What Does Failure Look Like?

This morning I took my 2 year old for her 2 year check up with the health visitors. Another mum and I waited in a little playroom with our children for the appointments. One of the health visitors came through to call us up and she looked at our children and said cheerfully “Oh they both look lovely. I can’t imagine they’ll fail at anything today.”

I felt a bit startled.

Having filled in the questionnaire of what my child can do in terms of mobility, coordination, communication etc I knew what kinds of questions and activities would be asked and presented: Threading beads onto a shoelace, drawing a line on a piece of paper, stacking wooden blocks on top of each other, talking…

The idea that not being able to do these things, or getting round to things a little slower might be seen as a failure seems strange to me.

I believe we don’t allow our children enough space to experience or test out failure in their discoveries or development. Teachers being paid by results and schools measured on league tables, leave no room for exploration or even room for young people to develop their own sense of drive or ambition. But I don’t believe that children who develop slower, or children who don’t wish to perform in front of 2 strangers can be called failures.

 

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Collective Self-Congratulatory Crap

It comes as no surprise to those that know me that I am not a fan of Mother’s Day. I’m not generally a fan of commercialised general days (Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day come under my ‘kill switch’ too). However, this year I felt myself more cross than usual and simply ignoring it by myself doesn’t seem quite enough. So I’ll blog about it too, because, you know, that’ll do it.

Here’s a snapshot of some Mother’s Day present suggestions that have been witnessed by me this year:

Ikea: an ironing board.

Local magazine article making suggestions to kids: Do the washing up for her for a day.

A Telegraph article that’s frankly so full of crap it’s hard to know which line to pick out – spa products for the stressed mum who’s looking tired and dishevelled, cookery books, handbags, sportswear, or flowers for the mum who has everything. Apparently it’s our duty to put her first for 24 hours because we’re so crap at it the rest of the year – I paraphrase, but you get the gist.

Taking her out to brunch / lunch / dinner – to save her the washing up.

A spa day.

A spa day.

A spa day. [Repeat to fade]

It is disheartening to find that in 2014, we are falling over ourselves to suggest that we should be giving a woman 1 day off the housework, or cooking, and that the only thing that might genuinely interest her on her 1 day off doing the housework is her appearance.

Here are some suggestions for Father’s Day gifts / events from last year:

Den building in various National Trust locations.

Power tools.

Golf days, football days, drive a fast car days, sports stadium tours.

Gadgets.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but perhaps it would make more sense to buy *him* the sodding ironing board if he’s not managed to find it in the last 364 days? Seems high time he might need one.

The gender stereotypes of these two parenting days are not just irritating, they don’t happen in a vacuum, they are reinforcing every aspiration-limiting message we give to our children. I don’t want to teach my children that mums do the cleaning and dads drive fast cars, put up shelves and kick a football. I don’t want to teach my children that mums are allowed 1 day off the tedious housework, while dads are allowed 365 days a year of fun. These are damaging messages to give to adults. They are damaging messages to give to our children.

This is collective, self-congratulatory, self-delusional crap (I was going to say nonsense, but it needs a much, much stronger word than that), on a national scale, and I see no reason to celebrate it.

 

In The Life Of The Child, Nothing Has Changed

I have learned something about parenting. Specifically my parenting. I make no claims to have learned anything about your parenting, that would take me into the realm of parenting self help books and that’s not really my thing. It turns out that the thing I thought would be the hardest, was not the hardest.

I thought that the excruciating lack of sleep and the torturous interrupted nights would be the hardest. They were (mostly were, sometimes still happening) pretty darn hard.

I thought that not being able to be spontaneous anymore would be really tough. It is, but not really anywhere as much as I feared. My mum told me that was coming, so it didn’t take me by surprise.

No, it turns out that being consistent is the hardest thing.

I am good at sticking to it if I’ve said no.

I am pretty good at getting food on their plates at roughly the same time every day.

I have fairly simple rules that they mostly know and that’s all fine.

But on any given day, there are incidences and actions from my kids (especially the 4.5yo) that fall outside these simple rules. Things she does that she just don’t know about yet; like putting lipgloss on a teddy bear to prepare it for a photo (how would she know that lipgloss doesn’t wash off, or is only for humans??), or cutting holes in table cloths because… actually I have no idea why, or tying scarves round the bed frame, or…. the list could be quite long really.

Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I tell her off. Sometimes I try to explain why something is terrifying to a grown up. Sometimes I think she doesn’t have any idea whether her trying out something new is going to make me shout at her or laugh out loud. Sometimes something that would make me laugh out loud one day is just one thing too many to deal with on another and makes me shout. Sometimes I think that in the life of the child that must get quite confusing. For her, nothing has changed and I don’t think she should have to monitor how hassled I feel before she is comfortable to explore the world around her.

Feminine Sports and Other Nonsense

Here are some things that have been said to me by my 4 year old daughter, and by friends’ daughters of similar ages to their parents: 

“Boys don’t do ballet do they mum? They only tapdance”

“Football is for boys”

“Boys can already play football at school, it’s too hard to join in” 

And said to a friend’s daughter: “You can’t play tag with us because you run too fast.”

(There are many more of these and variations on the theme). 

 

Here are some observations: 

There are virtually no women represented in the National Football Museum. 

There is hardly any women’s sport on television, and women’s successes in sport (women’s cricket anyone?) can pass by unnoticed. 

You don’t see schools’ girls sports (hockey or netball) on television. 

Advertising of sports and toys reinforces gender stereotypes.

Girls do less exercise than boys. 

Girls’ shoes (school shoes and otherwise) are not made for running around or climbing trees. 

Our Sports and Equalities Minister, Helen Grant, suggested that women who are put off by ‘unfeminine sports’ should be encouraged to try ballet or cheerleading. [And I refer you back to my daughter’s comment ‘boys don’t do ballet, do they mum?’ 

 

How we play when we are little affects how we play when we grow bigger. I don’t know about you but I am pretty self conscious about trying something new, and about not doing something well. It comes as no surprise to me that joining a group of children who play football faster, better, more confidently, more knowledgeably is a hard thing to do. It comes as no surprise to me that joining a group of children in a ballet class that is for girls is a tough thing to do if you’re a boy and want to fit in. 

 

It seems that sports brands such as Nike and Adidas have been leading the way in marketing sports to women. It’s not about being feminine or segregating sports yet further. More of this please. Because how we (parents, teachers, grown ups, marketing companies) talk to our children about gender matters. 

 

 

 

Mummy, Will You Play With Me?

I have become adept at playing while sitting or lying down. 

Did you know that you have a Handosaurus? In fact, I have 2, and my 4yo has 2, which makes a whole family. To play you simply need to ‘walk’ your hand across a surface, making sure you keep your middle or index finger up in the air to be the head. Then you do silly voices. You can role play in this way for really quite a long time. 

I also have a finger pirate. He (or she) takes a little more work as you need to draw a face on your finger (don’t forget the eye-patch) and then speak in pirate: ‘ha-haaar me hearties, there be buried treasure here!’ and then off she goes around the room to look for whatever item you decide is the treasure (it does help if your house is not too tidy).  

We can play verbal hide and seek too. I close my eyes, she hides. I then remain lying down and wonder loudly where she might be. I suggest places and if she is silent she is not there. If she giggles I have found her. And start again. I now count in German so that she will at the very least be able to count to ten in another language. Educational and fun, see? 

The trouble is (it’s confession time), I often find playing rather boring. Even if I hit upon some ingenious playing ideas (as you can see from the above, I’m quite the expert), after ten rounds of it in 10 minutes I get a bit bored. The 10th time I am the prince wondering who the princess is who has left me a slipper in my bed I want to do something else. My 4yo is rarely ready to move on when I am, and so the tough part is often not the sitting or lying down restriction but my brain, and trying to make myself sound enthusiastic and play the game for as long as she wants to, rather than as long (short) as I want to.

I don’t think I am alone in this. I see it all the time at museums that kids are playing happily and are completely absorbed and the parent or carer is attempting to move them on to the next incredibly exciting thing. I have often wondered why parents do this when their child is clearly so happy in the activity they have been taken to, but it is hard switching off your needs and focussing just on the child. And this is before we get to balancing 2 childrens’ needs at the same time. 

 

I miss you anyway.

Hello dear reader,

I’ve neglected you this week. This is because writing while lying down is both tedious and difficult. But here, a short update on how I am doing. I am mostly doing pretty well. I am not hurting as much as I anticipated (largely due to the fact that I was anticipating a great deal of pain) and I am able to move reasonably well.

I am determined to do everything right. So I am doing my physio exercises, and having been told to walk as much as possible, I really am walking as much as possible. This means I walked for an hour and twenty minutes today, and two days ago went for two hour long walks. It feels good to be walking again. It hurts, but it’s ok.

It is hard to shut off the worry. The shooting pain has stopped, but the pain at the bottom of my back is still very much there. I don’t know if this is the pain that will stay or whether this is from the bruising and the healing after the operation. There is no way of knowing yet so I am trying not to think about it.

The hardest thing is being here but not here at the same time.

At home I can only lie down. My 4yo is happily playing with the various family members who are here to help and understands what’s going on. My 1yo does not. She does not like cuddling lying down, but clearly can’t fathom why I don’t just pick her up when I am standing. It will be a long time before I am allowed to pick her up and even sitting playing is a way away. 

I can look at my children from less than a metre away and miss them terribly.   

Teaching Consent to a 4 Year Old

My children do not have to hug daddy, kiss granny, snuggle mummy, give hugs to aunties or indeed engage in any physical activity they don’t want to. 

This can be quite hard. If I want to give my 4yo a goodnight kiss and she decides that she doesn’t want one I feel like I’ve missed part of the evening, if I drop her off at school and she decides she doesn’t need a hug I feel a bit like I’ve missed a step. I am not alone in feeling like this. I have heard many variations on a theme, both to my daughter and to other children around me: 

‘But you have to kiss daddy, you’ll hurt his feelings.’

‘Give grandma a kiss, she’s driven a long way to see you.’

‘Go and hug aunty, she’s brought you a present.’ 

‘Oh, well if I don’t get a kiss I won’t bring you a present / read you a story again.’

Just think about those sentences in the context of a teenagers life whilst flirting for a second: ‘I’ve bought you a drink, so you have to kiss me.’  See how wrong that sounds? The idea of kissing someone so that you don’t hurt their feelings, or kissing someone so that they don’t feel they’ve missed part of their evening becomes problematic when we’re talking about meaningful consent among teenagers (or older). 

I struggle to understand how we expect our teenagers to hit 13, 14, 15 etc years old and suddenly have the confidence to say no, when we’ve been overriding their wishes when it comes to physical contact for years and years. 

My daughters will never have to kiss or cuddle anyone unless they choose to and I will always back them up if they choose to say no. My 4yo knows that kissing (and hugging, holding hands, tickling etc) is only fun if everyone *wants* to do it.