Pushy parent

Girls lining up for practice on uneven bars
Girls lining up for practice on uneven bars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I had children, I swore to myself that I would never become a ‘pushy parent.’ I remember as a teenager my younger brother joining a football team. My Mum diligently took him to training and to matches every week. The training she didn’t mind, but she came to dread the matches. She watched in horror at the sideline as she heard some of the other parents yell and scream at their nine year old kids that they weren’t playing anywhere near well enough to satisfy their own repressed and long-held yearnings for glory. When my brother quit the team, my Mum breathed a sigh of relief.

Years later as I helping out at an art project in my local art gallery. The workshop was full of eight to ten year olds who, for the most part, spent a great day looking at the portraits in the gallery and then making their own self-portrait. There was one boy who was obviously a very talented young artist. His drawing was amazing and far surpassed anything else any of the other children produced. However, his mother didn’t think so. She balled him out in front of the rest of the group for the ‘terrible nose’ he had drawn himself. He was ten years old. At the end of the day, all of the children left tightly clutching their precious drawings and, I imagine, these were given pride of place at home. All that was, except this young man. His drawing was left behind, presumably as it was not of a fitting standard to grace his mother’s wall.

My girls have recently started gymnastics classes. I pick them up from school on a Tuesday, rush home, throw them into the car and drive there. The first time we went, they changed for their class at home and we barely made it there on time due to the traffic. Leaving for gymnastics ten minutes earlier means we avoid this but, it also means, we arrive far too early. Funny how this happens, isn’t it? I leave my house at 3.50pm and I arrive at the local leisure centre at 4pm. Leave my house at 4pm and we screech into the car park and swerve ‘Sweeny’ style into a parking bay at 4.30pm. So, I chose to do the former as it’s much less stressful. This means my girls are changed and ready for class a full fifteen minutes before the need to. At least, they would be if they got changed in a timely and orderly fashion.

However, timely and orderly are not words that usually apply to five year olds. Mine are no exception. Getting changed for gymnastics means taking five minutes just to take off your school jumper and then hopping about on one foot or running around in circles for no apparent reason. I don’t mind this. After all, we’ve thirty minutes to kill so if they want to run around like lunatics, so be it. It beats standing around in a corridor waiting for the class to start as far as I’m concerned. However, judging by the look one of the other mothers gave me this week, it seems not all share my approach to parenting.

My girls were running around in circles in various states of undress, when another mum and her daughter entered the changing room. Her daughter is a year or two older than mine, and smiled and laughed at their antics. Her mother, however, was far from impressed. She gave her daughter a look which clearly said, “Don’t even think about joining in that unruly behaviour with those out of control delinquent children.” The little girl sat down and began to get changed in a very timely and orderly fashion. Except, she was about six or seven years old and the sight of other children having a whale of a time was too much for her to continue in this very unnatural way. So instead of getting changed in a manner that her mother thought was befitting a child, she kept stopping and watching my girls. This enraged Attila the Mum. She squared up her shoulders, fixed me with another glare and yelled at her daughter, “Will you concentrate? You are not going to get any more gymnastics badges if you don’t concentrate on what you are doing!”

I put my head down, not in shame but to suppress an almighty giggle that threatened to rise up and burst from my mouth. I mean really, I don’t know much about gymnastics but I’m sure they don’t test their proficiency on getting dressed. It was also twenty minutes before the class started so what was all the fuss about? Surely, her daughter taking an extra five minutes to get changed was better than standing in the corridor. Maybe it wasn’t. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood this whole gymnastics thing and I need to be installing some kind of discipline in my children. Maybe it’s not supposed to be fun. Perhaps it is all about getting those precious badges. Maybe this mum just liked standing in corridors and couldn’t wait to do so because as soon as her daughter was ready she frogmarched her out of the changing room, throwing me another icy stare as the door banged behind her. I guess I’m not going to win ‘gymnastics mum of the year’ anytime soon.



I want my imagination back…

Imagination - HNBD
Imagination – HNBD (Photo credit: HNBD)

As children our imaginations know no boundaries. We discover the world with young eyes, hearts and brains, and are not constrained by the ‘accepted’ view of the world. As we become older our perceptions change and we no longer see priceless treasures to be collected. Instead we see worthless rubbish. We fail to see the joy and opportunity for jumping in puddles wet, rainy days bring. Instead we see misery and soggy shoes. We don’t allow our imagination to flourish like it once did. Perhaps it is no longer practical to see the endless hours of fun that can be had from a cardboard box. Whatever the reason, it is a crying shame.

As a child, my mum was forever telling me I had a very vivid imagination. I remember having hours of fun playing make believe games and writing stories. I was happy when I was with my friends and I was more than happy with just myself for company. Being on my own meant that I had to rely on my imagination. I had to make up games and worlds and characters and stories. I have friends who tell me that they can’t stand to be on their own. That it drives them mad having no-one to talk to. I don’t understand this. I love my family dearly but I also cherish the time I get to spend by myself. I was an only child until I was eight years old so I guess this has a lot to do with it.

I now watch and listen to my daughters playing their own make-believe games, and telling and writing their own stories. I love to hear them. Sometimes, I just stop what I’m doing, and stand quietly and discretely and observe them playing. It is amazing to hear what their young minds can come up with. I still have a vivid imagination but it’s not the same as my childhood one. How can it be? I’ve grown-up and experienced life. I’m not looking at the world through a pair of new eyes. Mine now need corrective lenses to see properly.

It was four o’clock in the morning and my daughters and I were lying in my bed. My husband wasn’t in, so there were just the three of us. They had both woken at some ridiculous hour and climbed into bed with me. That was an hour or so before and, since then, all they had done was toss and turn, and shuffle and snuffle, and cry and whinge about how they couldn’t get back to sleep. I know I should have sent them back to their own room but it was late at night, or early in the morning depending on how you want to look at it, and I really didn’t have the energy. Just as they had finally settled down and I thought they were going to sleep, one of my daughters said “I’m really special.”

Now this kind of thing isn’t anything new with this particular child. I often find bits of paper around the house on which she has written how wonderful, great, amazing and the best at something she is. But, if you can’t blow your own trumpet at five, when can you? I asked her why she was special (this time). “Because I can see stars and rainbows shooting up there,” she replied, pointing into the semi-darkness. “I’m special too,” said my other daughter. “I can see little bits of light flying about and that’s what makes my dreams.”

I suddenly remembered being their age and also seeing all sorts of shapes and patterns in the dark. Occasionally I still glimpse one. Now, however, instead of watching them move and dance and twirl in the dark; my eyes and brain quickly make them into their daylight recognisable forms. “There’s one,” one of my daughters shouted. “And another, and another. Can you see them Mummy?” I admitted that I couldn’t and blamed it on not wearing my glasses but, deep down, I knew the truth.


An unexpected guest

Rosie Rabbit and her friend, Rosie Rabbit
Rosie Rabbit and her friend, Rosie Rabbit. Image by S Braham 2013

I wrote in an earlier post about how my girls’ class had chosen a toy rabbit (Rosie) at Build-A-Bear. The idea is that Rosie goes home each weekend with one of the children. Rosie then gets to hang out with the child and their family, and the lucky parents get to write about all they do in Rosie’s class diary. Lovely as the idea sounds, I expressed concern that some parents may use it as a way to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and that these parents would write a great big long list of all the wonderful things that they did with Rosie. It seems I have a big mouth or at least big fingers that type such things.

This is because Rosie came to stay with us not for the normal three-day stay, but for eighteen days. This was as it was one of my daughter’s turn to have Rosie over the Easter holidays. And, as it was the Easter holidays, my husband and I had planned quite a lot of activities to keep the kids happy and entertained. Lots of activities that now Rosie would be party to and I would get to take lots of photos to stick into the diary. A case of Big Mouth definitely strikes again.

My heart sank as I saw my daughter come out of school with a huge smile and a huge bag which I knew could only mean one thing – my daughter’s name had finally been drawn out of the hat and it was our time to have Rosie for an extended stay. I thought about what I had previously written, and I thought about having to take Rosie everywhere with us for the holidays, and I thought about the possibility of leaving Rosie behind somewhere, and groaned to myself. However, I plastered a huge smile on my own face and joined in both my daughters’ excited, animated chat on the way home of all we could do together over the coming weeks.

The first thing we did on getting home was to read the previous diary entries and look at the photos the other parents had taken. These were wonderful. People had obviously taken a lot of time and effort. There were lots of fantastic photos of Rosie and detailed descriptions of what she had done. I had totally misjudged the other parents. It seemed that Rosie had just tagged along with whatever the families were doing. No-one had written anything about a vast range of activities they had done. That pleasure, it appeared, would fall to me.

The second thing I did was to strip Rosie of her outfit and wash it. Last time I had seen Rosie she was wearing a school uniform consisting of a crisp white shirt and grey pleated skirt. However, Rosie has clearly been through the mill as the shirt was absolutely filthy and the skirt wasn’t much better. There was no way I was going anyway with a bunny in such dirty clothes. I mean, what would people think? I did think about writing this as the first diary entry but decided that would be very childish and churlish of me.

My daughter went to bed very happy that evening and insisted Rosie slept with her. As I tucked the two of them into bed, I suddenly recalled all the photos I had seen of Rosie in bed with every other child that had taken her home (there were fifteen. I went back and counted). My heart started palpitating and my palms started sweating as my parental neurosis took over. “How many germs and bugs are there in that thing?” I muttered to my husband as we kissed the girls goodnight.

Rosie joined in with our Easter festivities and came with us everywhere over the holidays. At first, my daughter was very keen to have Rosie with us. My husband and I, however, were not. “Where’s Rosie? Have you got Rosie?” we kept saying to each other as we grabbed each other’s arms and looked at each other in fear. After a couple of days, my daughter lost interest in Rosie and I had to keep reminding her to take her with us. This may seem an odd thing to do given my abject fear of losing the damn thing. However, I had visions of arriving somewhere and my daughter having a spectacular meltdown (she is very good at these) over not bring Rosie with us. Trust me, my paranoia over losing Rosie was much easier to cope with then one of her strops.

I took lots of photos and sat down at the weekend to write the diary entry. I thought about all we had done and thought about what I had written about parents who showed-off by writing about all they had done. I thought about pride coming before a fall and how I always open my mouth and put my foot in it. I thought about how everyone else had written two pages for their entries and there was no way I could fit everything I wanted to write in two pages. But, surely, I would be justified using three? We did have Rosie for the Easter holidays after all – it wouldn’t be seen as showing-off, surely?

I sat down and wrote about what we had done, how and why Rosie had enjoyed it, and how she had been a very well-behaved bunny and was a credit to the class. I loved writing it. I hadn’t written for a while and it was great to be writing again, even if it was only the class rabbit’s diary. I read what I had written to my daughter and she thought it was “good.” Praise indeed from a five-year old. And I suddenly thought, “Hell, I have to do this again!” My other daughter hasn’t had Rosie yet and I’m now praying we get her for the weekend and not the May half-term break.