the people who don’t learn through lectures and essays? My sister struggled for four years to get a 2:2 in a language she hated, and graduated with massive debt, great pool playing skills and a love of Jack Daniels. Since then she’s started from scratch, building up her own businesses and finding what she loves and is good at.

In fifteen years time, when my daughter would graduate, I suspect a degree won’t be enough to compete. She’ll need a Masters, maybe a PhD. Years more of study and debt, for what? She wants to be a writer like her mummy, my son wants to be a racing driver (he’s three). I truly hope I’ll be strong enough to encourage them in those desires because happy is as important as well paid.

There is a great lecture I watched http://new.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity all about academic inflation and how university is really only good if you want to be a professor. I have long debates and worries about education and making sure it’s right for my children and this lecture consolidated some of them.

If your children want to go to college, the fact that circumstances outside your control prevented you completing your course shouldn’t stop them. And if they don’t want to go, you’ll be the best person to show them that – with hard work and determination – they can be a success without it.”

Daughter drumming - stuff she can't do at school

Daughter drumming – stuff she can’t do at school

This all sounds like I’m upping sticks and moving my family to Boston, doesn’t it? Oh I wish. But I don’t want to live in America, not even for an amazing school. For all my angst and depression, I’ve travelled the world and found myself home. But it does mean I can now say,

“Sister, you are the bravest, smartest, strongest, kick-ass person I know, and well done. Sorry I didn’t always understand.”

And I can keep looking for a better school for my children, and give them space at home to be children. To be themselves and to be happy with that. It’s taken me nearly four decades to achieve it, and I’m only partly there. In the meantime, I hope more schools look to the Sudbury Valley model and at least take some parts of it away. Watch the video and tell me you aren’t just a teeny bit impressed.

Domestic Chaos or Learning to Learn

Flat Fairy Cakes

Flat Fairy Cakes

I am always having to tell my four year old daughter (five year old, by the time you read this in the morning. Eek!) that you can’t do anything on the first go. When she gets frustrated because she can’t skate, or read, or sew, I remind her it just takes practice and it wasn’t that long ago that she couldn’t write her name, scoot or draw people. It doesn’t end the tears and tantrums, but I hope it’s sinking in somewhere.

Seems, as in most things, I’m a hypocrite. All my life, I’ve avoided doing things I wasn’t naturally good at, because I hate being merely okay or, worse still, just plain awful at anything. Studying wasn’t hard, until I got to A Level Maths and, even then, I managed to cram and learn enough to get an A. I passed my driving test first time. I gave up the violin after grade five because there was no way I was going to pass musical theory, as I’m pretty tone deaf.

I’m not afraid of hard work, but I need motivation to continue and I’m driven by praise and good results. Which is probably why I hate to cook. Because I can’t. For as long as I can remember I’ve sucked at baking. My long-suffering family have consumed many a crunchy cake and cardboard biscuit, un-risen sponge or crumbling flapjack. And laughed. So in the end I gave up trying.

Burnt Flapjack

Burnt Flapjack

For some reason I’ve been on a baking spree this week, and mostly it’s been a disaster. Soggy banana bread, brick-like wholemeal loaf, flat fairy cakes and burnt flapjack. My birthday tea for my daughter tomorrow is likely to come courtesy of whichever supermarket I pass on the way home. The thing is, I’m sure I just need to practice. But this isn’t like learning piano. You don’t waste five quid of ingredients if piano practice doesn’t go right. You don’t get fat from eating all your mistakes that no one else will touch. You don’t get grimaces from the family. Actually, I do when I play the piano too, which is why my keyboard skills are about as good as my culinary skills!

I’ve been discussing my failures on Facebook and one friend said “Amanda you are one of the smartest people i know! I KNOW you can do this. If you can read, you can cook! Keep the faith!”

I think that’s the problem, though; it isn’t just about reading a recipe. The recipe I followed for the fairy cakes said nothing about the eggs and butter needing to be at room temperature (two of the reasons suggested for why my cakes didn’t rise.) I feel like Hermione in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Harry is using the book with extra notes and making great potions, when hers don’t work. Baking is more science than art. Give me words or paint any day: much more forgiving of mistakes, more scope for being creative! Cooking is creative, but baking is all about precision; it’s chemistry and I was rubbish at science!

This time, though, I can’t give up. I can’t teach my children persistence and the importance of failure, if I won’t follow my own advice. I just have to find a few recipes to stick to, rather than blaming the recipe and trying a new one every time. And stop eating my failures! 🙂