The Big and the Small

img_1786Like many people, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with crazy events in America of late. I’ve not been able to put it all out of my head enough to feel able to return to my cosy little blog about the small, sheltered world I inhabit with my family. The big, scary outside world has been hammering at the door far too loud. This blog isn’t supposed to be a political place but, all of a sudden, everything seems political. Which has left me, unusually, at a loss for words for a while.

Don’t worry, I’m not going on a political rant. I could, but I won’t. I have been dwelling on how these two worlds collide and how uncomfortable that clash has become for me in the last few weeks. I’ve been becoming more and more obsessed with 24 hour news, watching the fear and rage unfold. These major world events strike such a sharp contrast to my mostly happy little family. I like to keep them apart in my head but I know I can’t do that forever. We are part of this bigger picture, whether I like it or not.

The kids are mostly blissfully unaware of anything beyond our little patch of Sussex and a big part of me wants them to stay that way: safe and ignorant. But I can’t do that forever and I wouldn’t be doing them any favours if I did.

img_1784My eldest, H, is 8. He is becoming more aware of the world. He asks questions about what he hears on the news and worries deeply about things. He knows who Trump is and what he knows he doesn’t like. He hates the wall. He hates Brexit. Dividing and withdrawing from others seems crazy to his 8-year old eyes. I am proud of him for being engaged, and school are great at encouraging that, but I also watch it in a sort of silent horror. His slow transformation from the ignorant bliss state of his 3-year old brother to partial awareness of a fraction of the horrors of the world makes me want to weep. For I know that there is so much more to learn, so much more cruelty and hatred.

H looks on in disbelief at (heavily vetted) images of the conflict in Syria and cannot comprehend that people still drop bombs even though they know that children live there. He asks me “But surely no one would ever WANT to kill a child would they?” It is beyond his comprehension. He is right. It is beyond mine but I have long buried that reaction, as atrocities around the world have mounted throughout my life.

Through his new eyes, I feel I’m becoming less desensitised to that hell. As adults, we learn to filter. You simply have to, or you would struggle to go on. Another day, another horror. You cannot live it all, you simply cannot allow that much feeling. My boy has yet to learn that trick. And with each new discovery he makes, I find myself seeing it anew, remembering what it felt like to learn just how much misery man can inflict.

Not only does my boy have to learn to understand all this, but I also have to gradually release him into this big world, away from our safe small bubble and into the unknown, with all its potential to hurt and destroy.

It is such a fine line, deciding what to tell your child as they grow. How much can they handle? If I tell him too little, I am artificially protecting him, tying him to the apron strings and failing to equip him for the big wide world. Too much too soon and I could damage him, terrify him, unleash nightmares. If anything I think I am guilty of protecting him too much. I hate that I have to be the one to destroy his bubble of ignorance, to remove that sense of safety.

img_1785The world, my love, is not the happy and safe place you have always been taught to believe it is. The story books have lied to you. There are terrible things out there, things we cannot always protect you from. Things I have to teach you, in order to make it possible for you to not only survive but make the world a better place, to make it into the place you already believe it to be.

As a kid, I clearly remember being utterly astonished to learn that not all policemen behaved as they did in Trumpton. That some were corrupt. That some lied and broke the law. The realisation was so shocking that the memory has lived in me for the rest of my life. It was the moment that I began to understand. H has yet to have his moment, but I don’t think it can be far away.

Not long ago, H started crying out of nowhere at the dinner table. When we finally got him to say what was bothering him, he said “I’m crying because I don’t want to grow up and be a teenager. I want to stay a child and play and have fun”. We spent the rest of the meal explaining how great it can be to have a bit more freedom, later bedtimes and all the other cool things about getting older. He calmed down but I know he remains unconvinced. And he doesn’t know the half of it.

I know I can’t protect my kids from reality as they grow or stop them growing up, neither would I want to. But I do wish that I was releasing them into a better world than the one we have, which seems to be becoming more frightening by the day.

I need to step away from the news and retreat into our small world for a while. Here I can regroup and work out how to be strong and, more importantly, how to teach my babies to be strong too. They have a lot to learn. They have many moments of shock and grim realisation ahead of them and I need to teach them how to handle that. How to turn their shock into action where necessary, to enable them to feel less helpless.

They have to learn to live between the big world and the small. To learn how to block out some of the horror, in order to protect themselves. They must be free to enjoy the happiness of the small, without stopping to care about the big. It is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to face as the teacher. I feel unequal to the task.

I will help you to learn as much as I can, my little ones. And I know, when the time comes, you will make a better job of running this world than our generation seems capable of right now.

img_1787

Advertisements

The Trouble With Targets

School is hard. I’m finding it a lot harder this time round than I did as a child. When you have a kid that finds it more difficult to do the things that many kids seem to breeze through, who is falling short of the new impossible targets, it can be very hard indeed.

My boy doesn’t worry about it. He enjoys school. He is cheerful and content in class, blissfully unaware – for the most part – that he isn’t measuring up to government standards, or that I am sometimes tied up in knots of worry. But my boy hasn’t read the rules. He hasn’t seen the list of things he is supposed to know by the end of the year. I have. And I know he isn’t going to tick all the right boxes. He may be funny and sweet and clever with a special and original way of looking at the world, but he struggles to join up his letters, so he fails. He can’t tell me what 7 X 8 is, so he misses the mark.

School work didn’t bother me at his age. I found it easy. But that is just because I was lucky. My head happens to work in the way they wanted it to. My boy’s head is a world of different. He doesn’t fit the mould, which makes him both wonderful and worrying. He doesn’t learn by rote. He lets thing wash over him. Some things stick, most don’t.

My boy is bendy too. He is hyper-mobile. Excellent for gymnastics. Not so good for handwriting. The look of concentration on his dear little face while he tries to join an F to an L is adorable. But you don’t get points for adorable. You don’t get points for effort either. These days, you either join up your writing or your writing is deemed to be substandard, no matter how perfect the content.

My boy is incredible. The extra effort he has to put in must make his school day a lot harder than it is for most. But he never wants to miss school. He never feigns illness to have a duvet day. He skips in happily.

My boy is the most loyal friend you could wish for. He gets on with everyone but he is devoted to the special few, his very best mates. He looks out for them, is kind, would never be deliberately hurtful or play them off against each other. He is all wide-eyed innocence and shock in the face of such behaviour from others. But there are no tick boxes for kindness and loyality.

I am a worrier. I always have been. My husband and my parents tell me not to sweat it, that he is only seven, that he will find his niche and it will all fall into place soon enough. They are probably right. I really hope they are right. But I can’t help but worry because I want to protect him. I want to protect him from feeling like he has failed because he hasn’t ticked the right boxes. Because the skills and talents he has are not valued as highly as those others have, so they score zero.

I am on a learning curve that I don’t think the government understands. I am learning that hitting the academic mark isn’t the only measure of a child’s success. My amazing little boy is teaching me that. He has a wonderful attitude, is positive and keen, and I worry about him losing that with the realisation that he is struggling with some of their targets.

Our school is great at supporting kids like H who need a little extra help with things. They see and value the whole child and give him all the help he needs. But so much of it is out of their hands. These tick boxes come from on high, from politicians attempting to woo their aging conservative voters who think that learning the times tables by heart was good enough for them, so should be inflicted upon the youth of today.

imageBut I am overstating things, as I am prone to do. He is doing OK. He is keeping up, just about. I have been so impressed by how he has improved with his reading and writing recently that I was feeling pretty confident. But at a parents’ meeting at school last night all the targets were listed as the new curriculum kicks in. Standards have gone up. Reaching an acceptable level is now that much harder. This is pretty scary when your child wasn’t even hitting the old averages.

I sat through the meeting, biting my lip, trying to keep the bubbling emotion inside me at bay, as I heard about the hoops that have to be jumped through to make my boy ‘secondary ready’ in just three and a half short years. There are targets on the list that he won’t hit this year, no matter what any of us do. He may not hit them at all. Does it really matter in life if he cannot join up his letters and recite his twelve times table? Of course not. But being perceived to have failed to meet the standard might just matter. There may come a point when empty tick boxes matter a lot. Because there may come a time when he will care deeply.

We are certainly not alone. That much I know. There are parents up and down the country worrying about their little ones. The creative ones, the ones who think differently, the ones who have a lot to offer but not necessarily the things on the government’s list. There will be other parents worried in his school, in his class. Us worriers will read the list of targets and our hearts will sink. We will work extra hard, do extra maths and reading at home, work on our kids’ confidence with lots of praise for the small wins.

But no matter what I do, I am certain there will be empty tick boxes come July. There will be empty tick boxes in three and half years too, on the eve of secondary school. Because my wonderful, kind, creative, imaginative little lad does not always fit in the box, let alone know how to tick it. Because one size does not fit all. Because no matter how fantastic your school is, the system of measuring achievement for little ones in this country is too rigid. It does not leave room to appreciate the many talents and incredible facets of the wonderfully varied little people that we are raising.

This makes me sometimes sad and sometimes cross. But mostly it just makes me worry and wish there was a better way.

What we have to do is help him to do his best and make sure he understands that there is more to life than ticking boxes. We have to make damn sure that he knows that we appreciate him for who he is and for what he is good at. Even if the powers that be don’t.

image

My brilliant boy.