Studying as a Grown-Up

I started a post-graduate course in September and this week was hand-in week. I refer to my course as ‘grown-up school’ for the benefit of my children who are very little and don’t have much grasp of the idea of adults studying things. I have been going to grown-up school for the past few months and over the weeks preceding this one, I have been hard at work researching and writing my first assignment.

I would like to tell you this was a breeze and that I am to grown-up school what the Meerkat is to car insurance. Alas, a breeze it was not. I found it was actually not that straight forward fitting in a part time study regime into a life filled with a lot of full time things. In my head I had envisaged nights where I would put the kids to bed without any fuss or problem (who was I kidding) and then trot downstairs, put on my slippers and get to work. Reality? After the kids were finally in bed, I had my ‘phew’ moment. I could breathe out, trot downstairs, put on my slippers, and actually the last thing I wanted or felt inclined to do was get the books out. So I mostly opted for a crime show on TV with my husband, a hot chocolate and an early night.

With nights wiped out, that left weekends. Again, in my head this meant the mornings when I’m on breakfast duty (we share lie-ins – it is a very democratic household), I would get up with the kids in a charming fashion, dress them, feed them, put on a pot of (fresh) coffee and do my work whilst they played like angels.

Again, not to plan. Kids seem to have a built in detector that senses when you are about settle into doing something, safe in the knowledge that, for at least a few minutes, they are not fighting, crying or falling over. They sense this, they wait, and then they pounce. So those blissful mornings of work turned into nothing of the sort. When I opened a book, suddenly a mega blocks tower needed adult assistance (mainly due to my superior adult height), or a teddy needed a bandage because he had broken his leg, or one child chose that moment to poke the other in the eye or draw on the wall. I think I probably got a bit more work done when Christmas arrived and the genius programmers at CBeebies uploaded back-to-back pantomines onto iPlayer. Fab.

So I was making slow progress. And then my husband started taking the kids out for blocks of time over weekends, or even taking them away. Finally I had some time. Amazing, valuable time to get my work done. Bingo.

But have you ever found yourself, after being really busy, suddenly having some time that you actually need and that is exclusively yours, yet you find you’re not ready to use it?

Give me an hour and say “Mad, this is your time, just for you. You decide how you use it. No limits and no pressures.” Do you know what I would do? I would clean the floor. And then hoover the rug. And then empty the dishwasher. Wash some clothes. Put out the recycling. Wash the cushion covers, change the beds, clean the windows, find some dust that nobody can see and remove that. Basically, if it doesn’t need doing at that moment I will do it.

It is almost like I have to get ready to relax or do whatever the time is actually supposed to be for. And my study weekends were no exception. Almost as soon as my family left the building, I was in the hoover cupboard (collecting the hoover, not because it is fun being in there). And I didn’t settle into work until everything was tidy and I felt ready. Perhaps my cleaning therapy was my getting ready ritual.

Ultimately, I got my assignment done and handed in ahead of time, which was an achievement for me (and something I never, ever did when I was at not-grown-up school aka undergrad university).

Fingers crossed it is all okay and I have passed. I can look forward to the next one now but I need to make sure I stock up on cleaning products first.

Image: lovethispic.com

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The Book Exchange

This morning was book exchange day at my daughter’s nursery school. There isn’t a set day for this. It usually happens when we’ve come to the realisation that we’ve had the last book for a few weeks longer than is socially acceptable, we’ve lost it a couple of times, and now it is getting perilously close to being smeared with Weetabix and snot. So we put it back in its book bag and trundled off to nursery school to swap it for a new one.

As modern books go, I haven’t seen much in them that isn’t okay for my children to consume. The stories are interesting (the first few times at least – they get a bit much after the twentieth recital), the rhymes are fun, the characters are pretty easy to like. And the big plus – they are much more diverse and not at all offensive/sick/macabre.

In contrast, some of the older stories we have at home in my old Treasuries of children’s tales are pretty horrific. The Grimm fairy tales are well known for being, well, grim. But I have noticed a lot of other bad stuff in old stories that I don’t think I ever picked up on as a child, unless you count my completely irrational fear of wolves – I believed wolves would be hiding around most corners in the dark in my house, and I suspect Little Red Riding Hood had a lot to do with that.

I find myself heavily editing these stories when I read them to my children. Does anybody else do that?

I turn the wolves into mean dogs. Hansel and Gretel don’t really get sent into the forest by their parents, they just get lost one day. And they absolutely do not put the witch in the oven. The wolf in Three Little Pigs doesn’t get scolded in a pan of water, he just gets chased away. Beast doesn’t threaten to kill himself if Beauty doesn’t come back, and he doesn’t actually die at the end. He just lies down. Beast is also a handsome man on the inside, in my version, so he doesn’t turn into a massive hunk because Beauty loves him anyway. And my favourite story, The Selfish Giant, although it doesn’t need much editing, always ends with the Giant just falling asleep and not actually dying.

As well as the bad stuff, I’ve also noticed a lot of grim gender stereotyping. Most female characters are either in some sort of domestic role or are waiting to be married off to a Prince. So in my versions, I turn them turn into hugely successful and right-on feminists. Mrs Bear of Three Bears fame? She’s a business woman of course! And she made the porridge in between doing research for her thesis.

In some ways I wonder why I find myself changing the stories. I grew up with them and, apart from the wolf stuff, they didn’t harm me or affect my world view. But for some reason I can’t read the bad stuff to the children because they are so little and I don’t want to be reading about such horrific ends for the characters, or about parental rejection, obsession with beauty and repulsion at unattractiveness. Why would these be good things to put into children’s stories?

Perhaps it is our definition and understanding of childhood that has changed since the ‘long time ago’ when they were written. Now, we have stories about Gruffalos and clever mice, stories about children preparing for new siblings, and stories about toys coming to life. Surely these are better aren’t they? They may not be the classics but they’re fun, engaging and harmless. And hopefully one day they will become for our children’s children the stories they will refer to as classics.

Keeping the Christmas Magic Alive

One of my favourite Christmas films is Santa Clause: The Movie. One, because it’s generally awesome and invokes many memories of my childhood Christmases but also because it has an amazing idea in it. This being the idea of Christmas Two. Okay, so the idea was dreamed up by the evil B.Z. who ended up floating off to whoknowswhere full of exploding candy canes, but you have to admit it is a cracking concept.

To be able to repeat Christmas part way through the year, before the next actual Christmas, would be fantastic.

We hear so much about the January blues. We work so hard to plan Christmas. Buying presents, planning food, listening to the Christmas songs, and looking forward to a rest at the end of the year. And then the big moment arrives and seems to leave all too quickly. And we’re left with a ‘what now?’ moment. Work looms, January looms and (unless you are a January baby like me and have a birthday to look forward to) there may not be any other big events coming up in the near future.

I read a statistic somewhere about a Monday in mid-January being the day when a lot of people think about leaving their jobs. I don’t imagine this has that much to do with their actual jobs being rubbish but just the ‘down’ feeling after the high of Christmas has passed.

But hang on, this is just for adults this feeling, isn’t it? What about the kids?

As a child, I wished it could be Christmas every day. I never gave any thought to the un-sustainability of that idea. It just sounded enormous amounts of fun. Come to think of it, that might be a future Dragon’s Den idea. A company that organises Christmas every day. Anyway, I digress. I did wish for that. And I can imagine my own children wishing it too when they have more of a handle on what time means.

My children are still little – two and nearly four- so they are in the grip of loving Santa, loving Christmas, loving presents and the fun stuff, but they don’t understand that Christmas has an end. When I told my daughter that Christmas lasted all week, she took that to mean that Santa would come every night (that took some explaining). Now, as we come to the end of that week, she asks lots of questions about the end of Christmas.

I wish I could keep that Christmas magic alive for the children and not let them feel the same January blues so many of us grown ups feel. Maybe having the presents from Santa to play with will help to prevent that anyway. Maybe they are too young to comprehend that next Christmas is a whole year away. Or maybe the blues are what we grown ups feel because we realise the next year of hard, grown up stuff is here already and whilst it is exciting to enter a new year with lots of promise and opportunity, it does sometimes feel like a longer break is needed before we embark on that.

Maybe the answer to all of this is just to follow the advice of that amazing film and do it all again very soon. Let’s have it on March 25th and let’s call it Christmas Two.

Image credit- lovethispic.com 

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