Monday, March 21, 2016

Idling away the years.....

My current read is a treasure.

I found it hidden in the most unexpected place. On those shelves in the library that normally crush the joy from me. Those foreboding shelves that lean in on the children's area.

The Parenting Shelves.

Gina Ford. What To Expect. Wonder Weeks. How Baby Led Weaning Makes Kids Poo Gold. How I Sleep Trained Three-Day-Old Quadruplets in 40 Seconds. Perfection in Toddlerhood. The Supremacy of the Stay at Home Mum. The Moral Uprightness of the Working Mum. Etc.

Drawn to these evil shelves like a moth to a flame, I spotted The Idle Parent. Promising. And - Yes! - herein I find a published voice to back up my belief that the key ingredients of being The Best Mum are more sleep and pleasurable hours for me.(And the rest of the family, of course!)

Philosophical rather than ideological, writer Tom Hodgkinson advocates freeing ourselves from all expectations of 'parenting'. Instead, learn to enjoy your life and your children. Work as little as you can afford to! Have siestas! Play with sticks! Say No! Don't buy stuff! Don't worry about morals and manners! Enjoy your meals! Socialise with adult friends and leave the kids in the garden to eat soil!

It brings to mind my friends Keith and Jenni who blessed me greatly during my pregnancy by humbly enjoying, rather than ostentatiously striving at, family life.

I forget to enjoy it very frequently. I try to control the children. I shout. I create and then resent their dependence. I convince myself to complete totally pointless, status-anxiety-fuelled household tasks and get stressed when the toddlers find this boring. I have angst about getting back to paid work. I have guilt about everything.

But now, I have the Idle Parent Manifesto to keep me on track. An abridged version:

We reject the idea that parenting requires hard work.
We pledge to leave our children alone.
We read them fantastic stories without morals.
We drink alcohol.
We don't waste money on family days out and holidays.
We lie in bed for as long as possible.
We try not to interfere.
We work as little as possible.
Time is more important than money.
Down with School.
We fill the house with music and merriment.
We embrace responsibility.

Thank you. And, breathe......

Monday, March 14, 2016

A story shared.

Nobody ever came close (in biology, sex education, church marriage preparation or conversation of any kind) to warning me ahead of time that one in six couples in the UK struggle to conceive and one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage.

I used to be cross about this, thinking that a person has a duty to be honest and speak out their sad stories. I remain convinced that it's a good thing to do, if you can. But I realise now that it's wrong to demand or expect personal and painful storytelling from an Other. Such vulnerability is risky and can only be received as a gift

And there are good reasons for the silence, including grief and a desire to protect. I mean, it's hard even to write a blog post about it, aware as I am of many family and friends living with the struggle.

A less risky way of sharing your story is to soak in a founding myth, pouring into its depths your own personal exerience and grief.

I remember finding new delight in the bible as we hoped to conceive. Not in some pious or assinine 'Just. Have. Faith' way but because I suddenly saw how vivid was its preoccupation with barren women like me. Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, Rachel, Michal and so on. I saw that my story, however it was going to end, was one with eternal echoes and significance and I felt I was sharing it with ancient others.

Today, re-reading fairy tales, I again discover these sadnesses everywhere. In Rapunzel's despairing mother and the witch who steals her, in the macabre Gingerbread Man, in stories of children who appear unconventionally, like Thumbelina, in many versions of Sleeping Beauty. This stuff matters and it's everywhere.

So, to all those sad for the loss and lack of children, I wish a healing story fit to receive your own.

Thursday, March 03, 2016


I rather hate cliques.

Having had 15 homes (11 towns; 3 countries) in 37 years, this is partly because I know what it is to be an outsider. I have needed to break into existing social networks.

For me, local friendship is vital. I prioritise the people I see every week, however recently I started seeing them. And I am aware of the excluded to excess - I am so conscious of the person who has nobody to talk to that I can't focus on the person I'm talking to. I end up being pals with people I don't like. This is partly arrogance - I need to let go my belief that everybody's inclusion depends on me!

As a lifelong churchgoer and child of the manse, I am used to interacting with unrelated people of different ages, intellects, social backgrounds and to strangers invading my home for meals, meetings and such.

Most of my friends are not cliquey, unsurprisingly. But many individuals and groups I encounter seem incapable of welcoming the stranger in their midst. Here are two reasons why.

1) They think being friendly is the be all and end all.

It is very important. But your methods of organisation can be exclusive and this is particularly unfortunate when the organisation is a church.

It feels good to believe you're too busy doing your job or thinking about higher things to bother with small fry like internal communication and administration. But it is often these things that make newcomers into friends. They enable a stranger to navigate your traditions.

2) They are over-friendly.

The proliferation of small talk and over-busyness in Western society mean we rarely sit and feel awkward with a person we don't know.

A stranger is strange. It takes time to get to know them. In a profound sense, we never really know them. It is tempting to avoid the hard work of forming intimacy by pretending you're already there.

People are very exciting. They are inconvenient. They should not be domesticated. They may not want to answer your questions all at once. Be kind. Be interested.

And don't be bloody cliquey. Or I'll have ya.