Today was a victory for laissez faire (or what in our house is basically lazy) parenting.
I’ve worried for a long time that we don’t take our children to enough (any) classes. Other four-year-old girls and nearly-three-year-old boys go to dance class, swimming, football, yoga bugs, tumble tots (like gymnastics for preschoolers) or any number of other activities. We go to the farm and feed the goats.
I did a few classes – swimming, music, tumble tots – with my daughter, before my son was born (so basically until she was 19 months old!). Once he came along that stopped: he was not a child who liked being in his pram and I couldn’t help a 2-year-old around apparatus with a baby strapped to my chest (some mothers did and I salute them!).
I did (and still do occasionally) take them to a drop-in session at the local gymnastics club and teach my daughter to walk along the beam and hang from the bars – all those years of gymnastics as a child should count for something – although I can’t actually do more than fall off any more.
And, for a while, we paid £20 every Sunday for each child to have a half-hour swim class in a gorgeous 35C pool at an amazing place called Calm-a-Baby. We loved going, the staff felt like family, and our kids loved it. Well, to begin with anyway. Certainly they loved the idea of it.
But, by the time we’d added coffee and a bacon sarnie (because the classes were at 9am and 11am on a Sunday and the pool had an amazing coffee shop with leather sofas, the Sunday papers and a soft play area) we were spending £150 a month for them to cry for thirty minutes because they didn’t want to put their heads under the water.
So we stopped swimming and didn’t bother with anything else. In the winter we take the kids to the local swimming pool (£8 plus the cost of a Costa afterwards when it’s warm enough to walk the short distance between the two). In the summer we use my mum’s 7m pool in her back garden. No expensive lessons, no rushing to get to classes or dealing with unhappy kids because they hate going under water.
Still, I did despair. Looking at my daughter’s baby group (thankfully, as a premature baby, my son never met his baby group and so I have no basis for comparison), we are way behind. My daughter can’t ride a bike without stabilisers, she can’t count to 100 or write every letter in the alphabet, or read. She still doesn’t eat vegetables and her idea of ballet is to pirouette in her spiderman outfit.
But this week, this week it’s all been vindicated. Because this week my daughter taught herself to swim.
From not wanting to get her face wet only a few weeks ago, she now can swim a width (only about 3m, but still a width!) unaided – no float jacket, arm bands or rubber ring. Nothing. Just sheer determination and a love of praise.
And all because splashing around in a pool with Mummy, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa twice or three times a week (particularly through the heatwave) is fun. We clap and cheer, and the more we clap and cheer the harder she tries and the better she gets.
Not wanting to be left out, my son swam for the first time today. Being not-quite-three, he swam with his head bobbing beneath the surface (apparently they haven’t got big enough lungs to be buoyant at his age) but still, he was swimming.
Much of the groundwork was done way-back-when at Calm-a-baby – as much for our confidence in the water as theirs – and for that I am grateful. But just as much came from lazy parenting. Sitting back and letting them learn at their own pace.
My sister moved to America a few years ago, partly to put her children in a school called Sudbury Valley which is all about letting children teach themselves. I don’t know enough about it to write here (though I should, as my sister has explained it often enough!) and I admit, pre-kids, I thought the whole idea was hokum.
But now? Now I get it. Now I see why it was worth a move state-side. With the right resources and the right space, with room to grow and some adult guidance, kids can do amazing things. I must get my sister to write a guest post. After the discussion on education, that’s bound to throw one in the mix!
For now, I will trust that my children will learn to read, write, ride a bike, play the piano, do a cartwheel, all in their own time and at their own pace. We just need to be there, cheering them on.
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:
Cold sand pushed through Claire’s toes, waking her senses in a way Starbucks never had. Cool morning air played with her hair and brushed her skin, and the scent of the sea fizzed in her brain. Shoulders slumped with the weight of carrying her heavy head, Claire placed one foot in front of the other and tried not to think. It was impossible. Like the proverbial pink elephant, the more she attempted to still the crashing waves of thought in her mind, the higher they rose.
To her left the bay lay flat as a mill pond, as if trying to show by example what still waters might look like. The surface reflected the translucent blue of the sky and all was calm.
Turning away from the mockery, Claire made her way to the steps by the public slip, and paused to pull her shoes back on. It’s no good, it has to be coffee.
She wondered if anywhere would be open this early in the morning on a weekday in May. Walking through the silent streets, Claire’s head pushed heavier against her shoulders, until she felt she might have to prop it up with her hands. It reminded her of a tiny baby, whose giant head – too large for the scrawny body – bobbed and swayed like a ball on a piece of elastic.
The thought led her by increments to an image of Kim telling her about her baby and on, by more awful pictures, to the moment when Michael opened his stupid mouth and broke apart a twenty-year friendship.
Claire’s feet led her onwards, following an unheard call. A faint scent of bacon wafted on the sea breeze and she realised her feet were more reliable than her brain. They led her to a small café, barely a room with three tables and a breakfast bar at the window. Every table was full of men, elbows out, tucking into a steaming plate of pork and grease. The smell twisted Claire’s stomach and reminded her of the lack of dinner.
Conscious of eyes watching, Claire walked head high to the counter and stopped.
“What’ll it be, love?”
A man in a blue and white striped apron met her gaze. His face seemed friendly although he didn’t smile. She hesitated, then blurted out, “Full English, all the trimmings, and the strongest coffee you have.”
Her words raised the corners of his mouth, and he nodded. “Heavy night?” There was understanding in his voice.
“Something like that,” Claire mumbled, reaching into her bag for her purse. It wasn’t there. Her heart thudded and she searched again, then remembered that she had tucked it into her rucksack for safe-keeping before wandering along the beach. Being mugged had left her cautious.
“Crap. Sorry, scrap that, I’ve left my purse at the hostel.”
“You’re staying at the YHA?”
“No worries, you can pay me later. The manager’s a friend of mine. Besides, you look like you’ll be more trouble if I don’t feed you. You’re greener than seaweed.”
The man’s words made Claire realise how wobbly she felt. A combination of insomnia and lack of food had left as weak as a tangle of bladderwrack. If she was the same colour, that was no surprise.
“Thank you.” Claire tried to smile but the nerves in her face wouldn’t obey. Settling for a nod, she made her way back to the window and climbed onto a stool.
Staring out the window, it felt like looking through a tunnel. Her eyes were open but her vision felt reduced to a tiny point surrounded by sleep. Fog descended in her skull.
I wonder if this is what it feels like to die? This diminishing of senses; this muffling of sight and sound and thought? For a brief moment Claire thought it might be quite nice to die. No more decisions, no more wrong choices, no more guilt.
“Here you go, love, get your chops round that. You’ll feel right as rain in no time.”
The man in the stripy apron plonked a plate and a thick white mug of steaming coffee in front of her. Her stomach heaved at the smell, and she thought she might be sick.
Taking a piece of white toast, dripping with butter, Claire nibbled on the edges and waited to see what happened.
Like a tiny crack breaking open the dam, Claire realised she was starving. Grasping knife and fork, she attacked the breakfast with gusto and didn’t stop until the plate was clean, even eating the fried bread and black pudding, items that would normally be pushed carefully to one side. Washing it down with coffee, Claire wrapped both hands around the warm mug and sighed.
A cloud covered the sun and, in the sudden darkness, Claire saw her reflection in the shop window. A jolt of shock ran through her chest and into her over-full tummy.
When did I get so thin? With exploring fingers, she traced the lines of her cheekbones, jutting out beneath deep-set eyes. She hadn’t looked in a mirror for days, not properly. Only the tiny mirror in her make-up case, on the morning of the interview, to apply mascara.
All those years of stupid diets to keep up with the waifs at work, and all I needed to do was lose my best friend, quit my job and forget how to sleep. Simple, really.
Sipping at the coffee, she realised the breakfast was the first proper meal she’d had since Kim’s wedding. Even at Ruth’s she’d been more concerned with ensuring that Ruth and Sky ate than worrying about her own consumption.
What am I going to do?
Conor’s words the night before slipped through the fog. They rattled her. His passion left her with an urge to run. His comment, that he would counter offer rather than let her leave, sounded slightly psychotic.
He doesn’t even know me. She couldn’t imagine Carl thinking that way. He had counter-offered, but only because he didn’t want to lose clients, not because he didn’t want to lose her. It felt like it had when she realised Michael was keeping tabs on her though her Tweets and blog posts.
Mind you, that paid off. Goodness only knows how long I would have been stuck in that lane if he hadn’t called the police.
Michael. Kim. Conor. Carl. Their faces, their voices, their demands and concerns, crowded round Claire like circus clowns, freaky and frightening. She felt like she might burst. She wanted to tell them all to get lost; to run and keep running.
Scribbling her name and number on a napkin, Claire left it with the man behind the counter, with assurances that she would pay later in the day. Then she hurried from the café, her need for space and silence overwhelming.