Posted in book review, family, food, me, recipes, school

what i’m into – january 2017

This is a first for me.

At first, I thought this sort of post was incredibly self-centred – why would anyone be interested what I’ve been into each month? But having spent a couple of years reading other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog (give it a read here), I’ve realised that I’m just a little bit nosey. I love seeing what others are reading, watching, listening to. It gives me ideas for the future, things to look into or try out. So, here’s my offering, for any similarly-nosey Desertmum readers. Who knows? You may go away with a killer book recommendation or at least a laugh at how ridiculously geeky I am. And you get to check out other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, all linked at the bottom of Leigh’s, if you so wish.

Books

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I am hopeless at reading. There is precious little time to read, and when it does turn up, I read very slowly. Remember when I did that book-a-month thing, two years ago? It lasted till about April, when my friend Kirsty lent me a wonderful but long non-fiction book in tiny font. Guess she didn’t get the memo. I finally completed it around Christmas 2016, a mere 20 months after starting it. This momentous occasion opened up all sorts of delights in my ever-growing reading pile. I settled on Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist which I’ve been enjoying more and more with each chapter. I love her gracious storyteller style, her acknowledgement of the full scope of feminism (rather than simply up-front leading), her love of Jesus, and her adherence to Scripture. I suspect her book is not meant for people like me, who have never questioned the role of women in Scripture or in modern day church life – but it’s tying various strands of theology together for me in a very helpful way.

Another thing I’m hopeless at is any sort of regular devotional time. Timothy Keller is kindly sorting me out on that one, with his excellent My Rock, My Refuge, which takes the reader through the Psalms in one year. My prayer/accountability triplet are going through this during 2017 and it’s been a blessing to all three of us. Short, encouraging, thought-provoking, and the Bible passage is written out on the page, so it couldn’t be easier. I’ll say that again: the Bible passage is written out on the page. It literally takes NO EFFORT to read this devotional guide, but the outcome makes me think, leads me to Jesus and propels me into prayer.

I’ve been getting more and more excited about the Suzuki method of learning music, and the twins’ Suzuki teacher kindly lent me Everything depends on how we raise them (by Shigeki Tanaka, trans. Kyoko Selden). I’m not too far into it just yet, but it’s proving an interesting foil to my years of secondary music education experience. I’m planning a blog post on Suzuki and adoption very soon – watch out, this is the year I’m being super-motivated on the blog (remember??) so it may actually happen.

Food

In 2016 I challenged myself to cook without recipes for an entire year. I managed it more-or-less, and taught myself how to bake cakes and brownies from scratch. (Sadly, I never mastered cookies. Sob.) This year, I’m much enjoying the stimulation of new ideas from recipe books (and although I haven’t yet baked any cookies, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them anytime soon). So what have I been cooking?

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Simply Nigella was found in a charity shop just before Christmas, when I should have been shopping for others, but who can resist a one-year-old hardback recipe book for £3, eh? During my year of recipe books, I discovered that Nigella’s recipes just really work for us. They’re tasty, most likely to get eaten by the majority of our family, and not too fussy (or, where they are, they can be easily simplified). So it was a joy to properly delve into a new (to me) book. We enjoyed her Chicken Traybake with Bitter Orange and Fennel, and Chicken and Wild Rice. The adults, not the kids (unpredictably), enjoyed the Sweet Potato Macaroni Cheese, but I was the only one who enjoyed the Cauliflower and Cashew Nut Curry.

Martha Collison’s Twist has just been brilliant. A Christmas present from my Mum (technically ‘+ Dad’ but, come on, we all know who actually chose it), this has been wonderful in leading me on from last year’s recipe desert to a place where I can take a recipe as a starting point, then add my own flavours and ‘twists’. OK, so I haven’t done that yet, but that’s largely because Martha’s own flavours are so damn enticing – and, as well, there’s 7-5-2-2 to consider. I’ve made the Route 66 Rocky Road (think rocky road made with popcorn, cranberries, peanuts and marshmallows), Bollywood Bars (white chocolate rocky road with cardamom and chilli) and the rather scrummy Carrot, Orange and Blueberry layer cake.

If you were reading desertmum in 2015 you may remember how brilliant Jo Pratt’s Madhouse Cookbook was – well, it still is, and I spent January trying to find the few recipes I haven’t already tried: only Corned Beef and Sweetcorn Hash, and Vegetable and Beany Gonzales Chilli were attempted – but, predictably, the latter was eaten by ALL 6 of my family, with one (fussy) child demolishing it in seconds!

Mince was great in reminding me about meatloaf – essentially meatballs (which I cook often) but in a different shape. Genius.

Articles

Here are some online articles I found particularly wonderful this month:

How to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence  was an interesting and challenging read, especially the bit about not using screens to pacify small children. Ouch. But good ouch.

Dear Women’s Ministry, Stop telling us we’re beautiful I’m very grateful that the women’s ministry I enjoy locally doesn’t patronise our intelligence or our theology, but this was still an interesting read, and a warning too.

How to live under an unqualified president Of all the things I’ve read on Trump, this was the best by far…I either see incredible Trump-bashing, or (less often) right-wing Christians being sympathetic to him. All American citizens should read this. Honestly? It’s a brutal condemnation of all the ungodly, un-Biblical behaviour of America’s new president BUT it’s written with so much love and grace, and an unshakeable faith in God to work above and beyond world leaders, that the whole thing filled me with hope and assurance.

Anger and injustice My wonderful friends moved to rural Ethiopia last year, and I just love their blog, when there is time or Internet connection to update. In particular, this article was thought-provoking – some reflections of our friend as he looks back on the first few months teaching in an African theological college.

Doing Well Another friend writes so articulately about life as a bereaved parent with MS that I feel my understanding rockets in the few short minutes I take to read her blog. Please read this, it’s important.

Screentime

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January was the month I decided I was fed up of making excuses why I never made it to the cinema, so when a friend recommended La La Land, I immediately made plans to see it with a different friend. I really enjoyed it – she wasn’t so sure. I think enjoyment involves, to some extent, lifting off any expectations based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein golden era of musicals – and also more recent offerings like Moulin Rouge and the various Disney musicals. This is definitely a musical for the 2010s. I didn’t find any of the songs memorable or catchy, but the feel of the whole thing is so glorious that it almost didn’t matter. Bizarrely, whilst I couldn’t hum any of the tunes after the film had ended, I had the general musical tempo/instrumentation/rhythms in my head for some weeks afterwards. So it does get under your skin.

I always enjoy spending January catching up with things I taped over Christmas when I was too busy to watch. One was The lady in the van, Alan Bennett’s fantastic re-telling of a rather eccentric woman in his life. Maggie Smith is so good that I forgot she was Maggie Smith until half way through. AND this film made it into the small overlap of films that both I and Desert Dad enjoy. No small feat. Saving Mr Banks didn’t quite make it into the centre of this Venn diagram, so the hubster trundled off to bed – but I found it so engaging that I watched into the wee hours, not daring to switch off.

I couldn’t get into Northern Soul, though, despite trying for the best part of an hour. One of the few films I haven’t finished.

Games

We’re big fans of games in our household, particularly strategy ones for the adults. My Christmas present from DD was Splendour, which we’ve enjoyed countless times this month. Its advantages are: you can play with just two (but we have had a few games of four with friends, and it works equally well), the games are short for this genre (half an hour or less), it’s simple to pick up – but, like the best strategy games, has a vast number of different strategies you can use to win. Also – strategy game fans will know I’m not being shallow here – the game is made so nicely! Beautiful pictures, proper, weighty coins, and the box fits everything perfectly. Nice!

jacket, Dobble

With the kids, we’ve enjoyed much Dobble, and a new one for Christmas: Blink (readily available on eBay, once that link expires). If you have primary-aged children in your home, or you buy presents for some, I highly recommend both of these.

In other news…

I managed to keep the downstairs tidy (by my standards, i.e. a little lower than average) for an entire month! Woohoo!

I think I saw the bottom of a laundry basket at some point, but the memory quickly faded.

The kiddoes, as usual, went to more parties than I did.

We caught up with American friends we hadn’t seen in 3.5 years, a British friend we hadn’t seen in over a year, a cousin we see intermittently, and made a trip to the in-laws for a special birthday.

I enjoyed an afternoon’s training in Dalcroze Eurythmics, knowing this means nothing to about 99% of my readers, but throwing it in there anyway as a proud moment.

Oh…and our school which was in Special Measures? It got a GOOD from Ofsted! Just about our proudest moment for the month, and possibly the year!

…and that’s about it for January. What have you been into?

 

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 book review, family, parenting, school

books, books and more books (and why now really IS the best time to spend money on them)

You know how most of us aren’t feeling up to any kind of expenditure right now? It might not seem like the time of year when we have money to burn, but most of us will have children to buy presents for over the next year, so why not save ourselves a few pounds? Any sassy spender will know that forward-planning is key when it comes to effective budgeting, so allow me to present…the Scholastic post-Christmas sale! Ta-dah! You’ll thank yourself when that birthday rolls around and you already have something appropriate (and cheap) stashed away!

I’ve really got into Scholastic this year. They cover all ages, and the span of authors and styles is very impressive – their aim is to keep children reading right through to adolescence, and the variety of books available makes this easy. And if you needed another reason to shop with them, for every £1 you spend, your school receives 20p in free books. This is a great way for grandparents and other interested friends/relatives to support a child’s school, even from afar!

My First ABC

One sale item, for example, is My First ABCa lovely, chunky book which is hardwearing enough for babies and toddlers – and it’s a snitch at £1.99 (RRP £6.99). Monkey and Meerkat (both 1) instantly loved the appealing pictures – and the book was larger than I was expecting, making it easier for small hands to handle.

Stick Man’s First Words

We enjoyed Julia Donaldson’s Stick Man on BBC1 on Christmas Day, and Stick Man’s First Words is a great introduction to the Donaldson/Scheffler duo. Again, it’s a beautifully vibrant, sturdy book, and an absolute steal at £2.99 (RRP £8.99).

 

Dogger

Next up, we have a longstanding classic: Shirley Hughes’ Dogger (was £6.99, now £3.99). We are big fans of Alfie, and have several books in that series courtesy of Granny, who’s also a fan, but have never owned Dogger. It’s a heartwarming tale, just brilliant for children whose attention span can cope with a narrative. Both Missy (4) and Mister (6) loved this, and it would make a wonderful birthday present for someone aged 3-6 (ish).

The Enormous Crocodile (Colour Edition)

The Enormous Crocodile – another classic (which Roald Dahl book isn’t?) – is down from £7.99 to £2.99. Slightly longer than your average short-story book, both my older kids enjoyed this one, and I reckon the typical Roald Dahl gruesomeness would appeal to many children in the 4-8 age bracket.

Rover Saves Christmas

Finally, although you’re probably feeling anything but Christmassy just right now, why not order ahead several copies of Roddy Doyle’s Rover Saves Christmas (was £5.99, now £1.99) to give to all your 5-10 year old chums for Christmas 2016? My 6 year old laughed his socks off, and the weird and wacky writing would appeal to older children too. I remember reading Roddy Doyle’s adult books at school, but now we’ve tried one of his hilarious children’s books, I’m sure it won’t be the last.

So there you have it: a little taste of the Scholastic sale. There’s much more on offer, with prices starting at 99p, so do hop over and have a browse. I think I’ll be steering my children there to see if they’d like to spend some Christmas money on books they can choose themselves. And don’t forget to select your school at checkout!

 

Posted in book review, change, me, parenting, school

what happened at ‘that’ school, part 2: setting up a scholastic book club

Last year we sent our son to a school in special measures, then this summer I blogged about how it had gone, intending it to be the first of a mini-series.

Errr…here I am, with the second installment, nearly three months later. NINETY FLIPPIN’ DAYS. Oops. Regular readers will know that this blog has gone a bit haywire recently, so if you need a recap, click on the above links then hopefully the following will make more sense.

One thing I may have mentioned in passing is that, soon after my son started school, I became a parent governor. It wasn’t something I intended – I thought governors did the boring paperwork, and I wanted to be more hands-on – but, after observing that parental involvement in school life was – let’s be kind – not that great, and after hearing the Chair of Governors say that the role they were looking to fill on Governing Body was that of being a link between parents and the school – well, I couldn’t say a quick enough ‘yes’.

In my role I’ve organised parent forums, socials, a toy donation day, and a school disco; I’ve set up second-hand uniform sales and ‘Audio News’, a pupil recording of the school newsletter. Basically anything which encourages parents to see that their input into school life has a direct impact on their child’s aspirations.

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So, when Scholastic were looking for schools to try out their rather marvellous book clubs, I gave another enthusiastic ‘yes’! Vaguely aware of Scholastic from my own childhood, I quickly saw that what they were offering was just what our school needed: a wide range of books from tots to teens, great prices, and the opportunity to earn rewards for the school with every purchase.

Let me pause on this point for a sec. You know how sometimes it takes a gazillion years to earn anything decent with loyalty schemes? The ‘buy 15 three-course meals and get a free coffee’ type scheme? Well, Scholastic rewards grow quicker than you can say ‘free books’. For every order over £10, the school receives £2 back in free books. As these build up, imagine how well-stocked your school library and classrooms become, all because YOU indulged in a bit of retail therapy. What’s not to like?

The range of books really is phenomenal, covering many different publishers, genres, interests and ages. For example, I was able to indulge my 6 year old’s love of Enid Blyton, and also buy some Tom Gates books for our 9 year old godson. Even the fussiest reader will find something to interest them in the extensive catalogue; as Scholastic’s website suggests, children are more likely to read books they’ve chosen themselves. There’s no obligation to buy anything at all, and it’s simple to set up: Scholastic sends catalogues, the school distributes them, and parents make orders. It’s a great way to get grandparents and wider friends/family involved in supporting your school as well, as they can order from a distance. Why not click here for details of how to go about setting this up at your school?

As a rapidly improving school, we stood to benefit greatly from Scholastic. The problem was, we didn’t get many orders. Perhaps this is not surprising as our school is full of low-income families, some of which perhaps don’t see the value of books, many of whom will choose to buy lesser-quality books at supermarkets.

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But I think it’s also to do with how people spend money. Personally, I’m used to transferring virtual money in exchange for things I’ve seen only on a screen. Many families at our school, however, work in cash (receiving weekly payments of benefits or wages), and don’t tend to buy things they can’t see in the flesh. And you can forget browsing the online catalogue: many parents at our school use the internet only for social media. With this in mind, if we were to run a future Scholastic event, I would love to see a sale-or-return option available so that I could set up an actual stall – perhaps during a school fair or just at the school gate – and parents and children could see just how enticing these books are.

With regards to capitalising on how lower income families tend to use the internet, I would love to see Scholastic develop their social media presence so as to reach these hard-to-reach families. The books are SO good and SUCH good value that they really need to be entering the homes of every child in the country, particularly those whose parents may not naturally buy books.

Overall, however, we’ve made a start and – like everything being done to engage parents at our school – it’s a slow but sure beginning.  The momentum will pick up over time – and, fortunately, we have plenty of years left at school.

Disclaimer: I was invited by Scholastic, via Mumsnet Bloggers, to set up a Scholastic book club in our school and blog about how it went. I received no payment, although they may give me some shopping vouchers if I can convince them that I’ve met their deadline (like, not in the slightest). All views are my own, even the good ones.

Posted in birthdays, celebration, change, family, identity, me, parenting, school

he turned 6: learning to mourn the past but love the future

Last week, my boy turned 6.

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I’m looking back at the last year and, as well as a huge growth spurt evidenced by the birthday-measuring tradition we completed on Birthday Morning, there are so many ways that he has grown and flourished in this last year, his first at school.

In fact, the simple reality that I spent his birthday child-free, celebrating his birthday with a keyboard and a computer screen, drafting this blog post, while he was celebrating it at school with his friends and teachers, eating Minion cakes and getting sung to by other people, shows how much he is growing up. The independence frightens me and delights me. He doesn’t need me constantly – there is so much he can do – nay, prefers to do – by himself, whether that’s choosing what to wear, making a card for someone else, or walking into his classroom of a morning. (The exception to this is Birthday Morning, when un-cool Mummy is bringing cakes, and therefore becomes an acceptable companion into class.)

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But of course there are still so many situations in which he needs our guidance, mentoring, advice and suggestions. His dad and I are still the greatest influences on his life – for how long, I wonder? He needs us to help him learn to read, add up, and understand the world. He needs us to help him cross the road, to fill in forms, take him to the doctor, make his meals. He needs us to introduce him to different creative expressions: new music, art or literature. He needs us to validate his emotions, give him language to understand them, and help him navigate the tricky ups and downs of life.

And this is the definition of parenting, right? You work hard to bring life into the world – and then, once that life has arrived, your job is to gradually encourage their independence, their moving away from you. In other words, you’re making yourself redundant. Of course, you’re never fully redundant – even grown-ups need the love, support, childcare and financial bail-outs that their parents give – but sometimes, looking at my son, I feel the quickness of the years, and the phases which have passed, and I need to remember to parent in the moment.

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This year, Mister has developed his interest in gymnastics (and can now do some pretty clever things on the bars), learnt to write whole stories, continued with his Lego addiction, rediscovered the fun of Playmobil, and (of course) continued his love of football, now attending a Football Club at school. He’s learnt to sing more-or-less in tune, and sung a solo in his school nativity last Christmas. Just as soon as I’d written this post, about how I throw away my kids’ numerous art creations, and a friend had commented “Just be thankful they’re not in 3D yet”, Mister started to bring home 3D creations. I mean – literally the day after that post was published, we started to amass a collection of shoeboxes with a variety of recyclable items stuck to them.

This year, I need to pay tribute to the teachers who have helped shape Mister’s life these past 12 months – for their unfailing enthusiasm, energy, and professionalism – always striving to give Mister (and his classmates) the best, most personalised education experience, within a communal setting. No easy task. Up until now, it was me and my husband whose influence affected Mister’s existence most strongly – now his life is entwined with all sorts of influential strands from his teachers, and we’re so grateful for all they invest in him.

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Character-wise, while Mister has always been fairly placid, increasingly we’re seeing a steely inner determination. Sometimes this manifests in competitiveness (read: he’s a bad loser), sometimes in carrying out his own ideas, asking for little or no help from anyone else. I’m so proud of him when he makes the right choices at school, free from the Parental Stares which would otherwise communicate which path he should take.

We can’t live our children’s lives for them – we can simply teach them what we know, trusting that God will make up the difference, and then sit back and watch the people they become. This year, although I might mourn the hours we now spend apart from each other, I can’t help but watch and love my boy, delighted in the person he is and is becoming.

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