Posted in celebration, change, family, me, parenting

hello shiny new year…i think you’re going to be The One

Oh dear.

I feel there’s a regular pattern with this blog. Periods of high level activity, followed by months of neglect, followed by an apologetic blog post such as this one, where I attempt to confess my negligence enough to sound contrite, but not so much that it sounds as if large sections of society aren’t able to function properly without my writing.

So – I’m sorry for the lack of blogging recently – but I also realise this blog isn’t essential to your life. Enough? Great. Let’s move on.

Of course regular readers will know WHY 2016 saw me publish fewer than one blog post per month. Adjusting to being a family of 6 has taken…well, 13 months and counting. It’s been wonderful and joyful in so many ways – possibly the best year of my life – but also the hardest. I’ve never worked so hard. When you feel like you’re on the go from 7am to midnight, and are still going to bed with dishes in the sink, laundry in the machine, emails unsent, and texts unreplied to, you wonder how you’re ever going to do anything else with your life ever again. DesertDad and I spent 2015 defending ourselves to a variety of adoption professionals, optimistically proclaiming, time and time over, how we did have room in our lives for an extra child or two – and, consequently, spent 2016 cringeing at our own smugness, the metaphorical banner of “I told you so” flying high above our home.

But here’s the irony. In a year which rarely provided me the time or the energy to write, came a call to work on my writing more strongly than ever before. I was stuck. I felt I had to write, that I needed to prioritise it more highly, and yet I couldn’t. Not that there wasn’t inspiration – I wrote thousands of blog posts in my head, whilst cleaning my toddlers’ teeth, or listening to my older kids read, or wiping tables, or tidying (non-stop tidying) – but the moment I found time to sit down and type, the words would disappear. All the clever ways I’d rearranged words in my head to create something witty and wonderful seemed to vanish. I was left with mundane, and I’ve never wanted to write that.

So now we enter 2017 and, as usual, I feel stupidly optimistic about the coming year. I always do, in January. Suddenly, without changing anything about my life, I’m going to be tidier, thinner, fitter, more organised, with a well-coordinated dress sense, perfect hair and a constant stream of home-made goodies making their way into the hands of friends and family – as if my current commitments are just going to magically disappear. What is it about a new year that does this to us?

Anyway, let’s see where this goes. I would love to prioritise this blog highly – and, to help me along, I’m planning to kick off a little series very soon. What we want for our kids will be a discussion of our expectations, our practice and our motives when it comes to raising our kids. I hope it will be thought-provoking – and would love your prayers that I can muster the energy to write something half-decent.


Posted in adoption, christmas

adoption and advent: coming home

img_20161130_212013Advent, for our family, is a season full of traditions. I’d love to say that it was a time for increased spiritual growth, as I lead our young family in meaningful Bible reflections every morning – but, in reality, I love present-wrapping, Christmas markets and Slade just as much as carol services, lighting our Advent candle and sharing the Christmas story together. For all of December our house is full of mess and creativity: mince pies, boxes of decorations, 100 Carols for Choirs, wreaths, Nativity figures, Lebkuchen (is there anything better?), glitter, paint, wrapping paper and ribbon. There is nothing about either the secular or religious versions of Advent that I don’t embrace with arms open wide.

But this year, we have a new tradition. You see, last year’s Advent was rather different. The presents had been chosen, bought, wrapped and sent by mid-November. On 1st December 2015, our two youngest boys came home, and thus our Advent was taken up with learning how to care for toddlers again, whilst working out how to meet the needs of – no longer two, but – four children.

It was a magical time in many ways. My husband spent most of December off work or working largely reduced hours. Kind friends provided evening meals for us right through the month. The excitement of Christmas kept cranking up for our older two, whilst our younger two gradually got used to their new environment, exploring and playing with increased confidence. And all four children enjoyed the novelty of having each other around for the first time, after months of waiting. I figured that January would bring more challenges (it did), but we enjoyed December while it lasted.

So this Advent, and every Advent, we will add a new celebration to our traditions. Advent means ‘coming’ and we will always remember our boys ‘coming home’ at this time of year. It reminds us that Advent is not merely about the anticipation of Christmas, the first coming, but the anticipation of the second coming – when Jesus will come again, and we, like our boys last year, will also come home – to our rightful home, in God’s kingdom, with God forever, never to be separated again.

Advent, like adoption, opens our eyes to a new place, a better place, where the sin and suffering of the last place are no more. Advent, like adoption, reminds us not to cling to our old home, not to get too settled here, as it’s not where we belong. Advent, like adoption, tells us that the tragedies of life are not supposed to bring us down, but to cause us even more to look upwards, waiting and hoping more desperately for a future in which destruction, lies, corruption, ill-health and death don’t exist. Advent, like adoption, brings hope and a new start and a secure future. Advent, like adoption, prepares us for that glorious day when we will be with our true, heavenly Father.

Advent will never be the same, now that I have a special anniversary to remember, one which reminds me what Advent is all about. Fixing my eyes upwards, my December of roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate, hampers and tinsel has become the celebration which will one day be surpassed by an infinitely grander celebration: that when all God’s children come home.

“In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” Ephesians 1:4-6

Posted in adoption

adoption: what is a sibling?

I’ve been mulling this over for a little while now. Sibling relationships vary so much – and that’s without bringing adoption into the equation. For example, I have two brothers that I basically didn’t grow up with – the large age gap meant they were away at school and university, and then moved out, while I was going through childhood. We are still siblings, despite not having shared memories of beach holidays, den building, exploring and ganging up on parents together.

Some people cemented their sibling relationship with late-night chats, clothes-swapping, advice-asking. Others established their relationship with arguing, fighting, snapping. We are all so different.

For some of us, a sibling is someone you share genes with, someone who has the same number of siblings as you. But that isn’t true for my four children. Each of them shares genes with just one of their three active siblings. Two of my children have three siblings. The other two have six – technically. The younger two children spent the first year of their lives in another family. Confused?

Missy, 5, gives the best, no-nonsense response to all of this. Explaining to her that we’re all going to court to celebrate the fact that Monkey and Meerkat are now legally adopted, and therefore officially her brothers, she replies, “But they’ve always been our brothers”.

You see, my children have fathomed the secret of being a sibling much quicker than I have, with all my weeks and months of reflection. It is this: to be a sibling is to choose to be a sibling. It is choosing to refer to ‘my brothers’, even though you’re just getting to know them. It is choosing to play with them, entertain them, make them laugh, care for them, even though they’re still learning to trust you. It is choosing to love them even when their cuddles aren’t directed at you.

AND. It is shouting, fighting, yelling, arguing. But it is the choice to do these things, knowing that the sibling relationship is secure.

If adoption has taught me anything, it is the incredible depths that children will go to in order to choose to love a sibling. They do it so naturally and with so little fuss. And it makes me wonder why we grown-ups make it so difficult.

Posted in school

five questions to ask a prospective school

IMG_0029[1]This Autumn, many of you will be visiting primary schools, trying to fathom where to send your little person next September. Maybe you’ve already been. Maybe it’s an easy choice or maybe there are several options. Maybe there are factors which make it an incredibly hard decision.

I’m struggling to believe that it was three whole years ago that my husband and I did the school trail. For us, it was an easy decision, but the school we chose for our son was one which others were rejecting. I’ve rattled on enough times about why we chose this school, but today I thought it’d be helpful to provide some questions which you can ask when viewing schools.

Disclaimer: these are not the only questions you should ask, and I wouldn’t suggest asking all of them – unless you want to have the poor Headteacher reaching for her hip-flask once you’ve left – but picking a couple of them to raise during your visit will help you to see past the surface of how the school is presenting itself, and start to give you a feel for its actual identity. What’s at the core of this school? Hopefully these questions will help you scratch beneath the shiny veneer being presented to you (and yes, schools can be pretty good at masking the cracks).

school1. What’s your pastoral support like? You want to know whether there’s one or more members of staff whose job it is to support pupils – and families – with non-academic issues. Does the school have a well-thought-out system for dealing with pupils who are undergoing stress? You may think your family life is pretty stable, but unemployment, bereavement or ill health could hit at any time, and you need to be as sure as you can that this school will support your child through any difficulties they might be facing out of school, thus reducing the negative impact on your child’s education. Contrary to what many people think, it’s just not possible to separate academic learning from pastoral well-being.

2. What’s your behaviour management strategy? Many schools will have a clear-cut strategy for the classroom, and will often speak to the children in terms of making ‘choices’, rather than behaving well or badly. Are you making good choices? Are you thinking about your choices? Have you made a bad choice? But you want to know that there is a system like this which is consistent throughout the school. If every teacher has a different way of doing things, this will unsettle most children for the first few weeks of every academic year, disrupting learning as well as their own sense of security. You also need to know what happens beyond the classroom – what are the sanctions for bad choices? What will happen when your child excels in behaviour or effort? Is the school doing anything to preempt negative behaviour and respond to the stimuli before a child makes those bad choices? Is the school educating children on behaviour, or simply dealing with it when it happens? Prevention or cure? There should be both in evidence.

3. Where will the school be in five years’ time? Remember, you’re not signing up for this year alone (unless you have a planned relocation next summer, of course!). You want to know that this school will still be the right choice for your child in Year 2, Year 4, Year 6. Is there a clear vision for the future? Where is the school hoping to develop/improve? There’s no shame in having weaknesses (whether that be a behaviour strategy, pastoral support, academic achievement, staff deployment, or outdoor facilities), as long as there’s a plan to improve them. Listen hard – is the head committed to the ongoing development of the school?

IMG_4659[1]4. How has the school changed in the last five years? Similar to the last question, but for those who like evidence. If the school hasn’t really developed that much in the last few years, it’s unlikely to develop in the next few – unless the school leadership has changed recently. Where has the school developed? What’s happening now which wasn’t five years ago? I’ll never forget the very perceptive question my husband asked when we looked round the school our kids now go to. The school had recently changed leadership, and he asked “What changes have you noticed in the last half term, since the new head arrived?” The school secretary who was showing us round was enthusiastic in her response: “I’ve been working here for 20 years, and already it’s a much nicer place to work than it was before.” It made such an impact on us that I can’t remember much else from the visit! This was the sort of school we wanted for our children.

5. How do you protect children from the changing expectations coming from the Department of Education? OK, so maybe don’t phrase it quite like that! But with this question we’re getting at whether the school are able to shield their children from unnecessary stress. Or do they see this as a priority at all? The DofE loves to impose stress on Headteachers, and – if they’re not careful – this stress passes on through staff to children. Childhood depression and anxiety are on the increase, and one factor is increased academic pressure. Is the school actively trying to reduce stress for pupils? SATs results may seem important, but in the grand scheme of things our children’s mental health is far more of a concern. SATs last only to predict GCSE grades – whereas poor mental health in childhood will likely last through adulthood also. Make sure your child’s future school has their priorities the right way round.

All the best as you look round schools this Autumn!

Posted in parenting, school

why i’m (still) sending my kid to a school in special measures

A couple of years ago, I blogged about our reasons for sending our son, then 4, to a school which had been put in special measures. Two weeks ago, our daughter started at the same school, and I wanted to share with you why, two years on, we have no regrets about this decision.

For a start, Mister (6) has had nothing but positive experiences at the school. Academically, he is making good progress. Pastorally, he is being well looked-after. Socially, he has a wide and varied group of friends. I love the way the older kids look out for the younger ones too – older boys call ‘hello’ to my son in the street, they know his name, they’re not embarrassed to be seen with a younger boy. I’m sure this is not unique to our school, but it’s something I don’t take for granted, knowing that this wasn’t the case a few years ago, when poor leadership, little/no lunchtime activities and equipment, and a very weak behaviour strategy meant that, unfortunately, bullying was rife.

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Mister has enjoyed his two years at school – why would there be any reason to suggest that Missy wouldn’t love it just as much?

Secondly, I’ve met some really wonderful families through the school – some are similar to me, some are very different. I won’t lie and say I have a close-knit group of besties – nor that I’m ever expecting to – but this is OK. I have several close friends outside the school, and I’m totally fine with that. Those I’ve met through the school are still great, still people who I would consider ‘friends’ and enjoy a playground chat with. My experience has been broadened, and I’ve learned so much through getting to know such a wide range of people.

I love the honesty and the lack of face-saving amongst my school community. As an example, here’s a conversation I had with another mum within a few weeks of joining the school. I embellish a lot on this blog but, believe me, I haven’t altered this.

“Hiya Lucy, you alright?”

“Yeah, good thanks – and you?”

“Not so good – I lost a baby last week at 6 months gestation.”

Gulp. This mum wasn’t sweeping her problem under the carpet – and she certainly felt the pain of this awful event as much as any mum I’ve known – she just didn’t see the point in not being honest. In reflecting on this, I realise that in my middle-class upbringing, life has always been about putting across my best side – whether on a UCAS form, in a job interview, or doing that all-important ‘networking’ in my profession. It means that I’m excellent at small-talk, at appearing interested in people when I’m not, at hiding those aspects of my life which I’m not proud of. Perhaps those who haven’t been through this system feel less need to present themselves any differently to how they are. It’s certainly taught me a lot about the value of being honest and open with others.

Thirdly, I never cease to be amazed by the professionalism and vision of the staff. As a governor, I get to see and hear about all sorts of initiatives throughout the school. The teaching is excellent – really excellent – but I love how the staff never seem to settle for any less than the best, as far as the kids are concerned. With many children coming from low-income backgrounds, the school is thinking outside the box in terms of raising their aspirations, giving them hope and opportunity for the future.

For example, a child who is not reaching Age Related Expectations (ARE) at the age of 4 is unlikely to achieve well at GCSE. (And by ARE, I don’t mean whether he can read or write, I mean whether he can have a conversation, sit and listen, share and take turns, and so on.) So a year ago, knowing that the key to future success lies in early intervention, our school opened its new 2-year-old nursery provision, aiming to give high-quality early education to those children whose parents were eligible for funding. Within weeks of its opening, staff and parents were seeing incredible leaps forward in their children’s development.

I could tell you about the innovative strategies being used to combat (and prevent) poor behaviour in the school. I could tell you about the cultural pledge that the school has devised, ensuring that all children access the museums and galleries in our historic city. I could talk about the support that the school gives to parents – the free courses and qualifications offered, the hand-outs of clothes and baby equipment when needed, the interest shown in their lives. I could – but I’m over my wordcount. Do you get it? This school is forward-thinking. It persists in trying to make life better for those on the edge, and I’m so proud to be part of it.

For those of you looking round schools this Autumn, perhaps for the first time, please don’t judge by what you see outside the school gate, what people say about the families who go there, or anything else – other than the school itself. Take the time to look round, listen, ask questions, get a feel for the quality of the teaching.

I’m glad we did this two years ago, or else we might have missed a gem. My son has been so happy at this school – and if I now have to lose my daughter for 30 hours a week too, I can think of no better place for her to be.



Posted in parenting

the sex education of a 4-year-old


“Mummy, how do you make a baby?”

It’s a question we all expect – but I was expecting it later. Certainly not at age 4.

However, I need to explain something about Missy. She is baby-obsessed, and has been for three-quarters of her life. All her dollies get breast-fed. (And, I have to say, her positioning is spot-on.) The double buggy she requested for her birthday has fully adjustable seats and handle – you would be amazed at the amount she ‘needs’ to adjust them. Last year she frequently asked to view Google images of mummies “with six babies in their tummies”. (The multiple-birth obsession led to me and her praying for twins and…well, be careful what you pray for, folks.)

So I guess I knew the question would come. And that I couldn’t fob her off.

The thing is, we’ve all met a small child who has an obsession with trains or dinosaurs, and they know All The Stuff. Small details that we will never, ever know about the workings of an engine, or the dimensions of a stegosaurus – these are the things that this particular small person will rattle off to us while our eyes widen in amazement.

What is the difference if a child has an obsession with babies? There are two, I think. One is that grown-ups do know the detail – and the second is that some details are largely considered to be less appropriate to hear at a young age. My daughter does not have the emotional maturity to understand, or cope with, the complexities of sex and the plethora of tricky issues surrounding it.

And yet the basic mechanics of sex she can understand. Why shouldn’t I tell her? This is, after all, her specialist subject.

I take a deep breath. “Well…the mummy has an egg and the daddy has a seed, and the egg and seed create a baby…isn’t that amazing?” I reply, hoping the sense of awe and wonder will distract her from further questioning. There is indeed awe and wonder. For two seconds. Then:

“How does the seed get to the egg?”

Oh. Er…

Bear in mind we’re having this exchange in the car, me trying to watch the lights and navigate the route, whilst feeling the weight of her questions. What if her view of sex is permanently scarred by my answers?

I opt for the humorous approach. “Through the daddy’s willy!” Well that word always dissolves my kids into fits of giggles, so fortunately that’s the end of it – for today.

(An aside: I know that the professionals would frown at me for using slang terms for genitalia, but sex is so ‘other’ to your average 4-year-old, that I feel that to use the proper words at this stage would simply alienate it further. My kids know the correct terms, we just choose to use the words they’re comfortable with.)

Did I give the right responses? On the one hand, I don’t want to get sucked into an area which I don’t feel she’s ready to discuss yet. But on the other, there’s no point telling her fairy tales about a stork, only for her to have the facts ‘changed’ in a few years’ time. I want to foster a close and communicative relationship with all my children, and I realise that there’s no time to start this apart from straight away. Above all, I want her to trust me, which is why I couldn’t lie to her.

A few weeks later, I get the sequel. “How do daddy’s seeds get to the egg?”

What do I do? A short, succinct sentence: “The willy goes inside the mummy’s vagina.” (OK, I’ll admit, we don’t use slang for that one.) Do you know what? She and her brother just laughed and laughed at the preposterous notion I’d set before them (and, presumably, that I’d said ‘willy’ again), and that was it. That was the end of the questioning. Sometimes we freak out with the difficult questions, but actually our kids aren’t wanting a whole lot of answer – one sentence can be enough. OK, it was a pretty heavy sentence in this instance, but I don’t regret saying it. I told the truth, but managed to avoid telling her what happens up to that point, how the seeds come out of the willy, or how they get to the egg.

Just because our culture creates a taboo out of sex doesn’t mean that it’s right to go red at the mention of it. Sure, it may be inappropriate to discuss the intimate details of our sex lives with others, but the objective facts are not something about which to be ashamed or embarrassed. Moreover, if I’m a Christian, then I need to hold sex in high regard because the Bible does. It is, after all, God’s design. Avoiding the subject with my daughter doesn’t communicate this message. It is as if I’m ashamed of something God created to be good – and that isn’t healthy or wise.

What would you have done? Or what have you done? Any advice?

Posted in busyness, daddy, family, parenting


Me, at about 10am.
It’s not that I don’t love them all. I do – madly. But there are a lot of them. Maybe they seem more numerous because all of them are so very small – of course lots of people cope admirably with 5+ kids, so why should I be complaining at having merely four to raise? The fact that, laid end-to-end, they would barely reach the length of our living room perhaps gives the feeling that they are more than their sum.

Maybe it also has something to do with both me and the hubster being raised in smaller families. Whilst I have two siblings, the age gap is so great that I was effectively raised as an only child – and hubby has just the one sibling. Nowadays, when he’s asked how it’s all going with our newly-expanded family, this man who, in another life, would have been perfectly happy as a childless batchelor replies dryly, “Yep, it’s going great. I think we’ve both got used to having too many children”.

We were at a party the other week and, at any one time, I only knew where maximum 3 of my kids were. I’m not lying. Because when our sociable, food-loving kids are in an environment where there are lots of people and scones, how is it even possible to keep track?If God had meant families to have more children than parents, then He could at least have designed us with more eyes and arms.

The other day, someone asked me how it was going, and I was explaining that it was generally OK, but pretty non-stop from 7am-11pm. “Oh yeah,” he said, “because I guess in the evenings you have the next day to prepare for.” Honestly? I would love to live in the sort of world where I could afford an evening’s preparation for the next day. I can see it perfectly: there’s me, peacefully ironing school uniform while the last of the evening sun glimmers in through the window and Radio 4 murmurs in the background. Then I’m putting together nutritiously balanced packed-lunches, and making a mental note that we’re running out of quinoa. Finally I’m Pinteresting messy play ideas for toddlers, finding one my boys will love, and gathering together everything needed from my well-stocked and well-ordered craft cupboard. And then, of course, it’s bed by 10, so that I can be well-refreshed for the day. Yep, right. This is a reality that will, sadly, never be mine. Evenings are spent clearing up the day’s detritus. Scraping hardened Weetabix off the dining floor with my fingernails. Emptying the overflowing nappy bin into the washing machine. Retrieving my stilettos from Missy’s bedroom.

Friends are like, “How do you cope?” and I’m all “But no, you don’t get it, I really don’t.” Our house is an excellent advert for contraception. There is Stuff everywhere, including in the toilet. Laundry bins are rarely emptied. (And, when they are, you can bet your last pound that this momentous achievement will be followed by a bed-wetting event. The other time bed-wetting occurs is the night after you’ve changed the bed linen.) Mealtimes feel like a military procedure – in a regiment where your soldiers need to be asked a question 17 times in order to respond: Do you want ketchup or mayo? Ketchup or mayo? KETCHUP OR MAYO OR BOTH???? I assure you, it’s only by the grace of God that we all end up in our own beds under the same roof each night.

Do you want to know how it’s done? Two simple steps which, being the generous soul that I am, I’m going to share with you. Forget your parenting courses, it’s all here:

  1. Ignorance. Pick any minute of any day, and there are usually three kids being ignored. I call it character-building. By the age of 7, each of them will be able to prepare their own snacks, dress their own wounds and reach their own footballs down from the garage roof. 21st-century kids are far too molly-coddled.
  2. Lower standards. Facebook pictures of my friends’ newborn babies, sleeping sweetly in the cutest outfit, with a beautiful hand-knitted blanket, and just the right filter to make the picture canvas-worthy – this, my friend, is not a world that I inhabit. The older two dress themselves – they have to – which inevitably means Mister ends up in a blue T-shirt and muddy blue tracksuit bottoms, despite having patiently and repeatedly given him the fashion advice that blue and blue do not go together, and asked him kindly every night since he was 5 to please put your dirty clothes in the laundry bin – and Missy ends up wearing trousers, a skirt and a dress, topped off with a tiara, sunglasses and wellies. The younger two get dressed by me or Desert Dad – but, since we are both so dog-tired, our ability to put an outfit together which is a) clean, b) hole-free, and c) well-fitting is, quite frankly, non-existent.

So, despite my general hatred of hashtags, #toomanychildren is one which is here to stay. The noise, the mess, the anecdotes that we will share over dinner parties when we are old and grey, the memories we’re apparently making, the sleep deficit we’re building up – it’s here to stay.

And, it pains this organisational-freak to say it, but I actually love it.