Please Help A Fellow Blogger

Donation page

Donation page

It’s no secret that I love the blog Miss Fanny P, as I often share bits here on Writermummy. Miss Fanny P is one of a handful of people that I’ve ‘met’ since I started this blog that has come to feel like a close friend. She is a talented writer and photographer and her children are adorable (and say the funniest things.)

A few days ago MissFannyP was burgled, with her son waking up to find a man in his room. Everything of value was taken, including baby photos and other irreplaceable things. The worst part is that – due to a paperwork error – they aren’t insured. I have set up a crowdfunding page to raise money for her to replace the things that can be replaced – camera, laptop etc. The lost photographs can’t be, but we can help her take more.

Please, every pound will help (and if you’re from a country that can’t donate through GoFundMe please contact me and we can sort something). This is link: www.gofundme.com/MissFannyP

 

Poem About Grief

I just have to share this powerful piece of writing

Ubiquitous. Quotidian.

Note: I want to share this thing with you. Not because it is finished but because it needs to be outside of me. It came to me very quickly. A few words a few days ago. A sentence last night. A phrase when I woke up this morning.

I ate my breakfast. I drank my coffee. I took my daughter to school.

It was waiting for me when I found my chair. It is better, I think, for it to be on the outside of me. What I mean to say is this: I wrote this, then went for a run with a friend and, when I came back to it, it seemed more beautiful than scary.

***

Grief is the subterranean monster that has been waiting with inexorable hunger since your childhood. She is the unseen creature lurking just beneath the surface, reaching up for you with her impossibly…

View original post 550 more words

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…

View original post 1,018 more words

4000 Gifts: A Story of Arrival

I was looking for a post to reblog for International Women’s Day (having failed to write anything inspirational myself) and I discovered this gem in my reader. Such an inspiring post from an inspiring lady. I want to start my own book of gifts. Beautiful.

HAVING DECIDED TO STAY

P1040686 Some years ago, I was seventeen, and life made almost no sense. What a surprise.

That is, I had my bearings on a great many matters, and I had a veritable collection of high ideals, but they were just that: ideals. And when you are young and living in your parents’ house, it is probable that everything worth having will seem to be far in the distance. If you are not careful, that will never change.

The story of the seventeen year old whose life makes no sense is hardly a novel one. But neither is the story of the college graduate whose life still makes no sense. Or the mid-career professional. Or the young housewife. Or the wealthy, retired couple that vacations in Europe. Or the worn old man, full of days, who finally holds up the white flag and gives his surrender to cancer, and whose life makes…

View original post 606 more words

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.

What’s Your Love Language?

My daughter loves quality time

My daughter loves quality time

I had a revelation at 6am this morning – when I have most of my epiphanies – to do with the book I’m reading: The Five Love Languages. As I mentioned before, the Five Love Languages – as defined by Gary Chapman – are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch.

Chapman argues that, for a relationship to thrive, we must first identify and then learn to speak our partner’s love language. I’ve always assumed my language is Acts of Service. I do the laundry out of love, I cook and clean and make coffee out of love. It has frustrated me beyond measure that my husband doesn’t understand. Not just that he doesn’t do those things himself, but that he doesn’t recognise them as acts of love from me.

Hubbie’s love language is Physical Touch. Not (just) in the obvious male way – Chapman distinguishes between sexual desire and touch as the primary love language. If you have sexual desire, but can take or leave the hugs, hand-holding and incidental moments of day-to-day physical contact, then chances are you have a different primary language.

My son is either touch or quality time

My son is either touch or quality time

Thinking it through this morning, using the techniques Chapman suggests, I suddenly realised that the Acts of Service may well be learned behaviour from my parents. Chapman recommends thinking back to the time when you and your partner were first dating, to understand the thing about your partner that made you think ‘he’s the one’. Hubbie and I lived apart for the whole of the two years between meeting and getting married. Picking up dirty underpants and cooking rarely figured in our equation. Oh yes, I liked that he cooked, that was a bonus. Who doesn’t love a domesticated man?

But the thing that first snared me, on day one as we chatted online before even meeting, was that he listened. My favourite times in our courtship were the long phone conversations, lying in the dark with just the two of us speaking. No interruptions, no distractions, just voices, sharing, listening. (Well, I assumed he was listening. I did have an ex who confessed years after we broke up that he used to mute the phone and watch TV while I rambled, but at least – even at the tender age of 16 – he realised my need to speak and indulged it.)

All my life I’ve felt that no one really listened to me. As discussed that’s not uncommon. But as I thought it through this morning, I realised that I blossom when I am listened to. I have a good friend who is a listener and I come away from our coffee catch-ups fizzing and smiling and alive (and feeling guilty for being what Chapman calls a ‘Babbling Brook’). Growing up, and even now at least once a month, my family tease me remorselessly for being a chatterbox. I hated it; still do. The endless words were driven inwards, to diaries and inner thoughts (not helping the depression) and now to my blog and my novels. And always I feel guilty for speaking, for hogging the attention, for asking to be heard.

Chapman lists a dialect of Quality Time as ‘Quality Conversation’ which includes quality listening. I was so quick to accuse myself of being a rubbish listener that I missed the point. Being listened to is my primary love language.

Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris

I went to an author lecture by Joanne Harris last night and came home bubbling with excitement and a need to discuss it. Hubbie paused his TV program but I still felt I was interrupting. I realise now that an act of love – to me – would have been for him to turn off the TV and give me his full attention.

And again, earlier in the evening, I was getting angry and frustrated with my son because he kept interrupting me, endlessly, as only a three-year-old can. And it dawned on me that the yelling I often resort to, that has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, possibly stems from an insatiable need to be heard.

I know my daughter’s language is quality time and I suspect my son’s is too, (although – like his Dad – physical touch is also super important.) Certainly both children talk as much as me and get just as frustrated if they aren’t attended to. That’s tough on hubbie – being in a house with three chatterboxes all vying for airtime. No wonder he switches off and stops listening; it’s probably a self-defence mechanism. However, if we can become a family that hugs and hears, that loves and listens attentively, we might just cut back on the shouting and increase the joy. It’s worth a go.

I told the doctor yesterday, when talking about my depression, that I didn’t need any more therapy; that words didn’t help and the last psychotherapist I saw made it worse. Turns out I just needed to hear (read) the right words. I can’t recommend the book enough and I will always be grateful to the lovely lady who leant it to me.

Blogging: The Art of Listening

A potentially life-changing book

A potentially life-changing book

I started reading a (for me) life-changing book, yesterday, which I wish I’d read years ago, called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I haven’t finished reading it, so I won’t write too much about it here, but the basic premise is that we all speak one of five love languages and for us to maintain healthy relationships (be it parenting or marriage) we have to understand the other person’s language and learn to speak it.

The languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. (If you want to learn more before I finish reading the book, visit www.fivelovelanguages.com).

Rather like Valerie Alexander’s Happiness as a Second Language, it teaches hope, as it reassures that we can all learn these unknown languages, whatever our upbringing. I grew up in a house where happiness wasn’t really spoken and, equally, love wasn’t an open dialogue either. I’m slowly learning to speak these foreign tongues, and having phrasebooks is essential.

The part of the book that sparked today’s blog post came during the discussion of the love language Quality Time. The author speaks of each language having different dialects. For example, Words of Affirmation can include ‘verbal compliments’ or ‘encouraging words’ or ‘kind words’. Quality Time is about giving full attention to another person but this can include ‘quality conversation’ or ‘quality activities’.

On p.67 Chapman explains how hard it is for people to listen, particularly when a loved one wants to rant about a problem at work or similar. He says, “[w]e are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that marriage is a relationship, not a project to be completed or a problem to solve.”

This was particularly relevant for me yesterday as hubbie came home from work frustrated after having had to work on his personal development plan all day. Admitting there were things he wasn’t good as was hard. Instead of listening sympathetically, “with a view to understanding the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and desires,” I tried to fix the issue. And when he wouldn’t accept my brilliant advice I got angry. Crazy.

Chapman has some great (well worn) advice on listening attentively, but it was point five (p68) that grabbed me.

“Refuse to Interrupt. Recent research has indicated that the average individual listens for only seventeen seconds before interrupting and interjecting his own ideas.”

Oh my goodness, yes, guilty as charged. Interrupting is one of my greatest flaws and I hate myself every time I realise I’ve done it. Even when I’m interrupting to agree, to share an anecdote to say ‘me too!’ or to offer words of sympathy, I am still interrupting. I’m even worse with the children, because for the past five years I’ve had to interpret what they’re trying to say. Now, when they’re capable of explaining it themselves, I still do it and it drives them bonkers, especially the youngest one.

My head fills with words and it’s like I can’t actually carry on listening because my need to speak fills my mind and my words are too precious to waste. How arrogant. When the children interrupt me and I stop them, they often cry and say “I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say now”. My response is usually, “if it was important it will come back to you” but I know from experience that isn’t true. For me, words not said or written down are lost forever (especially the blog posts or character scenes I write in my head at 2am and don’t capture because I don’t want to wake everyone up by getting out of bed.)

I’ve been known to lose track of whole conversations with other people because of the nagging sensation that I was about to say something brilliant. Maybe it’s time to let that go and trust that the words, if important enough, will come back eventually.

Thinking about all this at 5am this morning I realised that is why people love blogging so much and why I love reading posts that other people write. You cannot interrupt. I can write all the way to the end of a thought, or read all the way through to the end of someone else’s explanation, discussion or revelation, without interruption. In a world where we are all so eager to speak, blogging teaches us to listen and allows us to be heard. I hit the like button (where there is one, and I hate it when there isn’t) when I get all the way to the end of a blog post, as if to say “I have listened”.

I also realised that, by reading all the way to the end of a post without interrupting, I often don’t have anything to say. There is nothing to fix, no need for shared anecdotes. The writer has often answered their own question or revealed that actually their situation isn’t exactly like that time when I … at all.

So, my mission is to learn to listen, to learn to let my words go so that I can hear the words of others. How can I write stories if I won’t ever listen to them?

And I’m also going to try really really hard not to beat myself up about past failures. My favourite quote so far in Chapman’s book is “I am amazed how many individuals mess up every new day with yesterday. They insist on bringing into today the failures of yesterday and in so doing, they pollute a potentially wonderful day.” (p47) The sun is shining outside, the children are happy and the husband is smiling. Who would want to pollute this day?

Happy listening.

Watching The Winter Olympics: Reason to Celebrate or Racist Tribalism?

Vicarious Happiness

Vicarious Happiness

I spent today watching the Winter Olympics while doing armchair parenting (spinning the Twister wheel and supervising filling the trampoline with teddies).

It’s the first chance I’ve had to get engrossed in watching it – I’m not as big a fan as I am of the Summer Olympics because there are so few Brits competing (comparatively speaking) and it makes it easier to be a bystander rather than a participant. But, as I watched Elizabeth Yarnold win gold in the women’s skeleton – after throwing herself headfirst at 85mph down a hill on a tray – and listened to her interview afterwards, I finally got excited.

But I also remembered a Facebook post I’d read earlier in the week from the author Matt Haig. Now, I think Haig is brilliant – I love his books and his social media commentary is usually spot on, particularly his commentary on depression, which I find comforting. However, on Tuesday he said he didn’t understand supporting a sports person just because they “happened to be born on the same landmass.” He goes on to say “It seems tribal, to me, and tribalism is next to racism isn’t it?”

His comment made me uncomfortable because I suddenly worried that my flag-waving support of Andy Murray or the English Cricket Team (although not so much recently!) or the British Lions is somehow racist and bad. It’s hard for me to disagree with someone I respect and admire but I think in this instance I do.

For me, supporting sporting people, particularly at the Olympics, is no different to watching documentaries or reading biographies, devouring a book or following an author on social media: It’s a way of vicariously experiencing someone else’s life; a life that I will never live myself. It doesn’t matter who you follow or why. I supported USA in the hockey today, because I knew my American brother-in-law was doing the same, and it became exciting to watch, instead of background noise. It gave me a reason to care about my fellow man, rather than a reason to hate.

Thought-provoking Post

Thought-provoking Post

In terms of the tribalism aspect of nationalistic pride, I think it’s easier to follow someone from my own country because I can more easily understand their background, lifestyle and upbringing. Listening to Lizzy Yarnold speaking of growing up admiring Denise Lewis (and wanting muscles like hers!) – I could relate to that. I could picture her juggling studies with training, I could visualise her in Bath, or imagine her family smallholding in Kent. Listening to her was like listening to a friend.

The joy of watching sport, for me, mostly comes from buying into the stories and caring enough to will someone on to be the best they can be. Cheering for them, experiencing their highs and lows, pains and achievements, and – yes – crying a little as the national flag rises, the anthem plays and I feel connected to a wider world than my messy lounge in the Midlands.

It’s disingenuous to believe we live in a completely nihilistic society. Life does have meaning; being human has meaning. Forming connections with fellow humans, however we can, is intrinsic to being human. We ARE tribal, we’re a social breed. We replace neighbourhood community with nationalistic sport and social media. As our real world narrows to four walls, remote working, and 2.4 children, we reach out to experience life through other ways. To celebrate people’s successes and commiserate their failures. It’s the rise in reality TV and programs like X Factor. Give me the Olympics any day: I’d rather form an illusionary connection with an athlete who has worked tirelessly to be at the peak of physical fitness than someone looking for fame for fame’s sake.

When you break it down you could as easily support the underdog in every competition, or the one with the fanciest costume or best name (how I choose horses in the grand national.) Maybe national pride is a dangerous illusion, a foolish whim. Maybe it is racist, although I like to think I can support Lizzie Yarnold without suggesting all the other competitors are somehow inferior beings. Maybe there’s a difference between racist and racial discrimination. Or maybe it’s human nature to categorise ourselves and sport is a harmless, positive, enjoyable way to channel our basic instincts.

All I know is I would love my daughter to be inspired to work hard and achieve great things because a member of “our team” did well.

The Parent I Am and the One I Aspire to be (reblog)

Forgiving son as we finally did baking

Forgiving son as we finally did baking

Today has been a pig of a day, from a half-five start with my up-with-the-lark daughter, through yelling at my son because he wanted my attention when I was trying to restore order in a filthy house, to losing it entirely and sobbing for a whole evening after the dentist told me my three-year-old has two cavities (does parenting fail get any lower than knowing you didn’t control sweets/juice/teeth brushing enough in two short years to stop him having bad teeth like you?)  finishing with an evening staring blankly at a su doku trying to numb my brain because I just don’t want to be me anymore.

Hubbie has watched me like a hawk to make sure I don’t do anything stupid and all I can think is I don’t want such love because I don’t deserve it.

Was this worth yelling for ten minutes because I'm sick of being the only one who cleans anything?

Was this worth yelling for ten minutes because I’m sick of being the only one who cleans anything?

So, as I often do, when happy words for the blog won’t come, I hit ‘random post’ to reread an old blog entry for inspiration. And I found this one, from 7th April last year. Seems appropriate (If slightly worrying that I have these days so often).

I don’t have many words today.

Lack of sleep and residual illness has turned me into at least four of the seven dwarfs. I’ll let you figure out which.

Instead of waffling on as usual, I’d like instead to share two thoughtful and beautiful posts about being a parent: both written as letters to a child.

One describes the parent I’d like to be, the other the parent I am far too often. Again, I’ll let you decide which.

It won’t be hard.

An Open Letter to My Son:

Like some poor, naïve fairytale mother, I’m trying to help you navigate your way through a forest that’s by turns enchanted and haunted. The path is familiar, as if I walked it once years ago, but different, too; overgrown and seemingly impassable in some parts, and unexpectedly clear in others. And as we pick our way through the undergrowth, as we do our best not to trip on twisted roots and sharp stones, I try to remember the lessons I’ve learned from all folktales I used to know.

For example, I won’t make the mistake that Sleeping Beauty’s parents did when sending out invitations to her christening. Unlike them, I’ll be sure to invite the dark fairy godmothers as well as the good ones, because I know that they’ll come anyway, slipping in through back doors and lurking in corners where you least expect them. I’ll let them give you their murky gifts in broad daylight, so that I can look them in the eye while they do so. Then I’ll smile and thank them, recognizing that I have to let life give you the bad as well as the good.

And when I send you out into the world alone, as I know that I will someday have to, I’ll give you something more substantial than bread crumbs with which to find your way back home.

And I won’t make you go to your grandmother’s house alone until I can be sure that you can tell the difference between an old woman and a wolf in a nightgown.

I Wasn’t a Good Mom:

Dear Daughter,

Today, I wasn’t a good mom. The morning came too soon after a long and exhausting night. I rolled out of bed and put pants on an hour before you normally woke up. When I came into your room you were ready for me, your hair tousled and your smile crooked. “I up!” You said reaching your arms out to me. “I pay wif toys!”

I didn’t smile, not because I don’t love you, but because I just needed more sleep. And then the day came and you stuck stickers to the couch and I grumbled under my breath. You tried to play tag and kicked me in the chest and I yelled, “BE NICE TO MOM!” I realize now, I wasn’t yelling that at you. I was just yelling at the world. But how could you know that? You couldn’t, and I’m sorry.

And when I went upstairs to go to the bathroom and you said, “NO MAM GO PODDY!” And I said, “Shut up!” It wasn’t my finest hour of parenthood.

I’m sorry I cried when you ate my lunch. The lunch I bought for both of us to feed my feelings. Because my feelings needed chicken nuggets, but apparently so did you. And I’m sorry I put you in time out when you made your plate do a little dance on the table. I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you when I put you down for nap, choosing instead to run away and lay in the guest room bed and just dwell in some silence.

These are only extracts of the posts. I encourage you to read the full version, and to follow these inspiring blogs. They get me through many hard days as a mother and a writer.