Tag Archives: parenting

My Extraordinary Daughter – the best idea I ever had.

IMG_0368When I first posted ‘My Extraordingary Daughter’ she was just about to begin her degree at Glyndwr in Wreham. She was working for Calon Lan Caring Services and had just become the youngest Special Constable in North Wales. I talked about her: ‘pounding the beat in Rhos and on Wednesday and Friday she will be sat in university lectures on Crime and Criminology. She will also spend at least one morning or afternoon doing housework at home. She will walk the dogs, pick up some grocery and go out with her friends.’ I said: “And she will do all this with grace, and humour and energy and above all, enthusiasm. Because that is what my extraordinary daughter does. And as if all of that is not enough, she will do all this looking absolutely beautiful. She will light up each and every room she walks into. Because that is what she is: a little ball of love that lights up everywhere around her.”

She has now left home for her final year at ‘uni’ – house-sharing (shacking up, we used to call it) with Mr ‘Well Fit’, and is working for another caring service. Now approaching her 21st birthday next week, a lot has happened, but little has actually changed since my original post: she continues to be the best idea I ever had. 🙂 

E. was my idea. The best one I ever had. She was carefully planned because I didn’t want any more maternity leave, we simply couldn’t afford it and because once I had finished changing nappies, I really had finished changing nappies.

It was quite a fun pregnancy really – I ate zillions of tins of fruit cocktail, and cream cakes, and drank loads of tea for the first time in years. I also went off alcohol. I got really fat really quickly, and Eddie, the caretaker, commented immediately. I remember starting to worry about ‘doing this one properly’ – ‘natural birth’ ! And just like last time, I started making crap, nervous jokes about the crap system of babies having to come out the way they got in again. And again, it didn’t happen.  I was marking GCSE exams, as usual in those days: the deadline was the 12th, ‘it’ was due on the 21st. But then it all went pear-shaped when the final scan was mis-read. It appeared she had stopped growing and she had to be whipped out sharpish. Unfortunately, I told the nurse, that was not going to happen: I still had papers to mark. The nurse was aghast; the doctor was fairly calm, and agreed I could have till Wednesday night and come in on the Thursday morning.

We got up at the crack of dawn to get to the hospital by 8 am. I was wheeled down into the bowels of the hospital and put in a queue. And that is where we stayed pretty much all day. There was one emergency after another all morning. After lunch, which I didn’t have, there was one emergency after another. It was 3.30 in the afternoon before she was unzipped.

At some point, flicking through a baby magazine (I bought loads, read some and ignored all) I learned that the worse age gap between siblings was between 2 and 3 years – apparently it was the age difference which created the greatest sibling jealousy, which in turn could create loads of other issues. GM was 2 and half. Great. To combat this we presented E to him as his present and his responsibility, which he took to with the same gusto he had for all his toys. So when we finally arrived home with her, not only did Benjy the dog take a couple of sniffs and immediately hop into her carry cot with a protective stance but GM raced upstairs and returned with his sunglasses and placed them over her face.

E could hold her head up within a matter of a few weeks: GM watched her like a hawk, imagined every possible harm that could come to her, anticipated her every need – and picked her up at every alarming gurgle or cough. He would waddle across the sitting room with her in his arms – her arms, legs and head flopping all over the place – much to the disgust of many a visitor. But she thrived on it. And could hold ber own bottle around 5 months, could walk in her ninth month and could use a small knife and fork before she was one. In fact she surpassed every baby and toddler milestone miles ahead of all the textbook expectations. Until she went to school.

She went off to O P  Primary nursery before she should have. She could, and did, dress herself completely and was appalled to learn one of her first targets was to be able to put her own coat on. S., the childminder, was equally appalled and pointed this out strenuously. S. was a governor at a local Catholic primary school and didn’t like taking E to O P. S. also pointed out and then demonstrated that E could even ride her two-wheeler bike without stablisers. This did not go down well with the other ‘mums’ – they had 7 year olds with theirs still on.

E. had an extraordinary vocabulary for her age. She could calculate and was extremely dexterous for her age. But her school work was ropey. She was chatty in class but clearly struggled to get on with the other girls. She did make one friend, J. E. and J. were always falling out though.  J. tried to bully E. and E. soon got fed up with this. J. tried it one time too many – pinching E. in an afternoon lesson. E. did not pinch J. back. E. punched J. hard. J. did not try to pinch E. again. 

By the end of the third week  she declared that school had been great so far, but she wanted to know how much longer she would have to keep going. S. and I laughed – I told S. she could tell her it would be another 11 years. E. gave up on other girls somewhere around the end of Year 1. And she also gave up on her school work. I didn’t have the time to coach her at home, didn’t know how to coach her at home, being fearful of making matters worse by confusing her, and decided rather than to work on her school work, we would make sure she was good at other stuff. 

E. was again bullied by the girls at W B Gymnastics club. It was quite a big thing, the ‘choosing the activity’ decision. GM was doing football with T. FC and also went to kick boxing with H. from next door. E was told she had to find an activity to do when she was 6. And just before she was 6 she announced her choice: gymnastics. We were gob-smacked. Where on earth had she discovered gymnatics and did she even know what it was? But I was impressed, and made enquiries.

I still remember the first few sessions. She was obviously new and couldn’t do anything. The girls overtly shunned her, and she came over to me quite a few times and said that no-one would partner her. I sent her back. Just do it anyway. And she did. I was appalled at how the mothers of these girls condoned their behaviour. But it was one of the best things that ever happened to her. Because when she was no longer the new girl, she didn’t avoid the new beginners, she offered to partner them. And my extraordinary daughter began to take shape.

She decided to be a policewoman just before her fourth birthday. They had been playing in the dress-up box and the toy kitchen had bored her as usual. So had the dolls and the princess stuff. And then she found the police uniform. And came home and declared this is what she was going to be.

We moved to HK in 2002. She went to Y. D. She was in year 4, and surprise, surprise, not, the girls bullied her. She was the new girl again, and was shuffled around from ‘friend’ to ‘friend’ for the next 3 years. Eventually she settled on I. Just like J., I. tried to bully her. They argued and fell out all the time. But things were different this time because she was discovering she didn’t need girls at all – she made friends with the boys instead. And go down well this did not. This is  probably best illustrated by describing the party to which every girl in the class was invited except I. and E. This remains one of the most callous and rude things I have ever witnessed: people drive through what looks like this idyllic little Welsh village, and yearn to live somewhere like this, oblivious to that old adage that money can’t buy everything, including class.

Towards the end of the first term at YD Emma brought home a piece of school work. It was a history piece. It was paragraphed. The sentences had capital letters and full-stops. The names and places had capital letters. The words were spelled correctly. More importantly, it made sense. Half-way through reading it I burst into tears. Finally, E.’s academic performance matched her ability. and there was loads of it. When E. left YD we bought Mrs J. a thank you card, and I wrote a note in which I attempted to express a fraction of the gratitude we felt for the difference she had made to E., to the difference she would continue to make to E. In deed everything she went on to accomplish would be based on the difference she had made to E. Mrs J. cried when she read the note, I cried when E collected her A level results – and thanked Mrs J. all over again.

“No-one bullied M. again …”‘

When E. started secondary school she didn’t get bullied. This time she ‘got’ bullies. She didn’t attempt to make girl friends, they attempted to make friends with her. But they were too late, her best friend was M. and D. and A. All boys. Because she couldn’t pursue her gymnatics here she took up judo instead. When someone tried to bully M. she stepped in, hooked his ankle with her toe and floored him. No-one tried to bully M. again when E. was around.

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And despite, or even because, she had given up on the girls, she was elected form rep. year after year. She was on the School Council as Year 11 Year Rep when the school was inspected –  the School Council was deemed one of its outstanding features. She organised and sorted out the room allocation on the Year 10 skiing trip to Austria ensuring no-one was left out, and as a result of her intervention in a couple of other incidents, was then invited back the following year to help with the next year group: Year 11s aren’t even usually allowed to go at all. She raised huge amounts of money for charities each year selling sweets. She made Flintshire Senior County String Orchestra, playing the violin in one of the country’s most predigious junior orchestras. She got her orange belt at judo and played netball for the school. When she went to Wakestock at the end of Year 11, a fortnight before her sixteenth birthday, she spent the first night in the First Aid tent helping to sort out an O-D case. It’s what she does.

102_4832And when she wanted to go to Leeds Festival, she went. Going to Leeds was more than a matter of just buying a ticket. She had to pass her History GCSE with a C. Which was not going to be easy: she had worked her little butt off at the beginning of the course, and got an A* in her coursework by writing everything that could be written about some castle somewhere, without understanding a single word of it. Her end of Year 10 exam was an E, her Year 11 mock was a G. She had two evenings left before the exam and she knew nothing about the history of medicine or the American West, and frankly, cared less. But I didn’t want anything below a C spoiling her certificate. So if she wanted to go to Leeds she would have get the C in History as well. It’s not easy learning an entire GCSE syllabus in two evenings. But it can be done, because she did. And that is why she went to Leeds.

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So when she became the youngest Special Constable in North Wales Police for as long as they could remember it was no surprise to anyone who knows her. As they read out the personal synopsis of each candidate at the Attestation Ceremony most began “and X has just left Y Univeristy, where they attained a degree in … ” : E.’s began “and E. has just completed her A levels… “.

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GM with his favourite’toy’.

My daughter is everything I would have liked to be. She is a talented athlete and a very talented musician. She is kind and  caring and thoughtful. She will work till she drops. She does not know how to give up. She is absolutely stunning. Above all though, she is totally unaware of most of this. And that is why she is my extraordinary daughter, and why I love her so very much.

So what are parents teaching their children ?

In an attempt to teach the use and effect of poetic devices through the analogy of recipes today, I have to admit I have reached a new all-time high in my despair for parenting skills today.

So, you have some eggs, flour, sugar, fat – either margarine or butter – what are we cooking today? images

Silence. Eventually, one of the brighter girls realises this is not a trick spelling question and ventures, “A cake?” 

Mmmm. Ok. Anything else ? What if we find some milk as well ? 

Another, longer silence. “Pancakes ?” Good. Anything else ?

And so  it went on. OK – so baking isn’t their thing. Let’s try – minced meat, onions, tomatoes [I am drawing sketchy images on the board] may be potatoes or spaghetti, carrots even. 

Nothing. No response. Nope, not happening. Finally, I crack – what about – ah ! an interruption – “a pie” is offered. I am encouraged. And get carried away with references to bolognese, shepherd’s pie, cottage pie – adding chilli powder ( !) chilli … 

What struck me most about this lesson was that once I had imparted the concept of ‘ingredients’ – similes, rhyme, metaphors, violent language – being mixed up and used for different effects in poetry the kids had no problem. It was the cooking thing they couldn’t handle.

And it is sad, I realise, now that I am home and showing my own daughter the best way to slice a rib of lamb chops, that what I – the school – have taught the children, they have learned. They are teachable.

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In the wake of the ‘horse meat scandal’ it is sad to realise there is a whole generation out there who can not return to the butcher. Frozen beefburger sales are down 43%, according to the BBC this morning. But even that means there is still a huge percentage of the population continuing to rely on Findus and Tesco to throw together a few handfuls of minced beef and a chopped up onion, roll it up in a ball and flatten it for them, so they can chuck ‘beefburgers’ under the grill for dinner.

And it’s not just food that has changed. Families don’t watch television together, children are not read to and crafts have been consigned to some obscure television channels no-one actually turns on. Teachers are no longer able to use family soap operas or film adaptations of great novels as points of reference in lessons about social problems or relationship issues. 16 year olds do not know who Winston Churchill was and there is no longer either pride or shame for the once glorious Empire that the sun never set on. Sewing and card games metaphors are lost on children today. Supermarkets provide mums with ready-made Hallowe’en costumes and literary allusions to Bible stories, myths and fairy tales not adapted by Disney are completely wasted on teenagers today.

In their parents’ quest to earn enough money to provide ipods and laptops, large televisions and fortnights in Costa Cheaper in School Holidays, what price are not only children paying, but their parents too?

My parents must have passed on only fragments, a fraction of their practical knowledge to me: I can’t make a dress and my pastry is decidedly ropey to say the least. But at least I know that meals are put together from raw ingredients; cotton and wool are woven and Cinderella had a step-mother because her own mother had died – her father’s new wife was there to ‘step’ into her place, not because her own mother had moved out and abandoned her to shack up with a better offer.

The generation of children I am teaching today seems to be losing out on all fronts: their own parents weren’t taught to bake or use up Sunday left-overs; they weren’t taught to make their own clothes or toys and they weren’t taught how to create Hallowe’en outfits out of plastic bin bags and 3 ½ miles of sellotape. But they weren’t taught to use the internet, download from itunes or build a blogging site either. The wealth of basic skills passed on for generations is being lost. But today’s parents were not prepared for the new technology their children are now expected to embrace either.

So we have a generation of kids left entirely to the mercy of the formal education system and after-school games’ clubs. And a generation of parents who have missed out on the best years of their children’s lives.

And just when I was beginning to think I was being a bit harsh, accusing young people and their parents of Heavens knows what I came across this:

Blogging students: ‘We’re so well educated – but we’re useless. Guardian February 2013:

Record numbers of students have entered higher education in the past 10 years, but despite being the most educated generation in history, it seems that we’ve grown increasingly ignorant when it comes to basic life skills.

Looking back on my first couple weeks of living in student halls, I consider myself lucky to still be alive. Unbeknown to freshers, there are many hidden dangers lurking in the dirty corners of student accommodation.

I have survived a couple of serious boiling egg incidents and numerous cases of food-poisoning, probably from filthy kitchen counters. Although some of my clothes have fallen victim to ironing experimentation, I think I have now finally acquired all the domestic skills I missed out on in my modern education… 

A really good way to spend the next ten minutes of your life: watch this – http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms.htm

This entry was first posted on 27 February 2013.

 

Hank RIP

The second hamster died. We don’t know when. It’s been quiet all week. Finally E. went to investigate the silence, not the least because GM. has arrived home unexpectedly and wanted his bedroom back. We don’t know which hamster has died (you may need a minute to think about that) because we had two and they were distinguished by their relative personalities: one was ‘catchable’ and one was not.

The first (to die) developed horrible bald patches and huge lumps in the autumn. I persuaded E. to let it have a few great hours of freedom so we released it in the hedge. It took to freedom like only a semi-domesticated rodent who has been trapped in a plastic container can take to freedom. The remaining hamster no longer had a partner who was more or less catchable so we didn’t know which one had been let go and which one remained.

It, possibly the one which may have been originally named ‘Hank’, was clearly lonely and spent most of its waking hours trying to escape. I hate the whole concept of pets. It involves trapping non-domesticated animals into a lifetime of pretending animals can adapt to human conditions. We even bath and feed them food out of tins and packets like us. As a child we had working sheep dogs who lived in the shed outside and were fed on left-overs. I didn’t know you could ‘buy’ dog ‘food’ until I was in my late teens. We also had cats. They were vicious. The kittens were even more violent and scratched anything and anybody who tried to pick them up. I didn’t know cats needed ‘feeding’ until I was very old – at least 20 something. Our cats lived on ‘outside’.

Anyway, ‘the’ hamster has now passed on. And E. is upset. It is my fault ! :0 ! I have been accused of ‘never liking it’ and ‘being happy now.’ These are harsh words.  The hamster that was rarely played with, a nuisance to clean out, and cost a ‘fortune’ (about .01p per ten years !) to feed was clearly loved immensely and will be sadly missed. (By the bin men who no longer have to cope with the monthly smell of hamster litter.)