adoption and the suzuki method

A small disclaimer – because I’m over-anxious about my blogs and no-one likes to be sued! These views are my own, and come from my 20-month experience as a Suzuki parent in a SECE class, as well as a couple of days’ observing SECE training this summer, and a few weeks under my belt as a Suzuki teaching partner. In short, this post represents my understanding of the Suzuki method, and the effect it’s having on our family – it doesn’t necessarily represent the views of any trained Suzuki teacher. Thank you for reading!

Shortly after our boys came home to us, I signed them up to a local Suzuki music class. As a former music teacher, I’d always shied away from paying for something I felt I could do myself – but the Suzuki approach had intrigued me, and felt like something very different to what I would naturally do at home.

The boys seemed to like music – both in their foster home and once they moved to us – so I was very excited when they were offered a place in a Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) class, for which there is usually a sizeable waiting list.

What I didn’t realise was just how much the Suzuki method would support me as an adoptive mum – and my boys as adopted children.

It will help if I briefly outline what the Suzuki method actually is. What it isn’t is the method by which I – and probably most people – was taught to play an instrument. There are three main beliefs underlying the philosophy:

Every child can learn – the idea that there is no such thing as ‘genius’, that everyone possesses ‘ability’, and it is how this ability is nurtured which determines what we achieve.

Ability develops early – right from inside the womb, we are listening, growing, developing. You’re never too early to start learning from your environment!

Environment nurtures growth – and therefore the environment has to be a good one – stimulating and engaging. Children must see excellent modelling from others in order to develop their ability.

These beliefs are implemented in Suzuki classes through four principles:

  • Children learn from one another (the classes are mixed age, from newborns up to school age – younger ones learn new skills by watching older ones, and older ones learn empathy by watching/helping younger ones)
  • Success breeds success (once you’ve felt the joy of doing something well, you want to do it again and again – and try succeeding at new things too!)
  • Parental involvement is critical (unlike many preschool music classes, parents play a full role in SECE classes – singing, playing and modelling all the activities so that their child can learn from them)
  • Encouragement is essential (sometimes the goals we set children seem too big and impossible to them, so they get easily discouraged, but with Suzuki, every small step is praised, nothing is overlooked)

A helpful way to summarise it is to think of it as the ‘mother tongue’ method. How do you learn your mother tongue? By listening to those around you as they talk to you, by copying, by listening and copying some more. It develops from the womb. In the same way, Suzuki believed that if a child was surrounded by music, he would learn it naturally.

Learning the Suzuki way has had a massive impact on Monkey and Meerkat’s musicality. They’ve just turned three and can sing in tune, clap/beat in time, and read simple rhythmic notation. They can pause, wait and anticipate when a particular sound or action is required in a song. They can respond to music with an awareness of different timbres and textures that many of my Year 7s used to struggle with. Their musical achievements have surpassed those of Mister and Missy (who weren’t Suzuki-educated) at a similar age.

But I’m not here to tell you that. I’m here to tell you the incredible impact that the Suzuki method is having on my children’s wellbeing – and on me – as we navigate the tricky terrain of adoption.

Dr Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) developed his philosophy following the Second World War. Appalled by the awful acts he’d heard of, saddened that the human race could perform such despicable acts against one another, he believed that, through education, humans could become better people, and work to build a better world. And he felt that music, with its emphasis on encouraging empathy and mutual respect, could play a big role, saying “Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart”. So it’s no surprise to discover that, for my boys, the Suzuki method is helping them to develop their whole character.

Firstly, nurture is of immense importance and can often override ‘nature’. This is not to ignore the genes that will obviously have an impact upon an adopted child’s life, but it is to say that the ‘nurture’ (good or bad) that has occurred since birth will significantly shape that child’s future. The genes do not need to be the end of the story. Suzuki believed that there is no such thing as ‘genius’, that we all possess immense ‘ability’, and it is the nurturing of this ability which determines our futures. This, of course, is an incredibly affirmative philosophy for any adoptive parent, as they’re aiming to give their children great opportunities throughout life and encouraging them to raise their aspirations. I don’t know how my boys’ lives will pan out, but I do know that they’re already surpassing my expectations of them musically, so why not socially/emotionally/academically?

Secondly, the environment around us needs to be a good one, in order to nurture growth. Adoptive parents know this only too well, having heard and seen many examples of a poor environment on a young and formative child. They never give up hope that the environment they are providing for their children will encourage them to grow and develop into all they were meant to be. The environment of the Suzuki classes themselves is calm, respectful, joyful and encouraging, and this challenges me to reproduce this through the week as I play or eat with my boys, get them dressed or clean their teeth. Before you start to imagine the calm, dream-like environment of the Desert household, let me tell you that I am, by nature, incredibly impatient, snappy and irritable when my children cross me. We are by no means a calm household! But, with the encouragement of the Suzuki philosophy, we are trying!

Thirdly, parents are critical to a child’s development. A parent is the most important model a child has. Think about it: when an old friend comes to the door – someone you know but your child doesn’t – and you greet them warmly, doesn’t your child warm to them too? When the friend is invited in, won’t your child be happy to play with them and get to know them, because they’ve seen you model that this person is ‘safe’ and ‘OK’? On the contrary, when a cold-caller comes to the door, and your manner is stiff and abrupt (well, mine is!), doesn’t that also breed anxiety in your child, who’s watching you all the time, looking for signals from you as to how they should respond?

Suzuki strongly believed that, for children to see the value of something and want to do it for themselves, they first had to see their parents valuing it and modelling it. If you take your child along to a music class but refuse to join in any of the songs, do you really have a right to feel frustrated when your child doesn’t either? They look at you, see that it’s not something you value enough to do yourself, and think to themselves, “This is not important – I won’t bother!” On the contrary, in a Suzuki class, parents are encouraged to play a full part in all the activities – singing, clapping, playing, dancing, moving – both to model how these things are done to a child who is not yet ready to do them for himself, and to communicate to their child, “This is of value – this is important – I rate this enough to be doing it myself”.

Of course all parents need to consider what they are modelling to their children – but for adoptive parents in particular, who are aware that some of the behaviours and thought-patterns presenting in their children are very deeply engrained, the need to be a strong, positive and consistent role model in their children’s lives is an urgent one. The Suzuki approach has definitely affirmed my role in the lives of my boys – otherwise I may have started to feel quite helpless when confronted by some of their more challenging behaviours.

Finally – for now, although I could go on much longer – every small step is encouraged. There is a 2-month-old boy who attends one of the Suzuki classes I have the privilege of assisting with. He can’t sit up, let alone sing or clap or dance; a non-Suzuki observer might think it ridiculous that he be there at all. But every week he is becoming more awake and alert. Every week he is starting to respond to the music – either by turning his head towards the sound, fixing his eyes on the instrument being played, or watching the older children play and dance. This might be overlooked by a non-Suzuki educator, but a Suzuki educator would know better. A Suzuki educator would know that, as we develop our language by being surrounded by it, so we develop musical ability by being immersed in it. I can’t wait to see what this little boy is doing in a year’s time!

Suzuki families are taught to be observant, noticing every small step, reminding their child of the small ‘successes’ they had that day, and encouraging them to keep watching, listening, learning. In fact, parents complete a journal at the end of each session, outlining a couple of ‘positive’ steps their children made during the class. This encourages us to stay focussed on our children throughout the session, and not plan meals or write shopping lists in our heads!

This process of observation has helped me to observe my boys outside Suzuki lessons too. It’s not one of my skills as a parent – it usually takes me months, if not years, to work out what my children are doing and why – so developing a practice of careful observation in Suzuki classes has really helped me to spot trends and patterns in my boys through the week. I watch more, I listen more, I notice their play and interactions more – and this helps me to focus on what they might need from me and their Dad as they grow and develop.

Has anything about the Suzuki method jarred with my adoption training, or parental instincts? Well, aside from the back ache resulting from carrying two non-walking twins around in a circle for numerous songs in the early days when I couldn’t allow others to pick them up, not much. There is, however, an interesting idea within the Suzuki philosophy that we are not to ‘over-praise’ our children, the basis for this being that children ultimately need to be motivated by their own sense of pride/success, rather than doing things purely for others to pat them on the back. Over-praising a child, according to the Suzuki philosophy, can lead them to become demotivated.

While I agree with this from an educational perspective, when our boys arrived with us – and even now – I hugged and kissed them a lot, and used verbal encouragement/motivation as much as I could, partly to make up for lost time (the 14 months before they came home to us), and partly to build attachment, to reassure the boys that they were home and they were ours. To start with, holding back on this during Suzuki classes felt unnatural. But of course this has to be balanced with ‘encouraging the small steps’ so, 20 months in, I feel we’ve now found a good balance, and I praise my boys when they need that encouragement, and hold back when they need to feel that surge of pride coming from within themselves. And the whole Suzuki approach is teaching me to know the difference.

The gentle Suzuki patterns of modelling, repetition and encouragement are transferable to so many parenting situations – but adoptive parents in particular will find the approach therapeutic for them and their children, giving them a philosophy to underpin their parenting, week-in, week-out.

***

For more info, please see:

http://www.musicatheart.co.uk/ – the very accessible website of our SECE teacher here in York

https://www.musicmindgames.com/ – Music Mind Games, some of which are used in Suzuki classes

http://www.musicinpractice.com/ – Sue Hunt, experienced Suzuki teacher, shares invaluable practice tips and games for children and parents, and you don’t even need to be learning the Suzuki way to use them!

http://www.britishsuzuki.org.uk/ – the British Suzuki Institute

http://internationalsuzuki.org/ – the International Suzuki Association

 

 

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what i’m into (the birthday edit) – september 2017

With my four hooligans all deciding to have a birthday in September – three of them thoughtfully choosing to do this on consecutive days – I confess that this month’s edition of ‘what i’m into’ has been hijacked by cake, balloons and working out which party game suits which age group. Please don’t be surprised if I haven’t got up to much else this month!

Books

I’m still on Captain Corelli – enjoying it very much – but probably won’t finish till October!

Food

At the start of the month, with a busy few weeks looming, I didn’t have the energy to be creative with meals, so I did what any sensible person would have done, and bought enough chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, and ready-made pies to last us through September.

Actually – nope. This is what I should have done. But cooking relaxes me, gives me a chance to breathe and to think, so I didn’t want to give it up altogether. I did the foodie version of stocking the freezer with frozen meals, which was to scour the Good Food website for easy family midweek meals, enjoying the fruits of the GF team’s labours rather than having to be creative myself. Some of the recipes were real winners, like this Three Veg Macaroni Cheese. Who doesn’t love Mac ‘n’ Cheese, eh? This one packs in some hidden veg that kids won’t notice (or at least ours didn’t).

And actually, I took a leaf out of my busy cousin’s book. She’s a few years down the line with her brood, so I rate her wisdom, and she’s married to a church leader, like me, so she understands the crazy pace of vicarage life. They unashamedly eat from the freezer once a week – so we’ve adopted this habit too, and it is so freeing, particularly on evenings where our extra-curricular schedule looks like it needs outsourcing to a logistics team.

And of course I can’t leave this section without mentioning the cakes, of which there were quite a few this month. A cartwheel one for my gymnastics-mad daughter:

lois

Two Stick Men cakes for my boys who adore the story (particularly the BBC’s magical dramatisation):

monkey

meerkat

And a football pinata cake for my footballing son:

IMG_3323[1]Friends, we have reached the stage of football parties, and I’m not quite sure when it will end. I can see us quite happily celebrating Mister’s birthdays in this fashion for a good few years yet.

Music

Image result for jojo siwaOh gosh, it was all stuff like Taylor Swift and JoJo Siwa, ‘DJed’ via YouTube by my eldest for his younger siblings’ parties. But I did get Coldplay’s Parachutes out for the first time in years, and spent a happy evening remembering how good they used to be, and what a perfect album this is – as well as not a small amount of time realising how old it is, and therefore how old that makes me.

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Stage and screen

Twin Peaks finished and actually reached some kind of conclusion! Not perhaps exactly as I’d have liked, but as good as you’re going to get from David Lynch – and that made it perfect, really. We then watched a fair amount of Curb Your Enthusiasm. So, so funny – perhaps not for the faint-hearted – but clever and original.

I also got to enjoy all of Missy’s birthday DVDs – Sing (for the second time), Trolls (very surprised by how much I liked this one!) and Moana (in bits). I say I got to enjoy these films – I enjoyed them in the way one enjoys films with small kids, where you see excerpts in between toilet trips, making dinner, answering the phone, fetching snacks, applying plasters, and the like. Eventually, after about 35 viewings, you’ve filled in all the gaps and seen the whole film, piecing the order together in your head to make some kind of logical plot progression. It’s one of those parent hacks no one ever tells you you’ll need – but you master it, and feel quite damn proud of yourself when you do.

Articles

This was an interesting one on a couple learning to date again after having kids. And I appreciated this guy’s perspective on why him doing housework is not to ‘help his wife out’.

Stand-out for me this month, though, was Why Tired Mothers stay up so Late – one I can very easily resonate with!

In other news…

Did I mention we had four birthdays and three parties?? Did I????

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  • 8 year old Mister had his football party, and his guests ranged from those who eat/breathe/sleep football like he does, to those who don’t play at all. To make it accessible to everyone, we had some football-themed crafts and a few standard party games as well, and kept the football-playing sections quick-moving, with skills as well as matches. Big thanks to our wonderful friends Sam and Tom for running the football side of things!IMG_3343[1]
  • 6 year old Missy wanted to make lip balm. I took this simple recipe and got the kids working in pairs to mix and melt the ingredients, adding essential oils and cosmetic colourings near the end to see it magically transform into lip balm that was beautiful to smell and look at!
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    Stick Man play dough!
  • Monkey and Meerkat, who turned 3, had a Stick Man party. Fairly low key, given their age, but it was fun to find ‘stick food’, attempt a couple of simple party games, and play around with stick man themed play dough.
  • I also began a little job, one morning a week, as a teaching partner to our fab Suzuki Early Years teacher. I assist with her two Tuesday morning classes, where the kids range in age from 2 months to nearly 3 years. I can’t tell you what an absolute joy it is to witness such young kids responding to music with such sensitivity and awareness – and I really will blog about it soon, I promise!

As always, I’m linking up (just! within hours of the deadline!) with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series. Why not check them out? And let me know what you’ve been up to this September!

what i’m into – august 2017

Whilst August has been fairly whirlwind, it’s been a different kind of whirlwind to usual, and I’ve really noticed and appreciated the change in pace. Fewer meetings, deadlines and things to do outside keeping family and home happy and organised (ish). The busyness we have had has been almost entirely down to fun and relaxing things.

Besides, it’s now September, schools are back this week, and I feel the metaphorical parenting pat-on-the-back at yet another family summer survived, with relationships still intact and limbs all present and correct. High five anyone?

Books

Image result for captain corelli's mandolin

Only 23 years late, I’ve finally boarded the ship of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It’s fascinating, incredibly detailed about just about everything, and I’m loving the way each character and situation is meticulously described. I can’t say I’m finding it easy though – 70 odd chapters, and I’m only half way through, so I’ve decided to take my time over it and read other books on the side.

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And what better book to choose than 180 Seconds, which I was pretty sure would turn its own pages. I was right. Allison was adopted at 16. She carries with her the trauma of her past, finding it difficult to interact with others, let alone trust them. But inadvertently becoming part of a social psychology experiment in which eye contact is made with a stranger for three minutes starts to challenge her – can she break down the walls and begin to trust? I’ll say no more – never let me be accused of giving spoilers on this blog. But it’s one to read! (Side note: with all this increased reading, I’ve started to use my local library. It is BRILLIANT. I’ve ordered several books which they don’t have, and this one and another turned up within a fortnight. Hurrah for free books!)

Image result for glorious unionI mentioned here that I’d bought a few marriage books for the hubster and I to read together. We read the first this month – Glorious Union, a short book specifically for couples in ministry. As the introduction says, it’s not a book about marriage, nor about ministry, but a book looking at the specific relationship between the two. There are some practical exercises in the book, and doing these has opened up conversation beyond what the book itself says. We’re more grateful now for the privileges, and are starting to think about how to deal with the pressures, of him being a church leader. We’re not quite finished, but from what we’ve read so far, I’d really recommend this book for any couples where one or both are in full-time Christian ministry.

A Guide to AttachmentAnd I realised that, as an adoptive parent, I should probably know more about attachment than I do, so although I have some meatier books to attack when time allows, this month I read this handy little booklet, written by Mr Timpson – of Timpson Shoes! And yes, you buy it from his shops 🙂 It’s short, and therefore only skims the surface, but it’s a good introduction for anyone thinking about adoption/fostering, or supporting someone who is.

Food

IMG_20170822_172156[1]Is there a more glorious sight than this in August?! I’ve made blackberry gin and blackberry crumble, and have eaten a fair few when the kiddoes haven’t got there first.

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Blackberry gin!
Missy spontaneously decided to make blackberry milkshake too…

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The kids also decided to set up a blackberry shop…although very reasonably priced 😉

IMG_20170813_162949[1]A holiday to Jersey gave me my first experience of Jersey black butter – amazing stuff. Like jam and chutney all rolled into one. I’ve had it on toast for breakfast, and with pate for a snack – I know it would be great with cheese too. Mmmmm. We also took advantage of the fresh local seafood – oysters and lobster for me at Bistro Rosa. YUM! And enjoyed plenty of Jersey dairy products 🙂

 

Music

If you’ve ever wondered what Katy Perry’s ‘Roar‘ would sound like when being warbled at a high decibel by a 5 year old and two 2 year olds – and I know you must have done at some point – feel free to drop by our house. I have had this experience daily throughout August.

Stage and screen

The Tiger

I promise you I don’t always go to the theatre as much as I have done this year, but when we saw that The Tiger who came to tea was coming to town, we had to book some tickets! It was lovely, looked just like the book, and where the story had been extended, it fitted just perfectly. The boys loved it (aged 7, 2, 2) – interestingly the 5 year old was not as enamoured.

We took advantage of having Netflix in our holiday home to watch Philomena, every bit as brilliant as I’d hoped. You’ll need your tissues at the ready as it’s poignant and hopeful – but with humour throughout. And Judi Dench is fantastic, as always. There’s something about her that totally makes me forget Dame Judi whenever she’s in role – she’s utterly convincing, and I love her!

We’re still going with Twin Peaks – me hoping beyond hope for some kind of ‘conclusion’, but starting to realise it probably won’t come (we’re three episodes away from the end, still meeting new characters and new situations), and made a virgin voyage into The IT Crowd, which felt like all the best bits from Father Ted and Black Books rolled into one.

Articles

Lots of interesting things this month. I loved this minister’s beautiful tribute to his wife. The Rt Rev Philip North’s words about how many clergy are glued to middle-class areas was both challenging and relevant for us as we navigate a mixed parish with an awful lot of poverty. On a related topic, this older article by Grayson Perry on why taste is so intrinsically woven into what ‘class’ we are or perceive ourselves to be was fascinating and absolutely spot-on.

This article, highlighting some recent research on screen time for children, is lengthy but informative. (Of course I still use the TV as a babysitter pretty much every day, but it’s nice to know what the ideal is, should I ever wish to turn into Hyper-Organic-Super-Mum.)

And my friend Jo, as always, challenged me on letting go of anger, rather than letting it define our futures.

In other news…

We went to Jersey! I think I said that. And then we went to Shropshire! Equally wonderful.

We’ve had lovely friends to stay this month, and some wonderful catch-ups with local friends too. I love the space that the summer holidays give for more extended playdates and catch-ups.

We saw a hedgehog.

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And we started potty training! I can hardly believe this. I thought I’d be buying the boys their school shoes before their pants – but, no, it seems that choosing their own potties was the catalyst for showing me how ready they are to have a go. I’ll spare you too many of the gory details, but must share this photo – which, to me, sums it up: my new dress having been spray-weed. Only boys can get that angle right.

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Now there’s a shot you won’t see in a Boden catalogue.

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into‘ series. Do check out the other posts, and let me know what you’ve been up to in August!

the silent anniversary: celebrating marriage in a culture of relationship breakdown

Image may contain: 2 people, people smilingLast month, us Desert People celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. Most of the time I feel our life just plods on, so the slightly startling fact that we’d been plodding on longer than Facebook, Netflix and (most people’s access to) digital photography seemed worth celebrating.

We had a lovely couple of days of dates, nice food and presents – but few others knew of our celebrations. I nearly posted our happy day on Facebook – but something held me back. This year one of my friends is finalising her divorce whilst another has become a single mum. Other friends have divorced years ago, but any mention of marriage still stings. Then there are those who always dreamed of marriage – but are still waiting. How could I post a shiny picture of the two of us against that backdrop?

The problem is that a happy, long-lasting marriage can so easily end up being miscommunicated as an ‘achievement’, a ‘notch on the scale’, something to wear as a badge of honour. Entirely by accident, the Happily-Marrieds can end up suggesting that they possess a greater level of emotional intelligence, a more kind and forgiving character, or simply ‘work harder’ at their marriages. But I can tell you that many of my now-divorced friends worked harder at their marriages than I’ve ever done. So there was no way I was going to risk getting the tone wrong on Facebook.

In a month’s worth of reflection over whether I was right to hold back, or whether I was being stupidly over-cautious, a few things have come to mind.

One is that, regardless of our own marital status, all of us can celebrate marriage in some way, shape or form. Almost all of us have benefited from a strong, healthy marriage – if not our own, then our parents’, grandparents’, close friends or other family members. We may have received security from our own parents’ marriage – or support and hospitality from the marriage of friends. Marriage can be celebrated as a wonderful institution, even if we ourselves are not married.

Secondly – contrary to the polarised ‘marriage=lifelong joy’ and ‘singleness=lifelong discontent’ philosophy of our culture, the reality is tinged with much more grey. Marriages can be hard, tiring, frustrating – and singleness can be enriching, freeing, empowering. Celebrating marriage should not be about pretending that life is brilliant all the time. When we celebrate our marriages publicly, we need to acknowledge the grey – sensitively, but not silently. Similarly, even the worst separations, divorces and bereavements can bring about many new positives. Recently, my friend wrote about how the painful time around her divorce gave her an insight into suffering and mental health that she would never have had otherwise.

Thirdly – and this is especially true if our marriage has been easy so far – a great way to celebrate our marriages, in addition to shouting about them, is to invest in them. I suspect that most divorces are not based on one event, an affair, a life change, or whatever, but on a gradual drifting apart over a few years. If we assume that a strong marriage will be built without any input from us, we assume wrong. When we celebrated our anniversary last month, I realised we hadn’t read any marriage books for a while, so did some research and grabbed a handful of titles which looked interesting and challenging for where we’re at right now. (And yes, you’ll be seeing mentions of these books on the blog over the next few months as we devour them!) But investing in your marriage could also mean attending some marriage counselling – and remember that you don’t need to be having marital problems in order to book an appointment. You can see it much more like an MOT, as explained in this amazing article by Marina Fogle. In short, put some deposits in your marriage bank – you never know when there’ll be a hefty outgoing.

Finally, whilst investment in our marriages is vital, we also need to recognise that a healthy marriage is not solely a result of our own hard work, stamina or ability to meet 100% of our partner’s needs 100% of the time. We must acknowledge that a greater ‘force’ is present in them. Christians might call this force ‘grace’, which forgives us and picks us up and gives us what we don’t deserve. If you’re not a Christian, you may call it ‘luck’ or ‘good fortune’, that you’ve found a spouse who loves you despite your faults. The point is that the success of our marriage is not all down to us, and therefore any proclamation on social media or other public forums needs to recognise this.

I don’t regret, on this occasion, holding back from social media. I’m not sure I would have had the sensitivity, wisdom, or turn of phrase to announce our anniversary as carefully and respectfully as I’d have wanted. But I’ve enjoyed seeing the many other anniversary announcements that this season brings, my favourite being this:

“Our anniversary is a good opportunity to say thanks to everyone who celebrated with us this time 9 years ago, and to those who continue to support and journey with us. Marriage is a mini expression of community, which both serves and is fed by the wider community. Thanks to all those who are part of this”.

Marriage is something for us all to get involved with (and – dare I say – excited about?). We can all play a part in supporting those we love as they seek to keep their marriage vows.

And, more than this, it fills us with hope that one day we will enjoy the closest, most intimate relationship with God Himself. Celebrating the highs and lows of marital union – whether ours or our friends’ – reminds us that earthly marriage is not the end result, but a very faint picture of the 100% loving, 100% forgiving, 100% perfect Bridegroom – Jesus Christ, who one day will fulfil the strongest marriage vow ever made.

 

 

 

 

 

what i’m into – july

2017 seems to be whizzing by in such a whirlwind that I’m becoming very pleased for this chance to stop and reflect at the end of each month. When I can’t remember what I’ve done from one day to the next, it is encouraging to put it all down in a blog and realise that there have been lots of fun moments and memories along the way! If you write a blog, why don’t you join Leigh’s link up and share what you’ve been up to?

Books

I finally got round to reading JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You, which had been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years. OK, so Moyes’ stuff is basically chick-lit, and therefore not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s on the intelligent side of the genre, and this book is a perfect example, dealing with the grey area of assisted suicide. I was hooked. Moyes does her research, writes complex relationships very well, and includes wry observations about people and places. The three novels I’ve read so far by Moyes often involve characters from different classes/backgrounds who collide in unexpected circumstances – a theme which fascinates me.

Next I read A New Day, the latest by Emma Scrivener. I enjoyed – although that’s really not the right word – her first book, A New Name, which told of her battle with anorexia. A New Day moves onwards and outwards, broadening the discussion to include six ‘battle’ areas of mental health: hunger, anxiety, control, shame, anger and despair. Emma has first-hand experience of most of these, and the factual parts of the book are thorough and helpful. The spiritual guidance is excellent – neither brushing mental illness under the carpet, nor despairing of any hope whatsoever. The real test of the book is whether those suffering from a mental illness find it helpful – but certainly, as a friend of those who do, I found it a helpful and insightful guide. If someone else would like to give it a read and let me know I’d be very interested to hear your views!

Articles

I always love reading my friend Jo’s blog on MS, widowhood and single parenthood, and was over-the-moon to read her words on the Multiple Sclerosis website this month. She writes with such honesty and humour, and opens my eyes to the challenges of MS, bereavement and single parenthood.

Music

We celebrated 15 years of marriage by going to a Kate Rusby gig – our first. She was brilliant! Now we can’t stop singing Big Brave Bill, and are teaching it to our kids. If you can’t educate your Yorkshire-born kids by teaching them folk songs about superheroes who come from Barnsley, then what on earth can you do anymore? Have a listen, you’ll be hooked:

Stage and screen

Well of course, having read the book, I had to watch the film of Me Before You! It was good, with little changed from the book other than subplots which would have made the film impossibly long. The setting seemed just right. The casting – maybe not quite so great. But an enjoyable evening with a friend, and even a few tears shed at the end 🙂

I also got to watch Lion with my cousin and her daughter. What an incredible film! A young boy gets separated from his family in 1980s India, never finds them, and ends up being adopted by an Australian couple. As an adult, he vows to return to India and find his birth family. It’s a true story, one which blows your mind with how resilient, intuitive, empathetic and determined the human race can be. I managed to hold off the water works till the end but not quite sure how – as an adopter, I found the film particularly moving. If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays through this Sun July 30 at the Paramount.

And I was hugely thrilled to be able to catch the stage play of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, having read the book earlier this year! What an amazing stage show, put together with a lot of careful thought and design. The set, the props, the lights – I can’t give too much away, but it is very much worth seeing. It didn’t come to our town so I travelled a couple of hours to where it was showing (for a lovely evening out with my aunt-in-law) – and it was well worth the effort.

In other news…

* It was Sports Day. By some kind of bizarre star alignment, I won the parents’ obstacle race – and even made it into my daughter’s learning journal!

* I dragged the kids to THREE Summer Fairs this month so I could do ‘research’ and they could – well, get high on sugar. This makes our total up to five for this year and now I can steal everyone else’s ideas for our fair next year – mwahahahaha!

* My wonderful cousin-in-law came to stay, and we had a visit from some old friends, our surrogate parents from the time we were newly married. Always a joy to reconnect 🙂

* I went to London, Belfast and Liverpool this month – no wonder I’m a teensy tiny bit tired!

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* A note on Belfast: it was child-free. It was awesome. Pretty much the most Grown-Up Thing I’ve ever done, as it involved taking a flight ON MY OWN, then hiring a car ON MY OWN. I stayed with my fab cousin and her family, drank far too much hot chocolate, and spent my days observing a Suzuki Early Childhood Education training course. I have been meaning to blog about this incredible method of music education for months and months now – wish me luck, and it may yet happen in the Autumn…

* The older kids and I went to Madame Tussaud’s which was so much fun!

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* We attended the christening for my newest goddaughter. Look at her cute little face. Isn’t she just wonderful?

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* The younger kids and I tried out a new-ish ceramic-painting cafe, Bish Bash Pot, with some friends. For a pair of boys who give me a total body workout every day with their running, ducking, climbing, crawling and jumping, they do have a good attention span for anything arty. They sat and painted for ages, then got to enjoy the soft play when they got bored. Their bowls turned out a treat, don’t you think? I reckon they could easily be in a modern ceramics exhibit!

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* I was part of a parent panel to interview for our new Headteacher. Whilst sad to see the old one go, we’re all buzzing about the new appointment and can’t wait for her to get started!

* In other school news, I helped with the school disco, held the FIRST EVER PTA committee meeting, and spent an afternoon barbecuing at Sports Day, gradually turning into a tomato, thanks to the lethal combination of BBQ flames and 26 degree weather. The attractive face of parent volunteering. But it’s all worth it: there was no PTA at our school until a few months ago, and setting one up remains the thing I am most proud of so far in 2017!

 

 

what i’m into – june

Image result for wonder bookBooks

Don’t pass out or anything, but in June I read three whole books. It was a doddle though, starting as I did with R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, one of the best things I’ve ever read, where the pages pretty much turn themselves. The book follows the first year at school of a 10-year-old boy with severe facial disfigurement. It is both uncomfortably thought-provoking and wonderfully feelgood at the same time. Read it!

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Resurrection Year by Sheridan Voysey was another page-turner. Covering infertility, loss, suffering and resurrection (d’oh – really?) in a hopeful, gentle way, I felt this book was a rare one which neither brushed suffering under the carpet, nor used it as an excuse for bitterness. That’s not to say the emotions are not real and raw – but the path that Sheridan and his wife Merryn travelled through the realisation of dreams never going to be fulfilled makes for compelling reading.

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Finally, Compared to Her (Sophie de Witt), one of the books recommended to me in 2015, my Year of Books. It’s a helpful book, which describes the problem of CCS (Compulsive Comparison Syndrome), something pretty much every woman suffers from, and guides us through carefully thought-out theology to lead more content lives. I would recommend it to other women, but….

….and here I’m going out on a limb, since all the reviews of this book seem to be 5*. I didn’t find it riveting. And, whilst I was asking myself whether a non-fiction Christian living book can be riveting, I was reminded that many of the best Christian books are exciting, inspiring and can’t be put down – even though they’re non-fiction. This was the case with both A Praying Life and Jesus Feminist which I read earlier this year. So I did feel like I was wading through this one a little. That’s not to say it’s not good, just that it didn’t light my fire. Having said that, in the few days since I finished it, I’ve found myself mulling over its subject plenty of times – so perhaps it will have a lasting impact after all.

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Not exactly in the same category of a book I’ve read from start to finish, but still deserving a mention, the kids and I have been enjoying The Artful Year by Jean Van’t Hul. June began in the middle of half-term, so I was searching for ways in which I could entertain my 7-5-2-2 brood all at once (not easy), and Jean’s process-oriented art (i.e. where the outcome isn’t specified, but the focus is on the making) really fit the bill, as each child can access the activity at their own level, producing something they’re proud of. We tried salt-and-watercolour pictures, bean art, masking-tape hopscotch, and various new homemade ice lolly combinations. And, although we didn’t follow her instructions for it, we opened a bag of air-drying clay which kept the 5-2-2 contingent happy for hours. (Well, enough time for me to make dinner anyway.)

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Making beautiful pictures with glue, salt and watercolours!
Food

June is elderflower season so, as always, I clambered out of my bathroom window, made it across the garage roof in one piece, picked as many fresh white elderflower heads as I could find, and made it back to the bathroom window without breaking a leg. The rest of the process is dead easy – in fact, the recipe’s on the blog here if you fancy having a go next June!

We had a couple of BBQs during the heatwave, and the garlic-chilli marinated prawns were a particular highlight. A visit from our London friends was a great excuse, if one is needed, to have lunch at Guy’s. I made this aromatic prawn and cashew curry from Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals:

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I haven’t always got on with Jamie’s recipes, but think I’ve found my happy place in his 30 Minute Meals which are considerably less faffy than his other recipes.

And I remembered how much I loved pulled pork, so found a recipe and made it for dinner one night – it was a hit, and so super easy too. It’ll definitely become a staple on the Desert-house menu. As will gherkins. Yep, you read that right. Although I despise them, the pulled pork evening revealed that every one of my kids thinks gherkins are absolutely marvellous. Massive pot added to this week’s shopping list.

Oh, and how do you improve upon a millionaire’s shortbread? Replace the boring shortbread base with a chewy, oaty flapjack to produce MILLIONAIRE FLAPJACKS!

IMG_2482[1]These were so delish that, having made them for a school bake sale, I was ‘commissioned’ to produce them again for my friends’ wedding anniversary party! They’re from Martha Collison’s excellent book Twist, which I highly recommend, and are so good they deserve a second photo:

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Articles

This isn’t a political blog, so I’ve kept the General Election out of this round-up – suffice to say it happened, and I played my part. But I was sad, angry perhaps, at the media’s hounding of Tim Farron throughout the election campaign, and thought this blog from The Spectator summed it up rather well.

My friend Jo wrote an honest and moving post about celebrating Father’s Day with no Dad.

And this article, from the New York Times, reveals how we use language differently depending whether we’re speaking to a boy or a girl. It’s challenging and helpful.

Stage and screen

The ‘screen’ part of this can be easily summarised by saying that I’ve continued with the new Twin Peaks series, and it’s getting curiouser and curiouser each episode. Very gripping.

As for ‘stage’, two very different shows. I took Monkey and Meerkat to the theatre for the first time, to see the Very Hungry Caterpillar and other stories. Superbly done, with great colour and visuals, but not so over-the-top that it overwhelmed them.

I then went with some friends to see Everything is Possible, a community theatre project written by a local scriptwriter, based on the true story of a York-based Suffragette. There are no words to describe the power and emotion of this play. It began outside York Minster, staged as if we were all taking part in a Women’s March. I was fighting back tears within the first few minutes, as the Suffragettes of 1912 gradually took over from the 21st century feminists, and were led away, kicking and shouting, by the police. The play continued in the theatre and was totally absorbing, with lots to think about. I was struck by how much change there’s been in 100 years – and yet how little in other ways. Back then, there was huge differentiation between rich and poor. A century on, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, we’re forced to ask whether our society is really much different.

On the blog

I FINALLY managed to publish the blog I’d been drafting and re-drafting for months – What we want for our kids: Gender equality. And I published a blog I’d written on the first birthday of our twins – before we’d met them.

In other news…

IMG_2486[1]I fixed a lawnmower. By myself. I tried to stay cool about it, but now feel the need to announce it to the world. So there: I fixed a lawnmower all by myself.

I organised our first-for-a-long-time school summer fair! It ate all my time! But it was awesome. So great to see such a lot of families and teachers coming together to celebrate each other’s culture and have fun. Even the rain couldn’t stop us – but next year surely we’ve earned the right to hold it outside.

My talented friend Lucy took some snazzy photos for the blog – maybe you’ve noticed the website/Facebook/Twitter looking a bit more glam this month! I’m not great at prancing around in fields, but she did a great job of putting me at my ease, and now fortunately I can rest on my design-laurels for a few years.

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I spent a good deal of time finishing off a couple of displays for our school Music room. Here’s one of them:

IMG_2510[1]My school governor responsibilities took me into school three times, to observe my link subjects of Music, PE and Spanish. Such a joy to see such dedicated, enthusiastic professionals sharing their talent with bright-eyed, engaged kids. Another reason why I love this school so much!

AND we had our lovely London friends come and visit, en route to their amazing backpacking venture around the States. They have a 7-5-2. RESPECT.

What about you? How was your June?

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into’ series. Check hers out here!

 

 

the un-birthday: celebrating the birthday of the child you haven’t met

I wrote the following nearly two years ago, on the occasion of our twins’ first birthday.

Image result for 1st birthday candleToday, our twins turn one. I haven’t yet met them, but I love them already. We need to celebrate – and yet how does one celebrate the birthday of someone they’ve never met? Someone who is already so firmly locked inside one’s heart, but so achingly distant? Perhaps our celebrations looked a little odd from the outside. But I think that those who, each year, mark the birthday of a child they never met, a child born asleep or taken too soon – maybe they can understand our need to celebrate.

We did some of the usual traditions. There were balloons, cake and candles, and homemade cards. Missy didn’t struggle to create a card for each of her new little brothers. But, lacking the no-nonsense self-confidence of a 4-year-old, I stared at my blank card last night and I was stuck. Making a homemade card for each of my children’s birthdays is a tradition so firmly imprinted into the DNA of our family that I couldn’t do anything else – yet how do you make a card for someone you’ve never met? I settled on a generic caterpillar design, suitable for a first birthday. Twins, please forgive me – I don’t yet know your characters, your traits, your gifts and your passions. Next year will be different.

We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ – to each twin, individually, marking the start of an upbringing which will firmly recognise each of them as separate, unique entities. But it was our birth kids who blew out the candles, it was they who were in the photos. Next year will be different.

There were no presents. The twins are coming into a home already bulging with entertainment and activity and, besides, there will be moving-in presents and Christmas presents. Their birthday presents were the cots, drawers, shelves, clothes and nappies I’m rapidly sourcing from eBay and Gumtree. Next year will be different.

There was no measuring on the height chart. We have a permanent record of how tall each of our birth children were on their first birthday – but, for the twins, we will have to be content to measure them two months late. Next year will be different.

There was no party – not at our house anyway – because how can you party without the guests of honour being there? Instead, they celebrated at their foster home, and their brilliant foster mum deserved every minute of this joyful day with them. She has been the one to feed them, nurture them, love them through their first year. Next year will be different.

For me, there were no nostalgic reminisces, no casting my mind back to the first twinges, the contractions, the labour, the birth, the early minutes and hours. I have no idea what I was doing one year ago today. Next year this won’t be any different. Nor will it be next year, or the year after, or the year after that. I will never have this date indelibly etched into my memory because, at the time, I had no awareness of the significance of it, no idea that our family had just changed forever.

But I think of her. And I wonder how many hours she laboured, and how she felt, and what she was thinking, and if she had anyone by her side. And I like to remember my joy when each of my birth children screamed their way into this world, and imagine her feeling this about her birth children, giddy in love with them like I was with mine.

They are our twins. But they are hers as well. Today we celebrate the three of them.