Painting With Kids & Time For Space

It is decorating season in our house.  Historically we have not been that great at decorating.  We moved here in 2007.   Two years passed before the Great Paint of 2009.  Eight more years have passed and now we have begun the Great Paint of 2017.  It was not our original plan to embark on it this year, but our eldest child, who had been happily sharing a room with her brother, started to become self-aware and question why she did not have a space of her own.   We live in a three-bedded house – one for us, one for the kids, and one enormous cupboard which doubled as a spare bedroom.  The cupboard bedroom was great for filing, dumping, making piles, hoarding things I could not bear to part with, stashing Christmas and birthday presents, and being the receiver of any clutter we needed to hide whenever we had visitors and wanted to give the impression we were minimalist, tidy people.    We were fortunate to have ten years of this but we knew eventually we would turn the room into a bedroom for one of the children and after a few gentle discussions with the two of them, it was agreed that we would set about making them both their own space now.

If you are like me, you will become a bit like a ball of cheese tumbling down a hill when it comes to decorating.  Once I begin, I start to see more and more things I want to paint.  Everything else starts to look a bit tired and one room becomes two, two become four, and pretty quickly I’m that cheese that cannot stop.   So the plan to decorate just the two bedrooms has turned into a master plan for the house. 

That aside, it has been lovely to see how excited the kids have been about making their own rooms and having a space that is just for them.  Admittedly, there have been a few arguments along the lines of ‘keep out of my room’, which I should have expected.  I remember some territory wars with my siblings when I was young.  But I also remember the lovely side to having separate bedrooms, such as sending messages from room to room, and being really excited at the treasures in my older, and much cooler, sister’s room.  

My husband did the core of the decorating and he involved the kids as much as he could with the painting.   It was our first experience of painting with kids.  Painting with kids involves a lot of patience.  Patience, deep breaths, and a beer in the fridge waiting for after bedtime.   Our daughter was keen to learn how to paint, she was quite methodical and she listened to instructions about how to do it.  Our son was less so.  He pretty much just grabbed a brush, dipped it in paint, and threw it at the wall.  Luckily, for the wall, he got bored after ten minutes and returned to his dinosaurs.

All in all, it took two weekends to finish, including a ‘sleepover’ in my son’s room, plenty of bickering about which toys would go into which room, and many, many lemons on window sills.  But now they are in and it’s just lovely.  I almost feel a little envious, harking back to my childhood when I had my first childhood bedroom decorated from floor to ceiling with flowery wallpaper (I make no apologies for my lack of taste).  

My son is a little sad that he won’t be sharing with his sister anymore, so we have promised a lot more of the sleepovers but I suppose it is symbolic of the next stage in their lives as they grow into proper children and start to carve out their identities, personalities, and their own spaces. 

Writing. Blogging. Learning.

I was well and truly in Spring cleaning mode the other day when I happened across some old newspaper articles I wrote for my former local rag, The Huddersfield Examiner.  I wrote a column for them when I was in my early twenties and, although I wasn’t quite fresh out of university, my days there were not too distant a memory, so the articles I wrote were for a regular slot called Uni Life.  I wrote about all manner of intelligent and profound subjects such as the key ingredients needed for an awesome student party, how to survive lectures when you are hungover, how to handle disagreements over dirty kitchens, and what my memories were of Fresher’s Week debauchery.   I found the articles all folded up in a brown envelope and I made myself read them, even though I knew the contents would probably make me cringe.  Cringe, I did, but I found myself recognising how useful they had been in helping me to find some early confidence in writing articles for others to read.  That is the key bit for me.  Until that point, I had written privately but had never let anybody read my words.  Probably because I felt embarrassed.   When you write articles or blog posts that reflect only your own opinion, it is pretty daunting allowing others to read them because you are in effect asking for people to judge what you have written.  If you think about yourselves as readers, it is hard to read anything without forming an opinion or judgment, good or bad.  Indeed, the mark of good writing is when it truly engages its reader.

So, the first time I let anybody read my writing was when I asked my friend, David, to read a piece I’d written about returning home from living in London.  The piece was about my experience of moving to London immediately after graduating from university, and subsequently feeling so homesick and unsettled that I returned to Yorkshire six months later.  Writing about it was cathartic and David convinced me to join him in writing the Uni Life column for the paper.  The London piece became my first article.

When I came to the end of Uni Life and I’d exhausted all of my memories, normal life took over and the writing stopped, at least publicly.  I continued to write little blog posts at home and I have been trying to write a novel for years that started as a dream, turned into a few chapters but will go no further.  And then I discovered Selfish Mother.   It was 2014.  I had two young children and I was looking for a magazine online that was not like the big players of the time that everybody else was reading.  I wanted to read something different.  Selfish Mother was that different.  I loved it.  The articles were honest but not offensive.  They were written from the heart of every writer and the writers were a mix of professional writers, journalists, and then at the other end, just normal people.  When the editor, Molly Gunn, put out an ad to invite others to join her team of authors, I jumped at the chance to write for them.

Molly and the other writers helped me a lot in the early days by editing my first few articles on Selfish Mother.  They offered really good advice and insights into how to present my posts to appeal to readers and not just to be about self-reflection.  And I remember the first time I saw my first post in real life on the screen, I felt a bit scared but, over time and with positive reassurance from my family and friends, I overcame that and have come to really enjoy blogging.    In the three years since then, I’ve created my own blog, which I think of as less a lifestyle blog and more a space online to store the things I’ve written so that my children can see them one day.  I’ve blogged for other sites, including a little parenting site in the north west, a series of guest posts for the website of the hospital where my husband and I had IVF treatment, and a little bit for The Huffington Post.

It isn’t always plain sailing.  With every positive and reassuring comment, every ‘you could have written this for me’ comment, there is the potential for people to tell you that you are wrong, that they disagree, or, worse, to troll you.  I think with any writing you  put out, you should be able to accept disagreement.  It is healthy and its important not to forget that not everybody shares your view, but even disagreement should be conveyed in a respectful way.  I recently read the piece in The Daily Mail which was a stinging attack on ‘mum bloggers’.   It wasn’t the most comfortable read and, had I been one of the bloggers that the article singled out for ridicule, I think I would have sunk down into a pit of sadness that my blogging had been so publicly shamed.  Those who were singled out have responded in the best ways.   Unsurprisingly, they have used their blogs to respond with clever and witty articles that, rather than being bitter and unhappy, are sharply written and highlight the big failing of the original article – that the writer had never properly read their blogs.   Also nice to see was a well-known fish finger maker using their advertising to sneer at the article, as the article had made fun of a blogger who gave her child a frozen fish finger.  Cynics might say this was a great PR attempt from the but still, it gives wider support to bloggers and that can only be a good thing.

Writing is an art form that changes all the time.  We are no longer in the realms of writers being only those who have traditional publishing deals and who write printed stories.  Writers come in all shapes and sizes, including bloggers, and that is to be embraced, not mocked.

My children sometimes ask what I’m doing when I’m writing on my computer. I tell them I’m writing and sometimes I say stories if it is the story I’m working on, but when they are older I will explain to them about my blogging.  I’m not a professional blogger or even one who wishes to make money from it.  I’m a hobby blogger because I write to fulfil my own personal love of writing.  And if, along the way, I write something that really resonates with people, then all the better.

The Harsh Reality of Body Shaming

I was body shamed today.  Or perhaps fat shamed.  Or both.  I wanted to write about it because it shocked me, stunned me, upset me, and because the way I make sense of things I don’t understand is often to write about them.

I’ve read a lot about body shaming of women. I know it happens.  I know it shouldn’t but I know we are heading away from progress in that area.  Just this morning I read a feature about the top 14 photoshop fails where magazines or advertisers had attempted (and failed) to make women look different, usually by making them thinner and/or younger looking.  So, I know it happens.  And as far as my own body-esteem goes, I’m no supermodel.  My body is average and it looks like the body of a 36-year-old woman who likes to eat chocolate and has an allergy to exercise.  I don’t kid myself that it is any different.  But the shaming experience this morning really hit home.  And I felt frustrated with myself for allowing it to.    How does that happen?  How is it that something horrible happens to us and then we still somehow manage to find a way to be pissed off at ourselves?

I won’t go into the minutiae of the event but, in a nutshell, a man I didn’t know shouted at me from a car I’d never seen before, whilst I was walking along the road to a volunteer placement at a local nursery.  The words he shouted were “Fat Arse”.

It seemed to happen pretty quickly.  Quick enough for the word Arse to fade into the distance as the car sped away.  For a moment, I wondered if it had been about me.  It’s easy to feel paranoia when you hear shouting from a car whilst your walking and I imagine we’ve all been the people waving back at people who aren’t waving at us.  So, I almost thought that perhaps it wasn’t at me.  And then I realised it was.  There was nobody else around.  The shouting came right at me as the car passed me.  And I kind of froze in a way.  Although I carried on walking, it stunned me.  A moment earlier I had been feeling pretty good.  It was a gorgeous sunny morning.  I was looking forward to seeing the children. It was a nice end to a tiring week and I felt good.  And then Mother Universe dropped by to remind me that things are not always that simple.

I put the incident out of my mind for the rest of the day, telling myself that he was just a t.w.a.t. who had nothing more interesting to do with his morning than shout obscenities at women he didn’t know.  I didn’t even know what he looked like or whether he was alone.  I didn’t look into his car.  The rational and reasonable part of me understood this was a silly incident by an unpleasant man.  But slowly my mind started to digest what had happened and all of the doubts and low self-esteem started to creep up and by the end of the day I had decided I was going on a diet, starting now.

There are moments in life where it would be handy to step outside of yourself and give your other self a good shake.  This was one of those.  I needed the shake.  From the other me.

But deeper than this is a real issue with the way women are viewed, for it to be considered okay by some people, even if it is a minority of people, to openly pass a judgement about a woman’s body.  It’s the old cliché that some women and girls have been cat-called in the street and now apparently it is considered fine to actually shout out of a car at a woman based on her size.  And I know this isn’t even about my weight.  My weight, my body, they’re my business.  If there is a diet to be started, it is because I want to do it for me, not because some low-life in a car felt nothing more in him this morning than an ugly thought.

I’m not sure why I decided to write this and I imagine I might read it again and feel shameful for experiencing this and shameful for admitting it.  It would have been very easy not to tell a soul and keep it hidden in the basement of my self-esteem.  But then that would be doing an injustice to women and girls who experience things like this every day.   There is no shame in bodies.  There is no shame in large or small.  And there is absolutely no shame in women and girls.   The only shame here was the sad man in the car.

Panto Season

It’s panto time this week. (Oh no, it isn’t).  Oh yes, it really is my friends.  Panto time again.  Since the kids have started to become a little older – full and proper members of the pre-school collective, they have started to love, nay, adore, pantomimes.    I say this as if it is something they have chosen to love, but it obviously could not have happened if I not taken them to see a panto in the first place.   So, it’s pretty much my fault.  I can’t even lay any blame at my husband’s door.  He’s brutally honest about his hatred of pantos.  So, unless the tickets are for a weekend show, I’m on my own.

I don’t remember loving pantomimes as a child.  I remember going to them.  I remember all the chanting and audience participation.  I remember the cast chucking sweets into the audience and me being secretly crushed every time because they never landed on me.  But I don’t remember loving them, the way my children do now.   Perhaps it really is personal preference rather than an in-built sense of panto-love purely because they are children.

I opened the doors to a future of pantomimes when my daughter was about 3.   During a nursery half term holiday, I took her to see a local showing of The Wizard of Oz.  We only lasted the first half.   The wicked witch person was too scary and we left at the interval.   Not a success.  Although, a very funny first half for the grown-ups, beginning with the scenery nearly falling over and then some horrendously bad warbling of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, followed by some inappropriate jokes.    Later that year, we went as a wider family to see Peter Pan.  This time we lasted the whole show and I think that was the moment my children decided that pantomimes were the future.   Since then, we’ve seen The Wizard of Oz again (this time with a funny and not scary bad witch played by Cheryl Ferguson aka Heather Trott) and I now feel like we are seasoned pros, ready for the next show.

To be fair, the theatre we visit is a lovely little local theatre and the actors who write and star in the shows are under-rated and under-noticed.  They don’t appear to be aiming for the big-time and they write funny little shows that entertain the kids and manage to keep the adults’ attention with a few blue jokes dotted around.   I suppose it would be an idea to see pantomimes at other theatres.  Mix it up a bit for the kids, but we are (I am) creatures of habit and we carry on doing what we’re comfortable with.

And I suppose, for all of my sneering at them, pantomimes are a lovely introduction to theatre for children.   And as somebody who used to work for a world-famous theatre group, I saw first-hand how wonderful it was to be able to bring theatre to so many people and especially to young people.  So perhaps I should look at this as the practice for later when I start taking them to theatre shows.

For now, I’m going to get my tickets out, get the Haribo and juice ready, and brace myself for the annual booing, hissing, and the secret hoping that the sweets will land on me.

The Mysterious World of Boy Hair

Do you remember the episode of Friends when Ross sent a Barbershop Quartet to Rachel’s work in an attempt to show her how great a boyfriend he was, when he was jealous of her colleague? I remember it well and if you’d said Barber’s to me until recently, I would have thought of that scene pretty quickly.   I would not have conjured up actual images of a Barber’s and until this week I had only ever been in one once.

That changed when I was tasked with taking my youngest to get his haircut.  Ordinarily, I leave this to my husband.  I take my daughter to my hairdressers with me.  Fine.  Familiar territory.  But I always leave my son’s hair to my husband.   Probably because going to the Barber’s is unknown territory for me.   But this week it was my turn to embark on the trip to get his locks cut.

Those who know me well know that I can turn into a bit of a worrier at times and I can turn the most basic of life tasks into a worry.   My worry plays out in chronological order and this trip to the Barber’s was no different.  I began by working out what I needed to do, starting with which Barber’s to go to.   This involved interrogating my husband at length about where he took him last time.  Now, if, like me, you’re a creature of habit who sees the same stylist at the same hairdresser every time, this question is not usually a difficult one.  But I’m quickly finding out that the world of boy hair can involve walking into any number of different Barber’s; the only criteria seems to be that they’re open and not too pricey.

Anyway, after a bit of eye-rolling from the husband, he told me which he had used last time, so at least I had a blueprint.   Off we went and I was quite looking forward to seeing what life is like in the mysterious world of boy hair.   Alas, it was Monday.   A bit of inside knowledge, which I now possess, is that there are very few Barber’s open on a Monday in my village.   So there was a bit of dragging my son around, trying to find one.   He was grumpy – it was cold and I’d thought it was fine to let him swagger around without his coat. In my mind this was going to be a quick task.   After a bit more grumpiness, we eventually found a Barber that was open.   Bingo.

Now, there are many Firsts in life – first day of school, first day of a new job, first car.   And for a lot of these you can find an abundance of advice and handy tips on the internet, to help you through.   In my world, a First for me is the visit to the Barber’s and I think it is important to offer some words of wisdom for those of you about to embark on your own first visit there (I’m aiming this mainly at women obvs).  My huge disclaimer is that this is based on one visit to one Barber.

So, these are the things I’ve learnt from my one visit to the one Barber, which I will impart to you.

  • Barber shops are a bit like oversized bachelor pads. This one was very, very minimalist, with little in the way of furniture beyond what was absolutely necessary.  It had a sort of musty smell, not like the usual shampoo smells I associate with hair places.
  • Unlike safe and uncontroversial music playing in your traditional hair salon, music in the Barber shop is pretty cool. Think a mix of Grime, Hip Hop, some Indie old stuff thrown in for good measure.   The sort of music that makes you feel a little (or a lot in my case) out of touch with the youths, and painfully aware that you’re wearing sensible shoes and a cardigan that has emergency tissues in the pockets.
  • The waiting area is not all comfortable chairs and a coffee table. It’s a bit like a football changing room.  Big, oak benches that look trendy but are not in the least bit comfortable.
  • There are lots of males-of-the-species sitting around on the uncomfortable benches, not speaking. They obviously do not feel the need to make awkward small talk with their neighbours.  They are happy to sit in silence.
  • And when they are called to sit on the stylist’s chair, they appear to communicate what they need in as few words as possible. Sometimes, even no words.
  • And during the actual cut itself, even fewer words are spoken. No ‘Going on holiday this year?’, or ‘What you up to this weekend?’.
  • At the end of the silent cut, they rise, pay, and leave. No next appointment, no ‘Have a nice day’. It’s over, it’s done.

Obviously, these are only based on my experience in that one visit to that one Barber, but it made me ponder afterwards at how very different it was to my own hairdressing experience.   I think next time I might try a different one, or maybe take my son to my hairdresser, just so I can indulge in some conversation, easy listening music, and a cup of tea.

Coming Out of Hibernation

The sun came out today.  It came out to the point that I actually dared to hang out some washing on the line (it didn’t dry – it was too cold).  It came out to the point that I threw open the doors to the back garden with a plan to tidy it (I didn’t – the grass was too wet).  And it came out to the point where I started to get the feeling that the outdoor days are well and truly coming.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for outside-ness and spending time outdoors with the kids.  I just need time to come out of hibernation.  You see, I’m a winter creature.  I was born in a January when it used to snow every single year without fail.  After warm, sunny and light days,  I sort of dread the bad weather coming but also look forward to the cosiness of winter, when it’s okay to hide away indoors, do indoor things, and not even look at the garden until the winter is done.  And as an aside, winter also gives me a genuine reason to wear lots of layers of clothing, without worrying about displaying any wobbly bits to innocent passers-by.  

So, here we are in February, still officially winter, but there it was – the sun, and it gave me the first inkling that we’re coming into spring.  My weekly routine includes a couple of days spent at home with my youngest child, who is three.   Our days together are book-ended by the school run journeys for his sister.   The bit in between is ours, and over the winter we got into a comfortable routine when we returned from each morning journey, of him settling into playing with some toys in front of the telly, and me having a coffee whilst I pottered around doing housey bits and any other bits that needed doing.   If we needed an outing, we would venture out to a playcentre or see family.  Everything was cosy and warm and it was socially acceptable to watch family/Christmas movies on repeat.   But with the sun out today, though it was cold, it felt a good time to venture out and sniff the air. again   So, we hit the park.

I’d like to tell you it was the park visit to end all park visits.    That he had an awesome time.  That it was a white-knuckle ride of fun.  Truth be told, everything was a bit wet and damp and his reaction was a bit flat.   The park looked drab, all unloved and full of litter left by kids who hung out there the night before (untouched because I was the only person stupid enough to venture out so far today). Enthusiasm for the park was waning so we took a stroll around the estate instead, picking up sticks, nosying in people’s windows, and then, approximately 27 minutes after we left the house, we were home.  Outdoor bit done.  Tick.

 The rest of the day passed much as the previous winter days had done.   After school, the kids watched some more telly and ate a snack.  I had a cup of tea and tried to ignore the sight of the guy across the road playing football with his toddler in the street, fighting the urge to open the window and shout ‘Don’t you know it’s still winter?’. 

I am excited that spring is on its way and that we’re in for some warmer times but for now, whilst I come out of hibernation slowly, I will keep my jumper on, stay warm, and slowly open my mole eyes as the warmer days come and I get ready to be Outdoor Mad again. 

My Son Has a Doll. The End.

When my children wrote their Christmas lists for Santa, the contents were not that surprising based on what their interests are.   My daughter wrote hers very studiously and in great detail.   I helped my son with his, given that he is only three.  His list was just the loveliest list.   It comprised two things: Loads of Ninjas, and Loads of Babies. Ninjas being the Lego craze he is obsessed with.    And Babies because of the love he has for doll babies at the moment.

Santa delivered the requested items and he brought a baby doll for each of them.  The children named the baby dolls Wendy and Michael, of Peter Pan fame, and they have quickly become part of the family.

So far, so uneventful.

The reaction to Michael, however, has been somewhat interesting, and a little surprising.   Not because he’s got a random name.  Not because he goes everywhere with us.  But because he is my son’s doll.   And for reasons not made clear to us, he inspires surprising reactions everywhere he goes.   From raised eyebrows, to ‘oh, ok’ comments when we introduce Michael as our son’s doll and not our daughter’s, as people initially assume.  We’ve even had people commending us for giving our son a doll.

How strange, eh.  Welcome to 2017 folks.  Gender stereotyping is alive and well.

I was a little bit used to this before Santa brought Michael, as my son liked to dress up in Princess dresses a lot.   This made some people deeply uncomfortable and had the added side effect of making my husband and I feel deeply amused by their reactions.   It feels much the same with the presence of Michael, but this time it makes me feel a little sad.   Sad that a little boy having a doll is such a surprise to people.  Sad because they feel the need to point it out or patronise us in a ‘good for you’ way.  Sad because in 2017 people still carry around some very defined expectations of gender that they assign to children.  My son is a boy with thoughts and feelings, with loves and likes, with things that piss him off and things that confuse him.   He loves many different toys and pastimes.  He loves cars, Ninja Lego people, toy kitchens, making pretend tea, wearing Princess dresses, building toy towers, destroying toy towers, singing to Frozen, and he absolutely loves Michael.

I have read a lot about the campaigns to change the way retailers sell children’s toys, such as Let Toys be Toys, and I think they are fabulous campaigns making a real difference.   But I can’t shake the feeling that, for all the change we might bring about in retailing, there is a huge change needed but not happening with the way we ourselves see children and gender.   How can real change happen if the adults around children continue to express surprise when children don’t conform to a stereotype?  I’ve seen this much more since having my son.   Little things such as the way some people react when he is upset by things.   Where they might physically comfort a little girl if she cries, by hugging her and providing the affection that children need, some adults find this difficult.    And I’ve heard differences in the way people have spoken to him – he is ‘kid’ or ‘mate’, whereas his sister is ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’.   Not from everybody, of course, and not all the time, but enough for me to notice.

And I see it a lot when I’m around and about, watching other grown-ups interact with children.  From the little boy in the playground who is distressed by something and being told to ‘man up’ by his mum, to the little boy engaged in full tantrum mode in a country park whilst his parent tells him to ‘stop crying, stop being a baby, and stop behaving like a little girl’.  Nice.   Progressive.

But how do you change decades of narrow-minded thinking?  How do you rise up and challenge the status quo?   Well, how about we take it back to basics and start at the beginning, by letting children be children.  Stop judging them when they buck the trend.  Stop imposing our own value judgements on them.  Stop plotting out their whole lives based on the actions they engage in as children.  Stop defining their futures by the toys they choose and the activities they enjoy.  Stop making them feel that showing emotions is a female trait and that they have to select activities and interests based on old-fashioned and dated thinking.     Let them know they are accepted and valued, whatever their interests, preferences and opinions.   Let them know the world is theirs for the taking.   Wouldn’t that be a great start to 2017.

President Trumpypants

So, here we are, watching our friends on the other side of the pond as they begin a new era with a new President.  I know emotions are high and there are many feeling a lot of anxious feelings today about what will happen now.

I watched the inauguration with my children.  I’d like to tell you this was an educational decision based on what I thought would benefit them.  In truth, it was entirely selfish as I just wanted to watch it all unfold, and to watch an amazing man depart gracefully as a not-so-amazing man took over.

But it was interesting to watch it with the children.   Firstly, I was amazed that they didn’t have a full on meltdown about the fact that CBeebies/Peter Pan/Superheroes/Lego (delete as appropriate) was not on the TV.  Usually, it’s a bit of a hard negotiation to get any type of grown up programming (news) on the telly during the daytime.  This time though, they appeared a bit transfixed.  Visually it was quite a stunning thing to watch.   Everybody looked very polished and beautiful.  There were lots of people in uniforms.   The cars were state-of-the-art, the buildings were glorious, the red carpet was blue, and everything was precision-choreographed.   My daughter likened it to watching the war commemorations and I understood that.  To her, it did look like that, just without the Queen.

They both enjoyed watching and my daughter talked a lot about the outgoing and incoming Presidents, though she had no clue about their politics but she had a deep fascination with their ties.   Donald Trump was ‘Mr Red Tie’ and Barack Obama was ‘Mr Blue Tie’.

As the inauguration went on, I tried to explain little bits to the kids.  After the start, my son was not too bothered.  He’s three and playing with Lego Superman was hands-down more exciting.   But my daughter paid more attention and I tried to explain to her, in words a four-year old could comprehend, what was happening.  I told her that a really good man was leaving his job and a man who wasn’t so good was taking over.  I pointed out Hillary Clinton and told her that she was a good lady and a lot of people were sad as they had wanted her to be the President.  When the images of protestors breaking windows came on, she asked me what they were doing.  How do you explain protesting to somebody so little? No, I don’t know either.  I made some rubbish attempt to explain it, but included a caveat that breaking windows was never good.

It was very much unplanned to watch with them and try to explain things but it did get me thinking about how to explain politics to children.  I don’t have the first idea how to do this, and indeed if I should when they are so little.  I remember having no interest in politics as a child or young adult.  The only thing I paid attention to was the general message around me that the Prime Minister at the time (Thatcher) was not liked.  I didn’t even pay any attention when Tony Blair took office in 1997.  I was sixteen and there were much more important things in life – boys, pop music, trying to be cool, discovering hair straighteners, and boys again.

But politics are all around us, they matter.   So how do we make that important to children and young people and, crucially, how do we make it interesting?   I think in the UK it is an uphill struggle.   To most of us, our political system looks like a bit of a farce really, controlled by a group of people who share with each other their privileged lives and have little in common with and little understanding of the people they are supposed to represent.   Now I know this doesn’t account for everyone and I know there are some wonderful elected people working locally for their communities who do fabulous things, but this is rarely shown.  Rather more we see a lot of shouting and jeering by political opponents sitting on dark green benches, not actually appearing to make any progress working together to run a country, because they are so busy insulting each other.  Bizarre.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts.  I have no answer at the moment for how to make it interesting or relevant to young people.  I would like one day to see somebody leading our country who inspires the same awe and respect and wonderment as Obama did and still does.   For many of us in the UK, we almost envy that America had him even for a short while.

I’ll leave you with this.  Towards the end of the inauguration viewing, my daughter decided President Trump could be upgraded from Mr Red Tie and now he will forever be known, in our family at least, as President Trumpypants.

Finding Your January Happy Things

Tuesday.  Not quite a Monday but edging closer to the beginning of normal life resuming on Wednesday, and the official proper start of January.  Ordinarily normal life would resume today, but an inset day at my daughter’s school has given us a brief reprieve.

So this morning we (me, the kids) allowed ourselves to be a little bit lazier.  Breakfast was later, getting dressed was a relaxed affair (although it was punctuated with my daughter’s new favourite game – showing me her bum and singing ‘bummy bum bum’).  Morning telly was still Christmassy thanks to on-demand TV.  We even managed a stroll out to the park and a bit of windsweptness.      And then when we got back, while the kids played, I sorted a drawer.   Isn’t it funny how you can spend the whole of the rest of the year filling a drawer with crap – in our case usually post, unused notebooks, empty batteries, and appliance manuals – only to have a sudden urge in early January to sort it out.  Perhaps only to refill it again.

In this particular drawer, I found a few half-used and a few completely empty notebooks but two in particular caught my eye.  In order of year, they were titled ‘Mad’s Keep Fit Book 2015’ and ‘Mad’s Getting Healthy Book 2016’.   Sensing a theme?  It would appear I have the same thought process at the end of every Christmas and the beginning of each January and I was perilously close to creating a new notebook (I had one ready) called ‘Mad’s Getting Healthy and Fit (Again) Book 2017’.  Thankfully, I stopped myself.   It clearly doesn’t work.  I start the book each year.  I go running, I write it down.  I eat some fruit, I write it down.   Somewhere between February and March, I give up and confine the book to the bottom drawer for discovery at a later date by a future (and probably not healthier) me.

I also find myself having the same thought processes about how best to start the year in terms of making resolutions to make myself generally better/happier/more successful every year.   But I do wonder what the point of this is and why we pick that moment every year to make ourselves feel that we are in some way not good enough, so that we need to start fresh for the new year?

I’ve read a few fab blog posts about making or not making resolutions, so this won’t be one of those.   All I will say about that is that I clearly am bad at keeping resolutions.  There is one thing I’m good at though – lining up fun things to look forward to and fun things to think about, to combat the January blues, which I suffer with every year.    And right now, I bet I’m not alone.   Depending on how full or empty your glass is, January can be a month full of potential and opportunity or it can seem like a massive crash after the Christmas celebration.  I’m in both camps.  Somethings I feel excited that it’s a new year, and at other times I feel sluggish, tired, and a bit low that Christmas is done.   It’s like I’m now on the wrong side of Christmas.  So, I think about good things to come – not in the year but just in the month.  Start small, baby steps, and take little bits of niceness and fun as they come.  Eventually, the January blues will start to lift and I’ll be back in the zone.

I’ve taken the liberty of suggesting a few things from my own brain about how to have a happy January, if you too get the blues.

  • Arrange a birthday – admittedly I have a head start on this given I was born in January some years ago.  But if you don’t have a birthday in January, you could  always copy the Queen and have an official birthday.   This then means cake, presents, party, awesome.
  • Line up a new box set to watch on TV until the nights are getting a bit lighter and you can venture out of your mole den.    For us this year we’ve chosen Sherlock, from the beginning.
  • Don’t throw out the spare Christmas chocolate during a moment of guilt – keep it in the fridge to have in bits throughout the month.   None of this diet and detox rubbish.  Chocolate makes you feel happy.  Happy is good.
  • Go for some walks.  I know, boring boring.  But, it’s a happy medium in between burpys and press-ups, and feeling bad doing no movement at all.  Plus the fresh air actually will genuinely make you feel better.  And if you live near some moors you can pretend you’re a heroine in a classic novel.
  • Arrange a cinema night.  Check out the listings – I know you’re all excited about Trainspotting 2.
  • Have some ‘present appreciation’ time.   Spend just a few minutes, line up your presents and look at them.   However old you get, this never stops being enjoyable.
  • Go for a drive and sing really loud in the car to some inappropriate music.   If you want to feel truly liberated, carry on singing at traffic lights and look at the people in the car next to you.

I’m sure you will have your own ‘happy things’ that make you feel better if you get the January blues but these might get you started.  And on a more serious note, if the blues get too much, talk to somebody, let your friends and family know you’re not in a good place, and you need some TLC.

Wishing you all a happy January.


Image by Mike Linksvayer under Creative Commons

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