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! 🙂

Making a Change: It Starts Here

My Reason For Change

My Reason For Change

As a writer I know the power of words. Words can move, heal, hurt, destroy. Change the world. Think about Martin Luther King Jr’s speech “I have been to the mountain top”. Or the words in the bible. As a writer I should know to mind my words but, like any person of a certain profession, I don’t always follow my own beliefs.

A while ago I read a poem called powerful words on Chris McMullen’s blog and I said something in the comments about the words I use to my children being the wrong ones and how damaging that was and how I can’t take them back.

It’s something I’ve been worrying about more and more lately. Then, today, I read this article on Facebook called Ten Ways to Guide Children Without Punishment and I felt like I’d been whipped. It starts with these words,

“The reason a child will act unkindly or cause damage is always innocent. Sometimes she is playful and free spirited, and other times, when aggressive or angry she is unhappy or confused. The more disturbing the behaviour, the more the child is in pain and in need of your love and understanding”

Oh my it’s so true. I get most angry with my son when he’s at his happiest because that’s when he’s at his most destructive/deaf/irritating. Lately I’ve started hearing some of the terrible things I say to my children when I’m in a rage: things that were probably said to me, that I believe about myself deep down, that I’m teaching them to believe, and so the cycle continues.

“You’re lazy,” “You’re mean”, “You’re being selfish”, “You’re unkind”, “You’re trying to hurt me”.

These things are not true of children, certainly not two wonderful children under five. I excuse myself (or else I couldn’t live with myself a moment longer) by saying I’m exhausted, they don’t remember it, that I’m teaching them not to be bullies, and a load of other rubbish that just isn’t true.

My amazing kids!

My amazing kids!

To complete the trio of articles that have a) made me feel like ending my own life I hate myself so much and b) have forced me to see the need for change, is this one I found on Twitter called Why We Told Our Kids to Stop Saying “Sorry”. It discuss why the author has stopped her children apologising. She said to her child, after his umpteenth sorry, that, “Your sorries don’t mean anything when your behavior shows me that you aren’t sorry at all.”

I say sorry. All The Time. I’m sorry for living, I’m sorry for being a monster, I’m sorry it’s raining. Either it’s something I can’t control or it’s something I could change if I tried hard enough. Sorry doesn’t cut it. There’s a meme on Facebook about comparing a crumpled piece of paper to a bullied child: you can smooth the paper but the creases never go. You can say sorry but you can’t unsay the hurtful words.

As I write this I feel sick to my stomach. I feel like I have hurt my children beyond repair, beyond redemption. But the more I beat myself up about being a monster, saying the hurtful things I heard in my childhood, the more I give myself permission to continue because, hey, I’m a monster already.

I am not a monster. And, no matter how exhausted, overwhelmed, unhappy I am with being a parent, it is not my children’s fault. So, today, I have to make a commitment to stop. In my post yesterday I mentioned the book Happiness as a Second Language. The author, Valerie Alexander, stopped by to encourage me to read the book some more. So last night I did. I read all the way to Chapter Nine, although I need to read it again to take it in properly. The two chapters that really resonated were Chapter Eight – Adjectives and Chapter Nine – The Negative Form. Because these are the two I know I need to learn. Adjectives: the describing words I use on myself and my children, and learning not to be a negative person.

Because another thing I’ve learned from childhood is that sympathy = attention, that being broken means people try to fix you, help you, love you. That being happy means people resent you, ignore you, take you for granted. So I’ve learned to be miserable, so people ask “what’s wrong?” Except of course they stop asking after a while, or get bored of hearing the same ol same ol. So you up the ante. You think of taking your own life because then “That will show them I’m really miserable.” No, that just shows that you were too pathetic to help yourself.

Chatting to my sports massage friend yesterday she says it frustrates her when people refuse to help themselves get better. That’s me. I’ve had an injured knee for eighteen months but will I do the exercises to get better? No. I make excuses that they hurt, or I’m tired, or I don’t believe they’re working. Instead of growing up and just getting on with it. The only person that suffers from that is me (and my dog and my family.)

I want to learn how to be happy

I want to learn how to be happy

So I don’t want to be a negative person anymore. I don’t want to steal other people’s happiness to make myself feel better. An “Indirect Negator” in Valerie’s words, someone “whose own unhappiness is so palpable that it risks becoming contagious.” Equally I don’t want to be around people like that (and I know a few).

The next thing I am going to do is choose five adjectives I want to describe me: five things I want people to think when they think about me, and live those values. This is an exercise I think I can do because I obsess about what people think about me all the time. That probably needs fixing too, but at least I can use it to my advantage.

Being a wordy sort of person I came up with alliterative adjectives so they’re easier to remember. There are many traits I’d like to be: successful, funny, strong, gracious, social, but I have to be realistic about what is in my control and what fits with my personality. So the five I have chosen are:

  • Calm
  • Confident
  • Caring
  • Compassionate
  • Clever

Calm: Since becoming a parent I am never calm. I rush around saying “we’re late” or I’m yelling or sniping at the kids, or I’m trying to do one hundred things at once. Yet, way back when, I used to work for a man who said “You’re always calm.” I said, “I’m a swan, I’m paddling furiously underneath.” But what mattered was that, on the exterior, I was calm. As a parent that’s the important bit. Honesty is great, but I am too honest about my feelings with the kids. They will feel calmer and happier if Mummy is calm. So, back to being a swan. This great article on Aha! Parenting will help.

Confident: My lack of self-confidence is something I wear like a badge. I second and third guess myself on everything. I dither, I ask for opinions. I change my mind, or let my mind be changed. I cry. I negotiate with the kids. I let other people’s parenting affect how I feel about mine. And yet the one thing I want for my children is self-confidence. To the point where I want to put them in a private school to learn it, because I know they can’t learn it from me. And yet the private school I visited was not right for my children.

I did use to have the courage of my convictions, when I worked for a living. I knew my stuff and I would argue my case (not always calmly!) and stand my ground. Against clients, against directors. No wonder I never got promoted. Now, though, as a writer and a parent, all I read are articles telling me how I’m doing it wrong, how I should do it better, and I believe every contradictory word. (Read this post by Ava Neyer for an hilarious summary of how contradictory parenting advice can be). So, I’ll start with the mask and hopefully confidence will come.

Learning Kindness from my Kids

Learning Kindness from my Kids

Caring: This would have been a given, once. I considered myself an empathetic person, someone who cared about others. I seem to have lost that at the vital moment. Now I’ve become a monster. I say to the kids all the time “I don’t care” when they’re whinging about something. Arrgghh. Enough said. I will care. I will listen. I will kiss the grazed knees and listen to the fights and try not to get involved but still be present and caring.

Compassionate: Similar to above, but more about seeing other people’s points of view. I can be very judgemental and it has only got worse since becoming a parent. Part of my defence mechanism against feeling like a terrible parent is seeking out instances of other people’s terrible parenting to make myself feel better. I have probably made other people feel bad in the process. I want to learn to be more compassionate to other people (especially my family).

Clever: This used to be the one thing I knew I was, back when it was easy, when it was about exams and studying and stuff. The longer I’ve lived the more I’ve realised I know nothing. But the brain is still in there, beneath the lack of sleep and the low self-esteem and the self-doubt. I know stuff about writing, but through modesty, humility or fear, I can’t present myself as an authority here on the blog or to others. Yet I probably know more than I realise. Ditto for marketing, history, literature and some other stuff. I don’t want to bore the pants off people but remembering I have a brain and using it sometimes might help the other stuff.

Anyway, sorry for the long, self-indulgent post. When I finished writing it at 6am this morning I nearly hit delete. But then, for me, much of the beauty of the blogsphere is learning from others, seeing others experiencing pain and surviving it. Regular followers know my demons. By declaring to you all that I’m going to do this, I have made it a real thing. I will try and some days I will fail. But by trying to live the values of Calmness, Confidence, Caring, Compassion and being Clever, I hope to make a difference before it’s too late.

Sea Life and Cbeebies: 2013 365 Challenge #363

Giant Sea Turtle

Giant Sea Turtle

We went to Sea Life today, as a family day out before Daddy goes back to work. It’s a bit of a trek from us, so we loaded up the iPad with Cbeebies programmes and set off before 9am.

Thankfully the children chose to watch Room on the Broom and Gruffalo’s Child, rather than the usual Octonauts and Charlie and Lola. I think I know every episode by heart, although I haven’t actually watched many of them.

I’m grateful for Octonauts, though, because I think it’s a large part of the reason why a trip to the aquarium was their choice of destination.

Being a Cbeebies programme, you know it’s mostly educational and fits as much in the ‘good’ screen-time category as the ‘mind-numbing TV’ one. However, it isn’t until you wander around Sea Life that you realise how great it is.

Stroking a star fish

Stroking a star fish

I saw a lion fish in one of the tanks and immediately identified it and knew it was poisonous. My daughter wanted desperately to see an octopus (like Professor Inkling) and we were as interested in the tiny creatures, like sea horses and jelly fish, as we were the sea turtles and sharks.

Aside from the lead characters in Octonauts (which, if you don’t know, include a polar bear, a penguin and a cat, living in an underwater pod saving creatures big and small) the programme appears to be both realistic and factual.

I do wince at the sight of a huge-headed polar bear working alongside an octopus and a rabbit of exactly the same size, and some of the other crazy things that happen in kids’ cartoons. But for the love it has given my children of the underwater world, I am truly grateful. I for one am not someone who ever complains about the cost of my BBC licence fee.

Mesmerising Jelly fish

Mesmerising Jelly fish

I also learned some great facts at the aquarium that I’m determined to use in my writing at some point, for their poignancy and humour. These are my favourites:

Female octopus lay up to 100,000 eggs and starve to death during the 6 months spent guarding and tending them.

Clownfish [think Nemo] start life as males and live inside a sea anemone, together with a female clownfish. The female prevents the males from changing sex by bullying them. When she dies, the largest male changes sex and takes her role.

Brilliant observations on the roles of women / mothers in nature. There has to be a story there, right?

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire’s shoulders prickled as she walked across the car park. In her memory she could see Conor hurrying to catch up with her, as he had done four months before, after her interview. Now she was away from the room she realised she was shaking.

How could he just sit there and act like we’ve never met? Just because I don’t want to come and live in this backwater town and be the little wife?

The vehemence of her thoughts shocked her. Conor had never suggested that she play second fiddle to him, or sacrifice her own career for the sake of his. In fact he’d suggested nothing at all except that he wanted to be with her.

Is that so bad?

She reached the relative safety of her car and her resolve crumbled. With her head slumped forward against the steering wheel, and her heavy hair creating a shield, she gave in to the grief that had swollen inside her chest. Despite the days of silence, she hadn’t really believed he would ignore her so emphatically.

At the edge of hearing, a tapping infiltrated her misery. Before she could analyse it, it stopped. She sank her head further into her hands, her sobs growing louder. With sudden violence, she smacked the steering wheel in frustration and jumped when the sound was followed by the click of the passenger door opening.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, you’ll break something. Your hand, probably. These old cars are built like tanks.”

The smooth voice slipped in between her ribs like a knife. She inhaled deeply, but kept her hair shielding her face, unsure how to react. She felt him brush the hair behind her ear, felt the heat of his breath on her face as he leant in close to look at her.

“It’s not advisable to wear mascara if you’re going to have a good cry, you know. You look like an 80s rock star.”

With a swish of hair she turned to face him, fury igniting inside like a raging fire. “Get out!”

Conor flinched but didn’t move.

“I mean it. Who the hell do you think you are, coming in here, cracking jokes like you haven’t ignored me for a fortnight? All because I want to have a life of my own. You’re pathetic.”

His face paled but he held his ground. “I’m sorry. I handled it badly. You surprised me, that’s all, and everything sort of crashed in.”

“You knew I was going to leave: I made no secret of the fact that I wasn’t going to stay after the end of the assignment.”

“I know.” His voice barely crossed the space between them. “But wanting to leave is different to actually getting a job offer somewhere else. It was so final, and you hadn’t even mentioned it.”

“I’d only just found out about it! Conor, you act like we’ve been together for years. I’ve known you precisely four months; we were dating for a few weeks, if that. I don’t owe you anything.” Her anger surprised her and she wanted to apologise, but the car rang with her hot words.

“I’m sorry that’s how you feel.” Then, almost to himself, he added, “It seemed longer than that.” He paused, as if he wanted to say more, and then moved to open the car door.

“Wait.”

He hesitated. Claire didn’t know what else to say. She just didn’t want him to leave, not like that. They sat in silence for a hundred years.

“Are you staying in town tonight?”

Claire nodded. “At a B&B. I couldn’t face the hostel again.”

“Come for a drink? Or dinner?”

A dozen different responses warred in her head and eventually her mouth formed round the word, “Okay.”

He reached for the door. “Text me your location; I’ll pick you up at 7pm?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Without looking, she heard him open the door and close it softly behind him.

*

She saw the text flash to say he was outside, and checked her reflection in the mirror one last time. A pale, worried, face looked back at her and she forced herself to smile. Whatever happened, at least there would be resolution.

They walked in silence down to the town, without touching. The air crackled between them with all the charge of the lightning strikes she’d seen at the concert. Looking across at him she saw the tension in his face and knew that he felt it too. He turned towards her as she scrutinised him, and his eyes were a stormy sea. He opened his mouth to speak and she felt goosebumps trickle across her skin.

“I’ve missed you, too.”

***

We Are Golden: 2013 365 Challenge #327

My Daughter as Golden Child

My Daughter as Golden Child

Today is a day of marking achievements. I went to my daughter’s celebration assembly at school this morning, where she received her Bronze merit certificate and was Golden Child.

God bless the children, their patience is amazing: the assembly was three quarters of an hour of hearing about how well the ten children selected had done, and what they had earned their Golden Child status for.

I was immensely proud to be there, and thought I would blub (it doesn’t take much to make me cry these days) but I was fortunately sat next to a good friend and her little jibes kept me tear free.

I also didn’t feel like crying because, while I was very proud of my little girl, the things she was praised for set off alarm bells in my mind. Other children were praised for skill at hockey or gymnastics, for using their brains, for being enthusiastic or helpful or cheerful. My daughter was praised for trying so hard at her studies. And I think that’s wonderful. Except I don’t.

I worked just as hard at school – I was top of every year, more or less, the typical straight-A student. But I didn’t really have friends (no one likes a teacher’s pet) and when I left school the only thing I knew how to do was get good grades.

My Golden Child

My Golden Child

I’d almost like to see my daughter get into trouble, or be praised for her happy personality (she is a bubbly, happy child) or her empathy for her friends (which is great) or her willingness to try things; to fall over and get back up again.

Being praised for working hard at her studies reinforces a behaviour that doesn’t need reinforcing. Ah, well, it’s a nice problem to have. 🙂

The other achievements today are that this is my 400th post since I started the blog, and Two-Hundred Steps Home passed 250,000 words in today’s instalment.

They say you have to write a million words of rubbish before you write anything good. If I add the eleven THSH volumes to the two published novels I have (another 250k words before editing) and the four unfinished NaNo novels on my laptop (another 200k words) and probably 150k words of blogging since last year, I’ve only got one more full length novel and a few blog posts to go and I’m at the million mark! Hurrah, it’s all upwards from here. 😉

To have written a quarter of a million words of prose this year, on top of blogging (which is probably around half that) feels amazing. That’s like writing three full length novels in eleven months. One of the things I love about blogging is reaching milestones, and how that can show you that you are achieving things even when it doesn’t feel like it. Every number reached – 300 followers, 13,500 views, 1337 likes – is like going to a celebration assembly and holding up a certificate to show the world and say “I did that, and I’m proud.”

Maybe one day my milestone will be “Number 1 Bestseller”. 🙂 I can dream.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Has your boyfriend gone back home, Auntie Claire?”

Jack’s face shone with sincerity but Alex’s barely audible snigger suggested the innocence was feigned.

She glared from one boy to the other, feeling the heat rising up her neck. “Did your father put you up to that?” She spoke without thinking and regretted it immediately, as Alex’s face dropped into the stony mask she was coming to dread.

Jack glanced at his brother, confusion clouding his open face. Claire wished she could unsay the words. Better some harmless banter than the freezing atmosphere that appeared to be Alex’s natural state. Despite their fragile truce, Alex had barely spoken three words since they’d returned to the hostel.

“Sorry, guys, I don’t mean to be touchy. Conor is my boss and a friend of sorts but we’re not involved. Your father and I had words about it before he left, that’s all. I didn’t mean to bite your heads off.”

The impenetrable mask remained on the elder brother’s face but Jack smiled. “Will we see him again?”

“Probably not,” Claire replied, wondering if Conor would find another excuse to drive the hundreds of miles from Dorset to Cornwall. “Right, what shall we do today? I’m guessing the Lost Gardens of Heligan aren’t going to be your cup of tea. What about surfing; either of you lads any good with a board?”

Alex looked as if he’d rather spend the day at the dentist, but Jack bounced in his seat like a toddler.

“Really? That would be super. I’ve done snowboarding and I have a wave board at home, not that Mother likes me to use it. I think she’s worried I’m going to break my arm and get sent home from school like Alex did.” He rattled on enthusiastically.

When he drew breath, Claire turned to Alex. “What about it?” When she got no response she said, “How about you humour me this morning and I let you spend the afternoon playing Candy Crush or texting your friends, while I write up some notes?”

Alex gave an indifferent shrug and Claire decided that was probably as positive as it was going to get.

*

“Wow, Auntie Claire, that was amazing.” Jack’s grin matched hers, as she rode the board into the beach.

“How about we drop the Auntie, Jack, you’re starting to make me feel ancient. I’m barely old enough to be your mother.”

“Okay, Claire,” he called, as he ran back into the waves. “Last one on their feet’s a wet fish.” He threw a mischievous look at his brother and the sound of his laughter echoed behind him as he ploughed through the surf.

Alex scowled but said nothing. So far he hadn’t managed to get on his knees without toppling in the water.

“You’re taking it too seriously, dude,” the instructor said, clapping a friendly hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry about your brother, he said he was a snowboarder. I hear you’re a demon black run skier?”

Alex glared at Claire and she shrugged. “Jack told me. He’s proud of you, for all your endless bickering.”

In answer to an unspoken signal from the instructor, Claire followed Jack into the sea. As she looked back, the instructor was earnestly explaining something to her eldest nephew. She hoped it worked. Then she pushed all thought of the troublesome pair from her mind and surrendered to the waves.

*

“Hey brother, way to go!”

Jack’s voice tore through Claire’s concentration, and she lost her balance. When she surfaced, spitting out sea water, her board tether tugging at her ankle, she saw Jack walk over to give Alex a high five.

Alex’s face split in a beaming smile and it was the first time she’d seen him look genuinely happy. Without the scowl he seemed younger, more like his father: the brother she had looked up to as a child, back when he knew how to have fun.

A tiny spark of hope ignited in her breast and she curled herself around it to keep it alight.

***