Modern Parenting: Lying by Omission

The Bear Diary

The Bear Diary

We had the joy of a visit from the class bear this weekend: my son had a karate competition and wanted Spencer to come.

But you can’t take photos at karate, so it makes filling the precious diary slightly challenging.

I finally pinned my son down to complete the diary this evening, but it’s fair to say it was mostly a Mummy effort.

And it’s all lies. Well, not lies, but hardly a true reflection of our weekend. This is what it should really say:

“On Friday night Aaron got cross because Mummy wouldn’t help him with his Lego. On the way home he whined about not being allowed a snack, even though he’d had two cakes at the school bake sale. He forgot all about Spencer, and the bear would have slept with the dog if Mummy hadn’t taken him upstairs.

Saturday was torrential rain, and football was cancelled, so Spencer lay forgotten in bed while Aaron watched six hours of TV. Spencer ate more piada at lunch than Aaron did.

Spencer nearly missed the karate championships when Aaron was more interested in watching the end of his programme and hugging the dog goodbye. Aaron was first up at the competition and completely forgot his Kata. Aaron sulked because he didn’t win a trophy. Despite being super-brave and doing the group Kata, Aaron still didn’t win and did more sulking. Mummy lost her rag when he refused to get changed in the car.

Spencer had McDonalds for lunch. Mummy is desperately knitting a new scarf because his old one has been stretched to death being used as a karate belt.

Mummy printed the pictures, cut and stuck them and strong-armed Aaron into colouring a picture when he wanted to watch a fifth Power Rangers. Spencer will be glad to get back to school on Monday.”

Facebook, Blogging, and now the school bear’s diary: it’s all about how you spin the truth!

KS1 English vs Being an Author

VCOP Pyramid

VCOP Pyramid

We had our children’s learning conversations last night (parents’ evening for us oldies!). I’m proud as anything of my two babies but, being a worrier, I don’t just smile and move on.

Oh no.

This morning I ordered half a dozen workbooks on handwriting, grammar, comprehension, and spelling. They’re not for me, although they probably should be.

It turns out the new curriculum has new targets for grammar, punctuation and spelling and Year 2 (my daughter’s year) are having to play catch up.

I won’t get on my high horse about changes to the curriculum. I’ll save that for people more eloquent than me. And in principle I like that my daughter is learning grammar and punctuation. I wasn’t taught it once I moved schools (age 8) and have struggled ever since. When I started writing novels seven years ago, the first thing I had to do was learn how to use commas and what an adverb was.

My daughter comes home and tells me about adverbs. She ‘VCOPs’ her own writing (underlines the vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation – see picture). It is a level of sophistication in writing that I don’t see in some bestsellers.

But here’s the thing. My daughter is being taught to use adverbs (mostly words ending in ly) and alternatives to said (think shouted, whispered, argued, complained). These are two elements of my writing that I have fought against for the last five years.

Any book on self-editing tells you to kill the adverbs and just use ‘said’. The emphasis is on vivid verbs and simple dialogue with use of body posture and behaviour to show emotion.

Of course we’re talking about writing for six year olds that will understand ‘walked slowly’ rather than ‘ambled’. I love that they are teaching dynamic writing and my daughter loves it. But, as an author it hurts!

So I’ll read the books, I’ll learn the KS1 curriculum, and I’ll keep my views on adverbs (mostly) to myself! 🙂 Who knows, if I print out the VCOP pyramid I might make my own writing stronger.

I Will Survive (The Summer Holidays)

At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Never thought I’d last six weeks
With two children by my side.
But then I spent so many nights
Thinking something here is wrong:
I was strong
Before these children came along!

And now its back, that awful space,
Between the end of term exhaustion
And Back to School mad chase

I should have booked more summer camps,
But I want them to be free,
Building dens and climbing trees,
Like childhood was for me

When summer starts, the future yawns
A terrifying place
Where I pee alone no more.
Goodness how I wanted those six long weeks to fly,
I thought I’d crumble
When the teachers waved goodbye.

But no, not I! I survived,
I planned away each single day,
And pinned my schedule high!
I had all my time to give,
(With some days for me to breathe)
And I survived! I survived!

Hey hey

[coffee break]

It took all the strength I had not to fall apart,
Not to crawl away in tears when I heard the endless fighting start.
I spent oh so many nights feeling sorry for myself,
I used to cry, but now I hold my head up high!

And you see me, somebody new,
I’m not that frightened little Mummy
Still so scared of you.
So you thought you’d break me down,
And expect me just to flee,
But now I’m actually enjoying having little ones with me!

And now you’re done, I’ve won this race,
You can take that sarky doubting smirk right off your face
I can say that I’ve had fun, and know it’s not a lie.
I didn’t crumble, I didn’t even cry,

Oh no not I! I will survive.
As long as I know how to plan, I know I’ll stay alive.
I’ve got Mummy love to share, so long as they sell coffee there!
And I survived! I will survive.

Go on now go!
Be here no more,
Tomorrow school is in and I’ll march children out the door.
They’ve had a blast, they’ve sung and danced,
They’ve paddled in the sea,
Seen rescued seals, held giant snails,
Barely turned on the TV

And I!
I will survive!

As long as I know how to plan, I know I’ll stay alive.
I’ve got Mummy love to share, so long as they sell coffee there!

And I’ll survive. I will survive.
I survived!

Being an Introvert Doesn’t Make Me a Bad Parent

I love these gorgeous people

I love these gorgeous people

It’s that time of year again. In two days time the children will break up for the summer. Here in the UK the summer holidays are only six weeks long – you’d think that would be easy, compared to the months they get in other countries, right?

Not for me.

The anxiety started a few days ago. The fear, the broken sleep, the crankiness and racing heart.

Tiredness makes it worse, as does grumpy children, and the end of term creates both.

Summer shows, birthday parties, day trips, farewell gifts, celebration assemblies, things to sign, uniform to buy for next year, moving up days, heat and humidity, have all taken their toll.

The children are fighting non-stop and Hubbie and I are like bears woken early from hibernation.

I know the irony of writing this after my last post. Maybe the contentment makes it harder. Because contentment for me comes from routine and time alone. Knowing where I’m meant to be and what I should be doing, and periods without responsibility or conversation.

Ultimately the thing that makes it hardest is the view that dreading the summer somehow makes me a bad parent. I come across it all the time. Mostly from parents who work, who are glad to have some time with their offspring, or at least away from the office.

Most of my acquaintances have public-facing jobs, which I guess makes them more likely to be extroverts. They like being around people, they take energy from others. Introverts? Not so much. Even people we love spending time with use up our energy and it’s only replaced by periods of solitude. That’s hard to find with two small children and a needy dog in the house 24-7.

I long for the 1980s – children running free in packs away from the house, like I did. Even now, if we lived in a town or a cul-de-sac with other children, then maybe mine would disappear to a friend’s house for an hour or two without me having to arrange it.

Already the children have started the, “Can we…?” and “When will we…?” questions. For half term I scheduled every minute and we were all happier, but I want my children to be free. I want them to be bored. I understand the importance of benign neglect. But there are no trees to climb where I live, no woods to explore, without driving to get there. They’re not old enough to ride around outside on their bikes (even if they could) and I live on a main road.

So it’s trips to the zoo and park and play dates and picnics, refereeing arguments because child A wants to do one thing and child B another. Trying to give them the freedom of my childhood in a world that dictates I must ensure their safety. Trying to stop them being clingy while remembering the psychotherapist that told me ‘dependence before independence’.

And through it all there are those other parents. The ones who say, “I don’t understand why people have kids if they don’t want to spend time with them,” or, “I love hearing my children play and talking to them. I miss them so much when they’re at school.” Or the dreaded look. The one that says, “What a horrible person you are for not wanting to spend 42 days straight with your beautiful children.” Even my doctor questioned whether I actually loved my children.

Yes I love my kids. Sometimes I’m so proud of them I could burst, or my love for them is like a suffocating hug.

I am a good parent.

It’s taken me seven years of soul-searching to appreciate those facts. But I hate arguments, and my children are currently at ‘tantrum four’ and ‘stroppy/sulky six’.

I gave up writing for the whole summer last year, so I could be present and attentive and all those things, and then couldn’t write again until January.

For their sake and mine, I need time by myself, to write, to read, to breathe.

But being a present parent, a helicopter parent, an attachment parent, call it what you will, means my children want to be with me ALL THE TIME. My son sobs if I walk the dog. My daughter wants me to watch her cartwheels endlessly. I can’t pee by myself, even now.

So, judge if you must. I don’t care. Well, not much. The anxiety is with me all the time, your disapproval can be ignored. My son will still go to nursery some days this summer even though his friends have all finished. My daughter has drama camp and church camp. The holiday is planned and sorted and there are times I can be alone.

And I’m okay with that.

Maybe Children ‘Behaving’ Isn’t So Essential

The Guardian article

The Guardian article

In my last post I complained that even my fictional children won’t do what they’re told. My character ran off and started writing a completely different book to the one I intended. According to a writer’s course I did, this is a sign of bad planning and research.

It turns out that my character might know what she’s doing and, if I let her express herself, she’ll write a truer story than anything I could carefully plan and execute.

While writing courses and writing advice is all brilliant, and helps the craft, there is definitely a point to tune out external opinion and trust your gut.

Two articles I read on Facebook recently have made me realise the  same thing with regards to my real life parenting.

I’ve always been a ‘soft’ parent, willing to accommodate my children and listen to them.  I did see a meme this morning on Twitter that said something like, ‘If you always put others first, you teach them that you’re second’ and that is certainly worth considering. I often have to explain to my children what ‘servant’ and ‘slave’ mean after I’ve blurted out a particularly sarcastic comment.

Even so, I’ve never been too bothered about swapping the pink cup for the yellow, or making toast that’s half-marmite, half-jam. This is seen as a parenting weakness. In an article I ranted about a while ago, a nanny said she judged a family badly if they did exactly that. I argued with this view. Why shouldn’t we accept that kids have opinions? I have my favourite glass, fork, plate, bowl and make sure I get them at mealtimes. Woe betide husband making a cup of tea in the wrong mug!

We tell our kids not to whinge or have tantrums or change their mind, but we’re no better. This brilliant article Toddler vs Mum Behaviour: Spot the Difference? on WryMummy.com sums up the hypocrisy. We’re all capable of spilling a drink or napping at the wrong time, and we’re old enough to know better, as the phrase goes. So why yell at a child for it?

The second article that really hit home was on the Guardian website. It’s called Since when did obedience become the epitome of good parenting? My answer would be, Always. Traditionally that’s been the whole purpose of parenting and education. To raise obedient children, seen and not heard, who would go into the Forces, or a factory or an office, and do what they were told.

But life isn’t like that anymore. There are no jobs for life, and the good jobs are about being able to think for yourself – doctors, nurses, scientists, programmers, designers, entrepreneurs, even plumbers and electricians (jobs picked at random!) all require independent thought and problem solving skills. How many times have you moaned because a person in a shop or a tradesman did ‘exactly’ what you asked, without using their brain?

In the Guardian article, the author says, “Imagine going to a friend’s house and you accidentally spill a drink and get shouted at, instead of them saying “oh don’t worry” and mopping it up. And yet…”

The Wry Mummy article

The Wry Mummy article

My kids are terrified of doing something wrong because I yell at them, particularly if they break something or spill a drink. Recently, due to perceived external pressure to make them more obedient, I’ve started started saying things like, “I don’t want to hear excuses, I want to hear, ‘yes Mummy’!”  WTF? I sound like a sergeant major at best, a monster at worse.

I don’t want kids who can’t think for themselves. It is tough, when compliant children are so much easier to deal with. But the flip side is the dangers of compliance. The article discusses a book by Alfie Kohn, called Unconditional Parenting. In it, Kohn explains that a compliant child becomes a particular worry when they hit the teenage years.

“If they take their orders from other people, that may include people we may not approve of. To put it the other way around: kids who are subject to peer pressure at its worst are kids whose parents taught them to do what they’re told.”

That terrifies me. My son already does what his sister tells him to do, even if that is scrambling onto the shed roof or dangling from the climbing frame – activities she often won’t do because she knows they’re dangerous and she’ll get told off. When he’s in trouble for fighting at nursery his explanation is always, ‘But my friends were doing it…’ He’s 4.

The same goes for children who won’t tell their parents when they’re in trouble or suffering. If I silence them now, will they not tell me when they’re being bullied, or starting to think about having sex?

Hard as it is to be constantly challenged, at least my children aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves or explain their actions. Part of my strong reaction to it is knowing I would never have got away with arguing back as a child. There is definitely a fine line between arguing and answering back (in a rude and stroppy way – something my daughter is a master at).

A comforting thought is written beneath the attached photograph: “A healthy sense of rebellion is a sign that a child’s attachments are secure.” If a child can’t push the boundaries with their primary caregiver, how will they ever learn where those boundaries are?

Reading these articles today has made me more determined to watch for the line, rather than having a blanket ban on all forms of self-justification and expression of opinion.

Who knows, today’s child that learns to fight her corner, justify her position, who knows she is valued and her words count, might well go on to change the world. Or at least enjoy her place in it more.

A Mental High-Five

Fun at the fountains

Fun at the fountains

I’m always talking about the trials of parenting and how much I struggle. So, today, I thought I’d share my little personal high-five.

We live near a place called Burghley House (as in Burghley Horse Trials or as featured in many a costume drama!)

Part of the estate includes the Gardens of Surprise, which consists of a water garden and a sculpture garden. I used to take the kids a lot when it was hot, but it got harder as they wanted different things (one to stay with Mummy, one to explore).

Now they’re of an age that they can go and play together I decided, this summer, to get another family pass.

So today we went. The sun was beaming down, a gentle breeze keeping it cool. Perfect.

However, having made the decision to go, I realised – at 10am – that I didn’t have anything for a picnic. So (high-five no. 1) I quickly rustled up some Mary Berry scones (including a little jar of jam), some Paul Hollingwood blueberry muffins, and a pile of cheese sarnies.

I managed to locate swim gear, shoes, hats, and applied sun cream. I remembered water bottles, the porta-potty AND the picnic blanket. Lunch was yum (high-five no. 2)

I invited a friend and her family to meet us and they arrived mid afternoon. The kids had even more fun and we got to share the parenting load. The dads supervised a frisbee game and my friend and I got to chat.

Then, to top off this unprecedented parenting day of gloriousness, when we got home, I stared blankly at a fridge full of random leftovers and came up with a delicious ten-minute meal (spinach and beetroot salad with smoked fish and toasted cashew nuts). High-fives all round.

I didn’t remember to buy milk, and I’ve still got school uniform to iron, but you can’t win them all. Still, today it felt pretty close.

A Mother’s Hymn

Mummy is broken, tired and yawning
Mummy is broken, shaken and stirred
Praise for the caffeine, Praise for the chocolate
Pass me some matchsticks, my vision is blurred

Mine is the long day, mine is the long night,
Tantrums and nightmares, cuddles and pee
Bring me the weekend, dream of a lie-in
One day when they’re older, and I can just be

Amanda Martin

To the tune of Morning Has Broken

Busy Is a Sickness

Busy is a Sickness Article

Busy is a Sickness Article

I read a brilliant article on HuffPost Parents this morning called Busy Is a Sickness.

The article discusses how everyone seems to be busy these days, but that – when we scratch beneath the surface – that business is often self-inflicted. That we seem to be afraid to be still and be ourselves, so we fill our lives with doing.

The article’s author, Scott Dannemiller, says, “I wear busyness like a badge of honor. Only there’s no honor to be had.”

He explains how he became resentful when someone listened to him describe a crazy day ahead and said, “Sounds like a full day, have fun!”

I laughed out loud when I read that part, because I recognised myself so fully in the statement.

I have a friend who has said something similar to me, and I felt equally resentful. Don’t you know how hard my life is? I wanted to say. Don’t you know how busy I am, how hard I find it remembering all the details and running round after my kids. Cooking meals, washing laundry, walking the dog, all while finding time to write and spend time with my children? Pity me.

Lately, though, I’ve come to see all those things as blessings in my life. I am blessed to have a family who need me, a dog who loves being walked and who makes me get outside every day, rain or shine. I am blessed to have time to write and to live in a beautiful (messy) house. I am blessed to be able to pick my children up from school every day and be home with them in the holidays. I am blessed to have a husband who doesn’t mind the mess and random meals.

It’s hard to remember those blessings all the time, though. Most of the time my internal dialogue reverts back to the ‘woe is me, I’m so busy’ script.

I’ve been learning about Transactional Analysis in the writing course I am doing at the moment, particularly about life scripts. The website Changingminds.org describes life scripts like this:

We create stories about our lives, what they have been and what they will be. This starts in childhood where we weave our perceptions of our selves and of the world around us into a narrative about what we can and will do.

These life scripts then continue to have a deep and unconscious effect on how we live our lives. They affect the decision we make. They control what we think we could easily do and could never do. They shape our self-image. And yet we seldom realize where they come from or even do not know that they exist at all.

Our life scripts are often encouraged and shaped by parents and other family members, whose life scripts were shaped by their parents and so on. In this way, we become a product of our family’s history. Likewise, our scripts are also woven by cultural and national forces.

Life scripts are not all the same as they may also be significantly affected by individual events, such as being criticized by a teacher or bullied by other children. They also are constrained by inherited characteristics. For example it would be unusual (but not impossible) for a shorter person to include being a basketball player in their life script.

There are often overall shapes to life scripts that can be expressed very simply, for example ‘I am a loser’ or ‘I must help save the world’. Life scripts can be very detailed and they can be very vague. They can be very empowering, yet they can also severely limit our lives.

I am starting to realise that my life script features phrases like, “woe is me,” or “I’m never good enough,” or “everyone expects me to help them,” or “pity me.”

I deliberately place myself into positions where I am put upon, unappreciated, stressed or busy, and that reinforces my script. Being busy is part of that. A busy person is a useful person. A person who isn’t busy is lazy. These are things I have inside me.

When I first met my husband he was really good at just sitting and being. I saw it as laziness and it drove me crazy. I thought he should be fixing something, cleaning something or doing something useful. I probably drove him to be more busy and less happy. I regret that. Especially now I appreciate the true benefits of stillness. We need to just be. We don’t need to be busy all the time.

This is the quote from the HuffPost article that really resonated with me (from Dr. Susan Koven, Massachusetts General Hospital.)

“In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

One of the things that makes me most stressed/unhappy/irritable is when my brain is full. There are two dozen things that need doing right away and my brain is processing them all.

I am learning (slowly) to prioritise. To accept my house will never be fully clean. I practice Mindfulness and tell those thoughts to just clear off for a while. It’s very liberating. But to the outside world I probably look lazy and, being an HSP, I care what the world thinks.

When I chose to be a stay-at-home-mum/writer I felt I had to be busy all the time, or people would think less of me. That I was more important or a better person when I worked 12-hour days to meet crazy deadlines.

I felt I had to drive myself to fill every minute and rush rush rush. I had to rush the kids to school, even though I didn’t have to get to work on time. I made excuses, I never stopped.

Then I broke.

I had suicidal thoughts. I came to believe the world would be better without me because I was so rubbish, so lazy, so incapable of being as good and busy and productive as all my doctor, nurse, teacher friends who were making a real difference in the world.

It was a dark time and it took medication and a good doctor and the support of a loving family to come through it. But, most of all, I had to learn to be kind to myself and forgive myself for not being everything I wanted to be or thought I should be.

I learned to nap when I need it, to leave early to pick up the kids so I’m not rushing. I learned it’s okay to read a book, knowing I made my choices.

Do I feel guilty that some people are the ‘have to be busy to make ends meet’ sort because they have bills to pay? Yes, I do. But sometimes I think even that is about choices for some (not all, most definitely). How often are we working for the next car, house, holiday when we wouldn’t need those things if we were happier in ourselves?

Do I still care what the world thinks and have to justify my actions? Of course; that’s why I’m writing this post after all. I still have ‘pity me’ moments. I still want the world’s sympathy. Want my life, my worries, to be more important than everyone else’s. But I see those thoughts for the intruders they are. They aren’t my thoughts, they’re learnt and inherited. I can choose to ignore them.

I share this prayer with Scott:

“So my prayer today is this. That I stop defining myself by my doing, and start defining myself by my being. That I stop measuring time by the clock on the wall, and start measuring it by the experiences I share with those around me. And that I stop seeing my life as “busy,” and instead, see it for what it truly is.

Full.”

In Response to Coffee and Conversation

Culture Monk Blog

Culture Monk Blog

One of my favourite blogs, Culture Monk now called Coffee and Conversation, is written by Kenneth Justice. He discusses many big themes, such as community, culture and religion, and I often find myself nodding in agreement (although as an agnostic I don’t necessarily agree with everything he writes).

Today he published a post called Adulthood no longer exists…. I had to read it, because it has occurred to me many times since becoming a grownup that there aren’t really any grownups and we’re all winging it. In fact there’s a quote to that effect going around Facebook at the moment (I’ll link when I find it).

I think you become most aware of it when you have children and you realise you have to start being the adult. I often look at my parents and my father-in-law and think they seem so grown-up, but I know that they don’t feel any different inside than they did when they were in their teens or twenties, just the same as me.

I also read the article because recently I’ve felt that my husband and I need to grow up a bit more, take a bit more responsibility, spend a bit less time playing computer games and more time cleaning the house and taking the children swimming. But then I read Kenneth’s article and, instead of confirming my view, it made me reconsider. Mostly it made me reconsider what we mean by Adulthood. Does there have to be a demarcation between child and adult? I look at my children and they’re amazing. They see the world with such fresh eyes, they are open to endless possibilities, they live in the now and rarely dwell on the past or grievances or things they don’t have. Why would we want to be different to that?

Also, as I read more of the article, which focussed on people playing games on their phones instead of interacting in coffee shops, I realised that such behaviour might be that of a teenager but it certainly isn’t that of a child. A child would be in there, introducing themselves to everyone and discussing what they had for breakfast. We train that out of them when we tell them to grow up and behave, to be wary of strangers, to stay out of other people’s business.

This was my comment on Kenneth’s blog: It focusses mainly on the gaming aspect (and by gaming I mean computer games, not gambling. I have a whole different view on that!) I’d like to discuss this further but I have a dog to walk and children to collect, so I’ve just pasted the comment here. I would love to know what you think!

For once I’m not sure I agree with you. I have had many similar discussions with my husband recently because a) he and I would rather be gaming in the evening than reading (and I’m a writer of fiction, there’s nothing wrong with my intellect and I love to read, whether it’s YA or Hemingway) and b) our six year old daughter would rather play computer games and watch youtube videos than read. Again, she’s a very bright child and I don’t see the games as diminishing her intellect. If anything, they are stretching her far more than the drivel her school send her home to read. She is discussing strategy and learning about the world.

Obviously I monitor closely the games she plays, and make sure they aren’t sapping the life out of her. But I despair of getting her to read through choice. I did nothing but read at her age and I explained that to her the other day (in a mother-guild panic because not reading is equated with going to hell in the middle-class world I live in), and she said, “but, Mummy, do I have to grow up to be like you?”

Those were her exact words and they floored me. No, of course she doesn’t. I hope she doesn’t, because she lives in a completely different world to the one I grew up in. I read to escape at her age. Enid Blyton and Sweet Valley High books, even Lord of the Rings and other weightier tomes (for an eight year old) were my friends and family. But do I look back and think that was healthy? Not really. I was escaping life. My daughter doesn’t read I believe because she doesn’t need to escape life. She loves life. She doesn’t need to be entertained – she is entertained, by her drawing, her brother, her toys, and by the ipad.

My children discuss their games together, they strategise and plan and compete and learn and help each other. Even on a ‘mindless’ game like Minion Rush I see them getting so much from it. And me, too. I’ve never felt so alive – since becoming a work from home mum – as when I started playing strategy games. I am using my brain like never before. I have something to discuss with my husband: we talk far more than we used to when I was buried in my books all the time. We have few points of contact in our choices of books and films but we found a common point in games.

I don’t disagree that culture is becoming fragmented, that people are spending more time in their virtual worlds and less time making human contact. I worry that empathy is disappearing (and then I read some posts on Humans of New York and my faith is restored.) I quite often only speak to people at the school gate, and not even then if I’m tired.

But I certainly wasn’t having deeply intellectual conversations before becoming a SAHM or before playing games on my ipad. My friends and I talked about clothes and handbags and restaurants and movies and a bunch of other things I couldn’t always relate to. Even my husband and I don’t talk politics because we don’t have the same beliefs. I’ve found my own tribe online. Facebook is my coffee shop where I hang out with friends and discuss the political views I subscribe to. My blog is where I chat and swap parenting stories and work things out.

Maybe culture isn’t failing, maybe it’s just shifting. Maybe we’re no longer restricted by trying to find common ground with the people we happen to exist alongside geographically, maybe we can reach out to a whole world and find people who are like us, wherever they exist (or even whether they are real, I guess).

Anyway, something for me to think on when I have my coffee! 🙂 Great and thought-provoking article.

Deliciously Ella: Or How I Accidentally Jumped on a Bandwagon

The new cookbook

The new cookbook

I don’t do healthy eating. I try, but I’m a lazy cook and a chocoholic, and I was brought up in an age when crispy pancakes and deep fried chips were a perfectly acceptable meal to give a child.

My sister is the foodie in the family. Her children eat humus through choice and would take veg over chocolate any day. She makes healthy muffins and stews and slow-cooked curries. She bakes her own bread. And she works all day in an office.

I want to be like that, I do. But I find it hard to lead by example. Even though I’ve started baking a bit more, I make white bread and scones, banana loaf and chocolate cake. Watching the half-a-bag of white sugar and half-a-slab of butter go into the bowl ready to make cookies doesn’t prevent me from eating them all, although I do try and limit how many I give to the children.

Since my first child was born (six years ago already – how did that happen?!) I’ve tried to move away from white bread and crisps to a healthier diet, but with limited success.

I do make my own bolognaise sauce from scratch (most of the time), especially as it’s the only thing both my fussy children will eat. I buy fruit and vegetables, and the children sometimes even eat them. I scour labels for sugar content, and try to make sure the children have a break from their sugary breakfast cereal at least one day a week by making them eat Weetabix. They mostly only drink water and milk (although fruit juice is allowed.)

Despite my half-hearted efforts I realise, some days, that my son has only eaten wheat: for breakfast, lunch and dinner (cereal, toast and pasta), with a bit of cheese and a bottle of milk thrown in for good measure. Thank goodness he isn’t dairy or gluten intolerant. My daughter does better, as she loves berries, but it’s tough keeping up with that habit in the winter without taking out a second mortgage.

Recently I realised, even by my poor standards, things have taken a nose-dive. The children are having chocolate biscuits and crisps for their snacks instead of rice cakes and muesli bars (the low sugar type, not the ones that claim to be healthy and yet have 40% sugar content). The problem is they’re getting more vocal, and fussier, and – with hubby out of work last year when I was watching the food budget more – I realised crap food is so much cheaper.

But it’s February and I’m still shattered. The doctors don’t know why I’m tired all the time. I know Christmas and then my daughter’s birthday month always take their toll, but I’m in the middle of a stinking cold, and my children are on their second each of 2015. Something has to give.

Then I heard an interview, by accident, on Radio 2 a couple of weeks ago, with a woman called Ella who suffered from an illness that left her sleeping sixteen hours a day and unable to walk. She cured herself by switching to a whole-food, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free diet.

Ella's Blog

Ella’s Blog

Normally I try and ignore such interviews.

When it came out a few years ago that sugar was the new smoking, the new thing we all have to quit, I hid under the covers. I can’t vaguely imagine giving up sugar. I might just be able to give up refined sugar, although breakfast would be hard as I’m a cornflakes girl, but giving up fruit? Bananas and fruit smoothies are the only healthy things I enjoy. I might as well give up breathing. Giving up smoking when I found out I was pregnant was a doddle in comparison. (Besides, I did that for someone else, not for me.)

But the more I listened to Ella talk, the more I liked what I was hearing. Still being able to eat pizza and chocolate brownies? Surely too good to be true? Was there a way I could feel better and still stuff my face with chocolate cake on that fourth week of the month when my hormones demand their human sacrifice? Better still, was there a way I could sneak vegetables into my now-much-too-savvy children’s diet?

After the interview was over, I ordered the cook book. Me and thousands of others apparently. That was when I realised I had inadvertently jumped on a bandwagon. Apparently Ella is the daughter of Mrs Sainsbury and a former Cabinet Minister and her blog has had 17 million hits. Ho hum. I never have been that much up on the zeitgeist.

When the book finally arrived last week it was more like a study book than a cook book. Not that I would know – I only have a couple of cook books and I don’t think either of them have ever been used. My few recipes come from the Co-op free magazine or online. But when I opened random pages in Ella’s book, I didn’t find easy-to-make healthy recipes, I discovered essays on the wonders of quinoa and chickpeas. So I stuck it on the shelf next to Jamie Oliver and the Woman’s Own tome and ignored it.

Fast forward a week, past my daughter’s craft party (which went really well, thankfully), past three days of feeling so awful it took all my energy to take the children to school, and I had a change of heart. I needed something to make me feel better and coffee and chocolate just weren’t doing it.

Baby steps towards a healthier diet...

Baby steps towards a healthier diet…

I started out searching for smoothie deals online. I keep seeing them in Groupon emails – you know, for the bargain price of ÂŁ59.99 (reduced from ÂŁ249.99) you can have a dozen tiny bottles of fruit juice, guaranteed to make you feel better.

I didn’t have sixty quid for three days’ worth of juice. So I went to the supermarket and bought some instead, including lettuce and beetroot juice.

And then I started having porridge for lunch. And that reminded me of where I came in to Ella’s interview on Radio 2. How she was such a sugar-monster that she had to hide fruit in her porridge when she first started out on her quest for healthy eating. It sounded familiar.

And it made me pick up the book. And read the first chapter. And write a shopping list of things I’ve never heard of, like buckwheat flour and tahini. That’s as far as I’ve got, well apart from making my porridge today with coconut oil and honey instead of sugar and treacle. I won’t be going dairy or gluten free any time soon, but if I can manage one meal a week (a month!) from Ella’s book, it will be a good start.

I think that’s what is different with Deliciously Ella. She was a self-confessed sugar-monster student, and she managed to make the change. If she can then so can I. Maybe not all at once, but bit by bit. She isn’t preaching, she isn’t being holier-than-thou (or she certainly doesn’t come across that way in the book’s introduction) and that’s very encouraging.

When I started out self-publishing, there were those who said ‘you can do it’ and those who said, ‘you must have an editor and a proofreader and spend thousands or you’re ruining it for all of us.’ Thankfully I listened more to the former (although the latter left scars) and I followed my own path.

Hopefully I can apply the same logic to eating. It doesn’t matter if it’s one thing, one meal, one ingredient. It’s better than nothing. And if it allows me to get through the school holidays without being asleep all the time, then it will be worth the effort.

I’ll keep you posted!