“what should you do if you become conce

“what should you do if you become concerned about your child’s weight?” Big issue for me right now. Thanks @themommyvortex http://ow.ly/Y9Qwh

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Comparison. We all do it. Right?

Colouring her nails went a bit wrong. She didn't realise the pens were permanent and she almost had a full on melt down...oops!

Colouring her nails went a bit wrong. She didn’t realise the pens were permanent and she almost had a full on melt down…oops!

Our story writing has shifted gear this month due to a new discovery. Art Journaling. We’re not quite  obsessive, but it would be fair to say our desire to play with arts materials is on the up. Ilyana uses various techniques to create scenes, tones and moods for her characters/stories and I’m playing more with the idea that art journalling could help me let go of my inner control freak.

I have longed to be freer in the control and arts department for years. Art journalling is my way in. I can feel it. Or at least I think it is. I’m embarrassed to admit that for years, we have had a cupboard full of art materials that have barely been touched until this month. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do with them. I wanted to get them out and paint and do ‘stuff.’ When I did, I kind of dried up. I hated Ily asking me to make things with her as I wouldn’t know where to start. When it came to world book day or anything that involved making a costume for your child, I’d call school informing them Ily was poorly, unless I’d been able to find something at the local charity shop. I’m not proud I did that, but I didn’t want to scar her and have to explain why she was always in a toga or a ghost at costume parties. It was a judgement call.

We’ve given ourselves permission to go nuts in our art journals. It’s amazing how therapeutic it can be and I love that it reconnects me with my own creativity as well as with Ilyana. Ily’s favourite starting point is to squirt water all over her page and then blow the paint around, making shapes, which then tend to become woodlands. Some are full of fairies, others are dangerous places.

I’ve noticed the dangerous places appear when things haven’t quite gone the way Ily would’ve liked.  I find myself wondering if the woodlands represent her. Perhaps they are a reflection of how she feels. If things go her way, the woods are full of magic, if things go wrong, then warning signs appear. During our first experiment, the orange paint blended with the blue paint creating a colour Ily really didn’t like. It sent her into a tail spin. Which is common for Ilyana. She’s very spirited and precise leaving little room for error. The result is a face like thunder, a refusal to engage and an almighty roar. No idea who she is mirroring. Nothing like me…honest.

By using this kind of creative approach to learning, Ily and I are figuring out how we would like to do things.  I love structure and routine. Ilyana however is de-schooling and in a place of exploration and resistant to structure or anything that resembles being ‘taught.’ For a control freak like me, surrendering to the possibility that I can let things naturally unfold and stop trying to create a school environment in the home RIGHT NOW, is a major challenge.

Truthfully, my control freak gets the better of me a lot. If I stop and look at the pressure I feel around holidays or special occasions I can see a pattern in my behaviour and as Ilyana pointed out to me two days ago, she could be showing me a different way to be. I have overheard Ilyana describe my downward spiral or hot moments on a few occasions now. “Mummy is feeling a bit grumpy. She can’t always see things clearly so she just needs a minute. She needs to remember her breathing.” So this is a pattern I am actively tracking and getting comfortable with so I can stay fully present to it. I’ll tie my knickers to a chair if it gets too uncomfortable!

By observing the traffic in my mind I notice I often question or doubt myself. Comparing myself to other home educating families, Ilyana now compared to how she was when she was at school, as well as comparing myself to parents who haven’t opted out of main stream education. This back and fourth mental discussion has become a regular point of fixation. The reasons for this are understandable and I’ve no doubt will pass with time, or as I grow in confidence and as Ilyana gets a place at Cambridge years ahead of her peers. Snigger 😉

Comparison is a theme in our house that has a propensity to fuel negative automatic thoughts in each of us. When Ilyana is triggered she says she feels “like a nothing.” Her tendency to compare herself to others wouldn’t be an issue or something I felt the urge to blog about if it hadn’t contributed to withdrawing her from school. Comparison led Ilyana to believe she was useless at everything. Her love of learning was disappearing and her self esteem was getting lower by the day. This caused her a lot of pain.

When I say pain what I really mean is suffering. When Ilyana came home, she would often cry herself to sleep. I recognise we all face obstacles in life and that over coming them can help us grow in confidence and self esteem whilst making us stronger.

A nagging question I find myself up against a lot these days, is should I have pushed Ilyana to just knuckle down and get on with it? One part of me thinks what she experienced was nothing more than the normal self doubt stuff that comes up when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone. The other part and the part that I decided to go with, believed this was moving towards something different. Something quite damaging.

I love home schooling which is something I never thought I would do. Yet I find I sometimes wake up in the morning wondering if I am actually f@@@ing up my child’s life because of the decision I made.

So I search for books. Books to coach me in my parenting, with homeschooling and children’s books to explore Ilyana’s feelings. I don’t always find ones that hit the spot when it comes to Ilyana, so being the control freak that I am, I decided to create stories specifically for her. As her muma, it felt natural and instinctively right.

Comparison has become a running theme in our stories as a result. Our protagonists often feel blue because they can’t do things as well as others and the stories are of their journey towards self acceptance. Some end with a wonderful transformation, some don’t.

As if by magic, Ilyana is starting to become comfortable with things not working out as she planned. As am I. My plan for her education saw her receiving the best education my money could by. Letting go of the attachments I had to her primary school were hard. They are an innovative, unique school and there truly isn’t another like it in the UK. How is she going to become a compassionate, well educated adult now? How can what I am offering at home even compare to the standard and quality of teaching she had access to there?

The truth is I won’t know for at least another 10/11 years.

In this moment, I believe playing creatively using stories, arts, being with friends and having the freedom to just explore with no constraints is nurturing her back to centre. It’s lovely to watch her having fun blowing paints around, knowing that it’s all good. She is learning it’s ok to make mistakes and that we all have our own style and way of doing things. Slowly this understanding is weaving it’s way in to my subconscious too.

Homeschooling is proving to be beneficial not just for Ilyana, but for me. Ilyana may have learnt from me that striving and getting things done is the only way to be in the world. I am grateful to have an opportunity to question that with her so she can make her own decision about how she would like to be in the world.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

I love this quote from Picaso. The world needs creative thinkers and I love that Ilyana is questioning the way I do things. Because she is right, my way is not her way and she likes to do things differently. I guess the art of parenting for me is to recognise when my ‘stuff’ is getting the better of me and when my control freak is in the driving seat. Life is much sweeter when my CF isn’t controlling the fun.

If art journaling is something you are unfamiliar with, this is the lovely lady we played with: Moyra Scott:https://www.facebook.com/moyrascottart

Is the reality all a bit too much?

A big change has taken place in our house.

I am now home schooling my daughter. I never thought I would choose to independently educate my girl. For years I have questioned my intelligence and always thought others were MUCH cleverer than me. You have to be smart to home school right? Equally I never thought I would write a blog as who would want to read something I had crafted? Blogging was not for me. I have nothing to say that would interest people.  Yet here I am.  Here I am doing two things I never thought I would do unless I was bribed or it was a part of my job. No money has wandered in my direction and … my daughter and I have never been happier.

Over the last few weeks Ilyana’s confidence has returned in lightening fast speed. She spends one day a week in the woods at forrest school, a day as stable hand, and self directs her own learning. Tonight I watched my little girl scoot to girls club laughing hard and daring me to catch her. She hasn’t done that for a while. Mostly she has clung to my leg, begging not to be left with a group of children she doesn’t know because her self esteem and confidence had been knocked. Heartbreaking was an under statement.

“School” as we decided to call it when we first flew solo lasted for two days. On the second day, I realised I had become the Trunchbull from Roald Dhal’s Matilda. Seriously I don’t know how it happened, but I was possessed! The voice that came out of me as I instructed her to stop messing about and get back on her chair, was not one I recognised. Ilyana almost cried and as I didn’t fancy the idea of scaring her on a daily basis, I ditched the timetable instantly.

That was not an easy thing to do. I love structure. I need structure. Structure makes me feel secure and almost every parenting book I have read, emphasises the importance of structure and routine in a child’s life. Tearing up the time table was huge for me. I had agonised over it and lovingly constructed it. Weeks of research had gone in to it. I loved it but not as much as I value my sanity or love my daughter.

In the moments leading up to binning the schedule, I found myself berating my feeble attempt to home educate. Worse still, I noticed I was starting to believe I had made the wrong decision and my child’s future was essentially buggered. I’m not a teacher and to home educate you need to be a teacher. Right? I was confused. How could something I felt so strongly about and believed in, suddenly go horribly wrong in less than a week?

An idea popped in to my head. It was obvious…stories! Stories could be our entry point. If a well crafted story can capture the imagination and have you glued to the book until you reach the end, then surely it must be possible to ignite a child’s love of learning using stories.

Writing them together had gone out of the window purely because I was in crisis management and had been telling myself I had to recreate a school environment at home. Stories have always played a large part in the way Ilyana and I connect . Ily and I adore them. We love snuggling up together reading or rewriting stories we like. How could I not have thought of using them as a starting point for her education before?

Stories for children rock and writing them together is awesome! It’s amazing how many doors this approach has opened.

In the run up to World Book Day, we’ve been exploring the idea that stories for children don’t need a happy ending. Our protagonist is a tadpole. At the end of our garden we have a small pond and at the right time of year, it’s full of tadpoles making it a helpful resource.

However, we also have two cats in our house who delight in ‘playing’ with the frogs/tadpoles they find. A few months ago, they brought a frog in to the house. (It’s possible they didn’t but I can’t see a frog hopping all the way to our kitchen. It’s not that easy to get in to either.) I  stood stunned watching them for a moment as I didn’t know what to do. All I recall thinking was, ‘I must save the frog.” It was surreal and felt a bit like the Beatrix Potter story, Peter Rabbit, the bit where he is being chased by the farmer. I remember loving that as a kid.

Anyway, whilst I was trying to think of a solution, the frog found it’s way in to their water bowl. Totally understand his rationale or at least the one I made up – he’s a frog, he needs water.

The question I now face is, is it too much to have our little tadpole chased by cats? Not eaten, he’s our leading man and we have put a lot of effort in to his character development. Plus I keep thinking about the death of King Kong which caused a riot when it was released.  Don’t want to traumatise my girl!

The Lion King also didn’t put anyone off as far as I’m aware so thinking of heading more in the direction of this simply being part of the circle of life. I know death is also part of the circle but as I said, I don’t want to kill off our leading man. I’m looking to gently introduce this sort of thing as it all being just part of the natural flow of life in the animal kingdom…but I’m thinking it could be a bit much. I’ll let you know how we get on!

Do stories for children need a happy ending?

I came across this question whilst playing on World Book Day website:

http://www.worldbookday.com

There is a tool on the site called Story Craft http://storytelling.worldbookday.com I love it. The thing I like most about Story Craft is you are guided through the writing process by those who write stories for a living. There are 50 authors to chose from, all with different styles and they are kind of like virtual mentors. They share their process/tools for writing and I find that helpful. I find myself thinking about the stories I’m writing in a different way and sometimes I surprise myself.

Do stories need a happy ending was a question from by Emily Gravett. I chose to explore writing with her, as like me she often writes stories for children focusing on emotions.

This question has not left my head.

In each of the Littlest Tadpole stories I have created for Ilyana, I noticed I have finished every tale happily.   By exploring that question I’ve come to realise that when faced with situations I find difficult or painful, I want the outcome to be the happy ending I have constructed in my mind. I then push until things become to painful for me to carry on, the situation gets worse and I am forced to stop, or if there is another person involved, they give up because I have backed them in to a corner. That’s quite a revelation for me. Is this how I want my life to be? Always a happy ending as I see it in order to get my own way. Feels a bit wrong somehow. What a thing to carry in to story telling!

I have therefore decided to challenge myself. For the next few weeks, I’m going to explore the possibility of ending differently. A bit less Disney. Let’s face it, sometimes things don’t go the way we want them too no matter how hard we try. In those moments what is the way through? Is it to keep pushing for things to be the way we want them to be? Or is it to surrender to the way things are in the here and now?

Mmmm thanks Story Craft and thank you Emily Gravett. Not what I was expecting when I decide to write a few stories for my child but then stories are powerful.