Just an ordinary Dad of 2 living in Brighton. Well ok near Brighton. In one of the shitty bits. Documenting an every day battle with commuting, child rearing, Brighton and Hove Albion football club and broccoli. All content is copyright of Jason Thackeray writing as slightlysuburbandad except for embedded links.
Perhaps the weirdest weaning method I have ever come across is that used by American actor, vegan and (IMO) nut-job Alicia Silverstone. Admittedly being a nut-job seems to be a prerequisite for Hollywood actors who, if they’re not members of cults seem instead to be intent on frying their brains on alcohol and drugs or joining food groups like the raw food movement (no Woody Harrelson, just because you were in a couple of movies does not give you the right to instruct us all to forage for nuts and berries for the rest of our life).
In March 2012 Silverstone was reported to have posted a You Tube video and blog in which she is seen chewing her food and then spitting it in to the waiting mouth of her baby Bear Blu, a la mama bird. This I’m against, mainly because it sounds disgusting. Food spitting is a parenting prejudice I am happy to admit to.
But how did it come about? In fact she got the idea from her lesser known but just as rich and mad sister Mavis and her son Rodney Bear Blu though their video was never posted. Luckily I had an exclusive peek and have transcribed it for you below………..
Mavis Silverstone: Ok then Bear, er I mean Rodney, Mommy’s going to make you a yummy feast!
Rodney Bear Blu: (sotto voce) You sure? That looks like you’re making more of that collards drizzled with flax oil.
Mavis Silverstone: YEAH BABY!! Here we are. Miso soup, collards and radish with flax oil and grated daikon
Rodney Bear Blu: (sotto voce) Oh for fucks sake. No cheeseburger then.
Mavis Silverstone: Open wiiiide! *chews furiously* Here we go! *spits in to baby’s mouth*
Rodney Bear Blu: *gags* *pukes*
Mavis Silverstone: Oh my poor wickle baby!! Are you sick honey? You want me to chew you up more daikon? It’s very healing.
Rodney Bear Blu: No it isn’t! It’s fucking minging! You know the only thing worse than pre-chewed grated daikon? Fucking pre-sucked miso soup! You know that by the time it gets to me it just tastes of saliva right? YOUR saliva? You want that I should just cut out the middle man next time and just suck your tongue?
Mavis Silverstone: Oh…baby you can talk….and you sound a bit like a British football hooligan. How did that happen?
Rodney Bear Blu: Never mind that you sappy hippy bitch. Listen up. Stop with the pre-chewed food nonsense. I’m a baby human not a baby bird. Just get me some regular food, cut it up and give it to me on a plate so that I can tip it all over the floor like any normal baby. And also some meat would be nice. In fact anything that wasn’t drizzled in flax oil would be nice. But meat please, once a week. And since I know how much that daikon costs you, you can make it wagyu beef – cooked sous vide.
Mavis Silverstone: But honey, just like my better known sister I’m a vegan!
Rodney Bear Blu: Oh yeah! Of course you are. So you definitely wouldn’t want anyone going to the newspapers about your secret sausage collection would you.
Mavis Silverstone: Actually they’d probably be more interested in how you can talk like that at 10 months old but I take your point. Wagyu beef it is. Unchewed.
*stalks off to make herself some dandelion tea*
So some time last year I posted my second most popular post ever. The gist was that the style of parenting you use was less important that the fact that you believed in it and chose it with love for the child in mind. Also that people should become more accepting of these choices and, y’know, mind their own business a bit more. It was called The Only Right Parenting Style Is Yours
But, just so you know, I’m far from perfect. Each of us as human beings have limits as to how judgmental we can be (or how forgiving). There are certain parental extremes that, while they may have been chosen purely on the basis of love for the child, I’m just not having. In a new Category I am going to list my prejudices. Here is the first.
1. Gender Neutral Parenting
Sasha Laxton was brought up “gender neutral”. His parents knew he was a boy but they didn’t tell anyone else. His room was yellow. He was dressed in ‘neutral’ colours and, at times, in fairy wings and dresses and others in trousers. One of the reasons was, his mother said, because
“Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes? Gender affects what children wear and what they can play with and that shapes the kind of person they become.” (1)
Am I the only one who reads that as ‘gender is a sterotype’? That simply by being aware of a child’s gender you are somehow ‘slotting them in to a box’. Gender is a fact of life, a biological fact that, for one, helps us reproduce as a species. I almost hate to point this out in a modern, politically correct, world but there ARE some things that girls and boys do differently (or one can do and the other cannot). Here’s a short list:
- Pee standing up – males can, females can’t
- Give birth to children – females can, males can’t
- Run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds – males can, females can’t
- Breast feed a baby – females can, males can’t
- Lose hair through pattern baldness – men do, females don’t (and I do mean hereditary pattern baldness and not alopecia)
- Have a natural cycle that regulates when conception can take place – females do, males don’t.
Note I haven’t resorted to actual stereotyping and mentioned ‘doing three things at once’ or ‘spending less than £100 in a shoe sale’ or ‘crying at soap operas’. The above simply indicates that nature has designed women more to be child rearers (and here I mean give birth to and breastfeed – there is no reason at all why the woman cannot go back to work asap if she wants nor any reason why a Dad can’t be a Stay At Home) and men more to do dumb things like run fast and wee up a wall after a night out. There is a natural biological difference between the genders and that is not a stereotype, it is a fact of life.
So here’s the next bit. “Gender affects what children wear”. I’m not one for decking Whirlwind out in pink and purple and having her ride round in a pink buggy with a princess sticker on the back of it. Her clothes are in all sorts of colours including blue (let’s not forget the blue snowsuit she was in on the bus when the mad woman mistook her for a boy) but she has a few that are pink and she has a few that are dresses. Not only does this announce to the world that, yes, she’s a girl but here’s the thing. She looks good in them. Contrast that with the photo of Sasha in his fairy wings who looks not unlike a prop forward squeezed in to a dress for a bet. Boy meanwhile, has been dressed as a boy by us but, again, not purely in blue. He had a beautiful burned orange hoodie that Whirlwind has now inherited. One of his favourite t-shirts when he was 3 was pink (I knew I’d done well because it incensed a conservative Afrikaaans friend of ours from cricket). Whirlwind wears his old blue pyjamas because they are nice and warm and we were buggered if we were going to throw them away. Gender may constrain in a big picture kind of way (no dresses for boys) but within that fairly normal constraint then what your kid can wear is limited only by the parent’s imagination.
And as for ‘gender affects what they can play with’ my answer would be why? We have a large number of toys that Boy had when he was small that Whirlwind is now growing in to. These include Duplo, cars, a toy farm and a pretend screwdriver and, at times, she is just as happy playing with those as she is her dolls or her mouse-in-a-matchbox. When Boy was growing up he went on a lot of play dates with my wife’s friends from the NCT branch and two of her best friends had two girls. He would be quite happy playing with their toy kitchens and they didn’t mind too much when, after a while, he got bored and found a ball instead. At three we got him a tea set that included pink tea cups and he happily made tea parties for his soft toys. Again it is NOT gender that is defining what children can and can’t play with but rather the imagination and prejudices of their parents.
My main problem with Sasha Laxton’s parents though is that I do not believe they did it for him. Their decision was, at least partly, and I suspect mostly, based upon a desire to shock, to push society’s boundaries and to become (in)famous. Time will only tell the actual affect it has on Sasha but if that were me in that fairy wing picture I’d be saving up for therapy right now.
There is no need to bring your child up gender neutral. What would be good is if parents could show a little more imagination and flexibility when purchasing clothes and toys and not run off in horror if their boy grabs a Barbie or their girl a rugby ball.
(1) Quoted in The Observer 22 Jan 2012
Posted in Miscellaneous Brain Chunder on April 20, 2013
So Micheal Gove wants to increase the school day and shorten holidays. Specifically he would like the school day to run until 4.30 and to have a four week summer holiday instead of six in an attempt to “catch up” with East Asia and be “family friendly”. Good job I was on the train when I read this or I would, once again, have choked on my cornflakes. It’s rare that I agree with a Union but on this occasion I have to agree that he seems to be making this stuff up on the fly. So let’s take the reforms one by one.
Firstly running the school day until 4.30. For older children, especially those doing GCSE and A levels I can actually see this making sense. It gives the children more time in a focussed environment to concentrate on study and revision rather than relying on them doing it at home. But as soon as the children are younger than this then it does seem to be, well, monumentally stupid. Very little children certainly cannot study until 4.30. Boy is in Year One at the moment and he is regularly shattered and pale when he’s picked up. In reception some of the kids are still 4 at the end of the summer term and, when I did the pick up as I do once a week, you could see that at 3pm they were on the verge of meltdown.
Finishing at 4.30 for little ones would see them going home in the dark every day in the winter whereas the current day end allows them to get home before dark even in winter. Whenever a proposal is made to get rid of the idea that our clocks change one argument is that children further north would have to go to school in the dark. Now we seem to be quite happy to send them home in the dark. Is it more dangerous or not?
But the worrying thing about this is the desire to emulate East Asia. The exam focussed learning there goes back to the 1890s and before – exactly the reason Gove says the school day needs to change. In Imperial China your best chance of a good job in the civil service depended on your ability to pass exams, each one harder than the next, that you could in theory take unlimited times. Long after Sun Yat Sen and Chiang Kai Shek’s revolution the Chinese culture of cramming remains but is it healthy? I lived in Taiwan for nearly three years and the children there, while ostensibly focussed and studious, are actually only that. They are not children. Huge pressure is put on them to succeed so that the stress of their education and a lack of role model has led to a notoriously high teenage suicide rate. Not having a role model may not seem connected but, of course, if your thinking is purely based on cramming and how to pass an exam, you may not have the creative ability to understand what it is that you want to do with your life. This is something they are starting to understand in Singapore for, ironically, as Gove wants to make us more like Singapore, Singapore wants a more creative and holistic education system.
Ultimately though, and most importantly, I think that children should be children rather than little adults. To have time to play, explore and be with their families.
Now the holidays. Do you like going away to somewhere foreign and sunny in the summer holidays? Because under Gove’s proposals you’d pay a lot more for doing so and have less chance of having your leave approved. In my day job I manage a team of three people and all of us have school age children. Every summer there is a balancing act that needs to be done between ensuring the staff have a break with their family and that work continues without the quality suffering. This is hard enough to organise in six weeks. Trying to cram four people’s trips away in to four weeks would be harder still. Your two weeks in the sun, if you have school age children, may be about to become one.
That may be ok though because it will also become far more expensive. We all know how much more expensive flights and hotels are in the summer holidays right? Well now that demand is going to be spread over not six but four weeks if Gove gets his way. The simple law of supply and demand dictates that the price will rise.
So a more competitive society with cleverer kids? Or a more rigid and tired society, prone to depression, and with a government supposedly committed to wealth imposing another indirect cost rise as a result of policy?
I can’t help but think that if you thought about it for more than five minutes you can see that this reform is not about the children at all and as such loses any claim to be ‘family friendly’. So if it’s not for the children who is it for?
I am sure that deep down many Tories think of teachers as lazy, militant public employees working 8.30 to 3 and doing nothing in their huge six week holiday than rolling out of bed late and catching up on Jeremy Kyle. How UNFAIR they cry when employees in the private sector are pulling 13 hour days EVERY DAY for the love of it! Taking aside the fact that teachers are actually marking and lesson planning, and preparing and hosting parents evenings, again what is so healthy about the alternative? You’ve watched The Apprentice right? Where in a rush of testosterone and duty (especially the girls) the teams roll their sleeves up and pull an all nighter for the good of the task. The task of course goes horribly south because it’s being carried out by people who are tired, inexperienced and unnaturally competitive. They all head back to the boardroom to remark on what a spectacular failure it’s been and to turn on each other like savages. Not quite how I want my kids’ teachers to behave.
But I don’t even really think this is the motivation behind the changes. I think the real reason is that Michael Gove goes home at night and imagines people in ten years time referring to ‘the Gove reforms’. He’s after fame, not improving your children.
Posted in Miscellaneous Brain Chunder on April 9, 2013
OK, so everyone’s writing about Maggie. I could – and possibly should – be writing about the kids vomiting or driving my wife insane or refusing to eat my scrambled eggs because I milk them. But hell, it’s been on my mind non stop.Maggie came from Grantham. I know that town. I know that grocer’s shop. And she has, one way and another, had a profound effect on my life and my relationship with my own parents.
My mother was raised in a little village in the Lincolnshire countryside a few miles from Grantham and she went to Kesteven and Grantham Girls School just like Margaret Hilda Roberts had done many years before her. She may well hate me for this, her politics being very far removed from Maggie’s, but it seems the school specialises in turning out strong, determined and successful women. Or maybe it was the town rather than the school. It’s the sort of place your work very hard to make sure you leave.
Stuck in the middle of nowhere, not even on the M1, it was the sort of place that struck me as being quintessentially British. Market at the weekend. Department stores and a church spire that dominated it. Pubs that may well have been excellent but that called last orders bang on time. Thatcher hated football fans but this didn’t come from having them charge past the Grocer’s in their hobnail boots every other Saturday. If you wanted to watch sport in that area then village cricket was your best bet.
We went up to stay with my Mum’s Mum every summer. Grantham is where I learned to swim, despite coming from a town by the sea. Why? Because after going to Granddad’s allotment and running through the spinney and playing cow-pat football there was nothing much left to do. My dad took us swimming to the Grantham baths as often as he could. Every time we’d drive by the Grocer’s shop. By then Maggie wasn’t in it. She was running the country.
My last ever visit to Grantham summed the place up perfectly. It was around the time that Converse All Star were trendy the first time and I was in the market for a new pair. I’d saved pocket and paper round money and my Gran had given me some extra. I went excitedly to the sports shop in Grantham. No trainers, especially not trendy ones. Just good old fashioned sports equipment. It was like there was a sign on the wall that read “There’ll be none of your poncey American canvas boots here m’duck.”
At the start of her first term I knew nothing about her politics or unions. I had watched the Falklands on telly – we all had – and later the miners strike. Teenaged me felt sorry for the miners but had a suspicion that Arthur Scargill was a wanker. Adult me still does.
But then, in her autumnal Prime Ministerial years she cast a shadow greater than any time we had driven past the out of commission Grocer’s. When I was 17 my parents divorced. Interest rates shot up. First 11% then 14%. Then 15%. Or as my dad remembers them ‘fucking expensive’. We had stayed with dad – I suppose he became an early SAHD – but though this was the right thing at the time emotionally it may not have been financially. The rates were crippling his business and ability to pay the mortgage. Then, just to really shit on our fireworks, she introduced the Poll Tax and suddenly anything I wasn’t giving in keep went to local government. We needed to take in a lodger and we still came within weeks of being repossessed. Neither Dad or I claimed a penny in benefit. Think on that when the Tories claim they support small business and strivers.
One of our lodgers was Patrick*. Short, Scottish and working class he claimed to be a Rangers fan from Edinburgh. In due course he would rip off a local pub and do a runner but he always paid us on time to the penny. One day, before he ripped the pub off, I went to work and, in the afternoon Carol started crying. Carol was the 30 year old Assistant Manager who dressed like a 50 year old and idolised Thatcher like I idolise Brighton and Hove Albion. The old hag had resigned. That’s Thatcher, not Carol. I could barely conceal my glee. When I got home me and Dad and Patrick were in the kitchen. “Terrible fuckin’ shame eh?” said Patrick. Then we opened a bottle of whisky. When it was gone Dad went out and got another. We partied like it was 1999, astonishing since it was only 1990.
Yesterday she died. I felt neither sadness nor celebration. Maybe it’s because I consider dancing on an old lady’s grave distasteful. Maybe it’s because as I’ve grown older I’ve moved far more to the centre. Or perhaps it was because she has left us a legacy that won’t be talked about in the countless obituaries. Me and my Dad. A bond that can never be broken, strengthened, as they often are, in adversity.
*Not his real name. Obvs.
Posted in Miscellaneous Brain Chunder on April 1, 2013
Today something is introduced that has been appearing on my timeline and in my newspapers that I have not cared about perhaps as much as I should. I mean I’ve cared about it. Just not as much as I have about North Korea or George Osbourne’s continuing smugness or Boy singing the Check-A-Trade Dot Com jingle. That something is The Bedroom Tax.
On the face of it this is something I should be in favour of. Here I am getting up at stupid o’clock in the morning to commute to a job to pay the bills and, thanks to the rise in property prices, those bills cover a tiny two bedroom house. Which would be fine except I have two children. One of each. And in the private sector I’m one of the ones lucky enough to own my own place. Many families of our age are stuck renting.
Meanwhile feckless Granny Shameless up the road has finally kicked out her seventeenth child and, up to today, had the right to rattle round in her luxurious five bedroom council house, that I was paying for ON MY OWN out of taxes and sweat, for the rest of her life. But only up to today. That’ll show you Granny Shameless.
C’mon. You know Granny Shameless don’t you? You must do. She’s everywhere. Except I don’t and you probably don’t either. You might be able to point to s similar example in a national tabloid but you know why that is?
Two reporters, John and Mick return back to the News Editor with a story from a council estate. One features Paul who has been trying to get work for over a year. In that time he’s applied for over 200 jobs and had three interviews. Now he’s being sent jobs that he’s totally unsuited to by Universal Jobmatch. The other story is Granny Shameless and I’d have to agree she’s far better copy. Guess who gets reported on? The thing is you know her only from the papers. I know a real Paul.
The idea that making people downsize their social housing when they don’t need the extra room is, however, a good one in principle, or at least more fair. It should introduce fluidity in to a system that currently has none. However, it is flawed by the fact that everything else in the social housing market isn’t equal. There is no huge stock of smaller properties to fall back on. This study from Case includes a table that shows the inevitable mismatch.
The Guardian meanwhile reports that 66% of affected people are disabled. The Government disputes that and, lets face it, it was The Guardian. So let’s halve that and say that it’s 33%, just for arguments sake. A policy change where one third of the people worse off are disabled, and far more likely to need their benefit as the safety net it was intended as, cannot be fair or equitable. And I am inclined to believe that they are the greatest proportion affected because we can all see how some bozo in a housing office has had to allocate them a house rather than a bungalow because of ill thought out preference rules or, again, lack of suitable stock. That ‘spare’ bedroom may be unwanted and up a set of stairs the tenant can’t use.
Then there are fathers who keep a room for children from previous relationships. It’s entirely possible to see how a family breakdown could lead to a need for social housing, about how the children’s father now faces not seeing the children, paying extra rent or, y’know, just bunking in with the kids and hoping the social don’t notice. Still it’ll make those Bulgarians and Romanians think twice about accepting their luxury 7 bed Mansion when all 29 million of them pour over to nick our jobs and live on benefits.
So all in all you could say I’m against.
But here’s the real kick in the teeth. Later this month, Saturday in fact, the highest rate of tax will be abolished because it raised only 1 billion instead of the £2.5 billion predicted by Labour.
What a failure eh? I mean, which of us, if we were offered a billion pounds, would turn it down with a flat “I’m sorry, it’s 2.5 billion or nothing thanks.”
Not me that’s for sure. For a cool billion I could buy an island and a car and a bigger house for the kids, and several Jeroboams of Krug and some nice jeans and a dragon and some really expensive hookers that I’d just keep around to serve cocaine to the dwarves, and a lawn mower and a toy train and a private jet. I could even employ some Bulgarians, not that I’d pay them minimum wage because, frankly, the tax on that billion would already be paying ALL their benefits. Or something.
So yeah. One week after an idea that sounds fair in principle but horribly wrong when you analyse it the richest people in the country will be getting a tax cut. And let’s not forget the politicians who thought this up think they deserve a £20,000 pay rise.
Posted in Parenting on March 31, 2013
Last year I started a writing project that has now totally changed direction. However, part of the original was the below. I had been musing on the difficulty of finding good, local school places and had wondered about alternatives. One of these was home schooling. I knew nothing about it other than I had some prejudices that I felt needed challenging. Luckily, one of my favourite tweeps, Edd from @eddsnotdead home schools and also writes intelligently and humanely. I sent him some questions, wanting my ignorance challenged and he certainly came through.
I thought the least I could do was reproduce it here which Edd was happy for me to do. My questions are in bold and his answers in regular font.
You can read more of Edd at http://eddsnotdead.blogspot.co.uk/
Why did you first decide to home school? Was it something you always intended on or did something happen to make your mind up?
It was a joint decision (as all our decisions are) but my wife was the driving force behind it. I had reservations as to how effective we could be at meeting the education level I felt the kids needed to be at and I voiced them. She showed me websites, gave me print outs and in time convinced me that it was an option. Once I considered it a possibility it came down to the question of should we?
Well, my wife is a smart lady, qualified to degree level in research and Library studies and has vocational teaching experience to back that up. I looked at that and I knew she could get the job done, but should we remove them from school and the ‘normal’ environment for one that’s certainly sitting in the ‘alternative’ section of society?
She had always wanted to have a go at teaching our own kids, wasn’t overly happy with the official provision being offered and didn’t like where some of the current teaching trends were heading. She wanted to make it work and so we agreed to review it in a year’s time and see what happened.
We’re still going five years later and though it’s not getting significantly easier it is something that is beneficial to our family and the development of our children.
Is there a typical day? Or is that the point?
There is a certain amount of work that needs to be done a day. Diaries, handwriting practice, mathematics, English, reading and work recognition. It depends on the child as to how much they have to do and at what level.
Once the small amount of basic ‘table time’ is completed we have a more fluid approach. Obviously we need to get out and about to the park or Library, sports clubs and various tutors we sometimes use for the older children but that’s all the standard stuff really. The exciting things we find ourselves doing like getting involved in filming projects, visiting places that are quite when everyone else is at school and following personal projects and interests make the day’s fun, unpredictable and exciting.
How are you monitored?
The local education authority has a representative that is sent out once a year to check on us and make sure we haven’t eaten any of the kids. I think it’s fair to say that some people are very wary of these visits and see them as an intrusion by the very authority they have escaped from; we see them as an ally.
A month before the visit we try to send the L.E.A a document that details everything that we’ve been up to, what the kids are reaching for, how they are developing and whether we have any concerns or questions. Each child has a dedicated section and our aspirations for the child and the coming year’s education is detailed there-in. The document is over sixty pages long normally and we try to make sure it gives a fair, honest and clear picture as to where we stand since last we saw the L.E.A and where we hope to be by the time the next visit is due.
The document helps to cut away any time the L.E.A representative would waste asking us about what we do so giving them more time to talk to the kids, the people they are really there to see! In the five years we have been going we’ve always gotten on with the rep, found them to be open and helpful and welcomed them in with open arms. We tell the kids they don’t have to show the person their work if they don’t want to but to be honest we find they do want to share and interact with the strange adult that we have sitting at the table.
I gather that some L.E.A representatives are not as open and as relaxed as the ones in our area and I have read some stories of nice people being made to feel like criminals for taking an extra interest in their kids by pushy, judgmental officials. In our corner of the country I have been struck by how genuine, open and supportive the reps have been.
Do you need any qualifications to home school?
Anyone can home-school if they want to. You don’t need to be a mad scientist or rich ex civil servant to do what we do; you just have to want and need to put the work in. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s not fun and almost certainly there are days when it’s not rewarding, but hopefully those days are fewer than the fun ones.
If you have a thirst for knowledge, are enthusiastic about learning and are willing to read up on not just the subjects but on various techniques (both main stream and alternative) of teaching then I think you have a good chance of seeing results.
I’m guessing that with such a large family your children are not missing out on social interaction but would you recommend home schooling for parents with one or two children? How do you make sure they meet other kids?
This is one I hadn’t really anticipated at all; the question of ‘Socialisation’. How often in your life have you been in a work environment which is only populated by people your age? I’m betting it’s probably never. School is an odd place because even in just one class you have kids at very different stages of development because people develop psychologically at different times. Of course you have the common sorts of things like the chemical soups which are going to be roughly swimming around their systems at the same time but surely that is one of the reasons why some people find their time at school to be so negative? You’re all trapped in the same areas, have the same heightened chemical processes going on but varying abilities to control how those reactions affect your behaviour.
In the area we live in we have a large homeschooling community (is it because of the supportive L.E.A office in the area or the general affluence? I don’t know), clubs and support groups and a sports infer-structure that’s of the highest quality. Our kids have friends their own age or comparable ages to play and study with, several sporting groups that they are involved in, their old school mates and a large extended family.
All that is fantastic but it’s also the chances the kids have to connect with the local community that are so beneficial. The staff at the Library, shop workers, museum experts, work men going about their business, all of these people are there to see us and for the kids to interact with. We stop and watch them put the telephone wiring hubs back together in the streets, ask the guy checking the pipes in the hole what he’s doing, reserve books and get recommendations from the Library staff when its quiet, ask release dates for products we are looking forward to and generally encourage the kids to engage people in polite conversation with-in a controlled structure of rules (obviously we are still careful about strangers, talking to people on our own, going near cars, all the simple safety stuff).
This means the kids see the world a bit more, know people are working and get to interact with life perhaps slightly more than the school goers. Yes, they miss out on some large team games on a daily basis but due to our insistence that they all do at least one sport (normally two) they still get their team and individual interactions with their peers as well as other people.
What is the most positive thing about home schooling – the one thing that would sell it to parents?
It’s a lifestyle choice. You have to be totally committed to the idea and actuality of your goal or it’s not going to go well, that’s what I think.
We decided when we got married that we would try whenever possible to have one of us working and one of us at home for the children. I was a ‘house husband’ for five years and it was an amazing time that I wish I could repeat, but currently I work in construction. My wife stays home and educates the children and obviously there is a lot to do with our six excellent kids, so you have to be prepared to put in a shift at home as well as at work. The tidying, the cooking, the bath run, the cleaning and evening lessons all have to be pitched into. If I’m honest it is a very busy, tiring way to live, but it’s also great to know your kids are safe, well and flourishing in a loving, supportive atmosphere.
The days are not always wonderful and it’s not easy but the reward when you hear your child reading clearly and fluently, when they crack the maths problems that has been stumping them, when they make those big developmental jumps and you are there to share in their achievement, support them through the tough times and know that you did it together? Well that is one huge grin you find yourself wearing.
What’s your opinion of the school application and selection process?
I remember getting into the local Catholic school and it was for the most part lovely there. My wife was a practicing Catholic at that time but when she stepped away from the church we still sent the kids to the religious school.
I suppose it’s one of those things that people get very uptight about, getting into the ‘right’ school? Personally I think there are good and bad schools and good and bad ways to get into them. In the end if you are in a supportive atmosphere then you are much more likely to be happy and so do better at whatever it is that you decide to do.
Should people be moving to get into catchment areas or falsifying information to get there? No. Be honest. As it is the system has to process so many kids each year that it’s bound to have some frayed edges, dog-eared corners and exploitable loopholes, but I never had any problems with the system.
The other day I made scrambled eggs for me and the children. I have always added milk to my egg mixture but never been totally confident this is correct. So I thought I would Google the question ‘should you put milk in scrambled eggs’. I wish I hadn’t. It’s possibly the most contradictory set of links ever. So now there’s only one way to settle the debate. By eavesdropping on two chefs, Richard and Phillip.
*wavy lines and xylophone music*
Scene – the kitchens of a four star hotel in London. It’s breakfast time.
Richard The Breakfast Chef: ON ORDER, 1 bacon sandwich, 1 full English and 2 Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon.
Phillip the Sous: YES CHEF!
(sounds of cooking)
Richard The Breakfast Chef: Phillip, the milk please!
Phillip the Sous: Milk? Have we got a cat all of a sudden? The waitresses do the cereal, teas and coffees. Er, Chef.
Richard The Breakfast Chef: It’s for the scrambled eggs you moron.
Phillip the Sous: Scrambled eggs? What the fuck would you put milk in scrambled eggs for? Do you know the Victorians used to sack their cooks for putting milk in scrambled eggs?
Richard The Breakfast Chef: Perverts.
Phillip the Sous: I said SACK THEIR COOKS. Anyway. It’s wrong.
Richard The Breakfast Chef: No it’s not, it makes the eggs creamier and slightly lighter in colour when you present them. Also my mum told me to put milk in when I was 7.
Phillip the Sous (incredulously) : YOUR MUM? Well would you mind telling Mummy Dearest that milk doesn’t go in scrambled eggs because it makes them too solid. WHICH IS THE WRONG TEXTURE. What else did she teach you to cook? “Today’s special: Lamb with Rice Krispies, Semolina Vol-Au-Vonts and Garlic Chewing Gum”. As taught to chef by his mother when he was eight?
Richard The Breakfast Chef: And who taught you to cook? Ronald Fucking McDonald? Got some hash browns there have we Phil? Can I have a McShit burger well done please? If you hadn’t noticed it’s your job to FLIP THE FUCKING BACON Philly Boy. And you’ve forgotten. It’s burned. Like everything you’ve cooked ever since your training in a red and yellow apron.
Phillip the Sous: Right that’s it! Come on then you milk adding weirdo!
(Richard and Phillip grab a kitchen knife and chase each other round the kitchen to the dismay of Arthur the Commis who has been quietly de-rinding bacon).
Well I’m glad that’s cleared up then……
*GUEST POST KLAXON*
The brilliant Fran who blogs sadly less regularly at http://motherventing.wordpress.com/ has done me a guest post. A GUEST POST! FOR ME!
On the one hand I’m buggered as it’s funnier than anything I’ve ever written. On the other hand it may attract more of you lovely people here *points at blog* for just a few mins. All comments are for Fran. I won’t* be reading them
*will, every day.
Aka The Day We Had No TV
It started out like any other day. Cold, dark and damp. And that was just the contents of Moo’s overnight nappy. But I dealt with that. I can do that. That was OK considering the SHEER HELL that was to follow.
See, we came downstairs and instantly I knew something was wrong. There was no tiny electric hum. There were no red lights. The TV screen, and indeed, the Sky+ box, were eerily silent and blank. Doom. DOOM. ‘Don’t worry, Moo,’ I muttered, though it was more to reassure my racing heart, ‘I’ll fix it. It can be fixed. IT CAN BE FIXED.’
I couldn’t fix it. I didn’t even know what the fark was wrong with the farking thing, the buttons were all unresponsive, and my usual method of switching off the plug and then switching it on again, while offering up silent pleas to the technology gods, didn’t bloody work. DOOOOOM.
THERE WAS NO TV.
We were LITERALLY going to have to get through the day without Cbeebies.
WHY ME? WHY? WHY DO BAD THINGS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE? WHY??
So it was a bit like going cold turkey. Here’s how the day panned out:
Moo says ‘Cbeebies?’ and then says ‘Cbeebies’ and then says ‘CBEEBIES’. A shiver runs down my spine.
I am frantically singing Numtums tunes at her. It is the NOT the same, and she knows it. She throws a maraca at my head in protest.
The whole getting washed/dressed thing distracts Moo for a while, but once we come downstairs and it becomes obvious once more that the TV will not be going on, I get THE LOOK. ‘Cbeebies,’ Moo demands.
‘It’s not working. The TV is broken,’ I reply, sweat pouring down my brow.
‘Mummy do it,’ Moo says obstinately.
‘I’m TRYING, I’m TRYING, I don’t know HOW to fix it!’ I wail, flicking the switch on the plug again and gazing in terror at the blank screen.
We eat some biscuits in silence. A weird silence.
I keep thinking I hear Sid and Alex’s voices. It’s like being haunted by impossibly chirpy ghosts.
I’m in absolute dread of lunchtime. I can’t remember all the words to the Lunchtime Song. What if Moo doesn’t eat anything unless I can sing the entire song? I make a cup of tea while Moo does some colouring. I’m trying to recall the lyrics: ‘You’ve been playing so hard… and it’s something something… So… what’s on your plate? Der der dum de der der…’ Suddenly I look round. Moo is standing in the doorway. ‘Lunch,’ she says solemnly.
‘Not yet, baby,’ I mutter nervously.
She stares at me. And frowns. ‘Cbeebies,’ she intones.
‘Maybe later!’ I squeak. She walks away.
I sip my scalding hot tea in the kitchen, where I can’t see the TV.
Lunchtime is OK in the end. I give Moo cake for lunch so she is intent on eating that. She doesn’t notice the gaping blackness of the dead TV screen. Whereas it follows me around the room. I hate it. I hate the TV. Why is it doing this to me? I take out all the wires and fiddly bits at the back of the TV and Sky+ box and then put them all back in again carefully. I briefly get excited when I think I hear a mechanical whirr but it’s just one of Moo’s toy cars revving mockingly under my feet. I start to cry.
Moo is in bed for a nap. I come back downstairs even though I hate being in the same deadly quiet space as the TV. I stare at it. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I whisper. ‘Just tell me how to fix you. I want this to work. I want us to have happiness together. Will you please help us achieve that?’
The TV is silent.
‘Oh for god’s sake!’ I scream. ‘So I don’t dust you that often! Is that such a crime? Huh? Other TVs put up with a lot more, and THEY work just fine! You bastard! I hate you!’
I wake up in a heap on the floor in front of the TV. It is still quiet and still. My cheeks are sticky with dried tears.
I had to take Moo out, even though it was cold and raining. Admittedly, we had a good time in the café and the soft play centre, but all the while I was anticipating our arrival home, where there was no TV.
‘Cbeebies,’ Moo says as she takes her coat off.
‘No Cbeebies,’ I say sadly. ‘Remember? Cbeebies has died.’
Moo looks at me distrustfully.
Moo’s daddy rings to talk to her. ‘How’s it going?’ he asks me when I speak to him.
‘Oh god, the TV’s broken,’ I sob into the phone.
‘What? How?’ he says.
‘I don’t know, it’s just NOT WORKING, nothing works,’ my voice trembles with suppressed emotion.
‘Is it the plug socket? Has the fuse gone?’
‘Erm. I… yes, probably. How do I fix that?’
He talks me through it. It sounds kind of simple. We hang up and I face the TV. It stares at me blankly. ‘Fuck you,’ I say quietly. ‘This is over.’
The TV is working. I may have got a mild electric shock while changing the fuse, but the TV is working. ‘Cbeebies,’ Moo says contentedly, and settles down on the sofa to watch Abney and Teal.
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Cbeebies.’
I feel so tired.
I’ll admit, I don’t think I coped with the situation well. But Moo and I need Cbeebies like we need ACTUAL OXYGEN.
What would YOU do without TV for a day?
I have often wondered since Boy was born if there is such a thing as a typical Dad.
I once wrote that I sometimes consider myself a cross between Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson. These two cartoon characters certainly depict fathers in early middle age but, of course rather differently. Daddy Pig is very laid back but, he should be, Peppa Pig land not being particularly stressful. Homer Simpson though would not be everyone’s first choice as a fatherly role model. On the face of it he drinks far too much beer and chokes his son regularly. He’s boorish and impulsive and has only a tenuous grip on how to hold down a job and parent. And yet he has done things for his children that demonstrate pure love, such as selling his ride on the Duff Blimp so that he could enter Lisa in to a beauty competition to feel better about herself or spearheading the effort to dig Bart out of a well. Sometimes, such as when he becomes a temporary truck driver, Bart joins him on his crazy, impulsive adventures and it has to be said they seem to have more fun than a conventional family ever could on these sorts of road trips. Sometimes just a look from one of his kids can have him debating with his own brain. He worked two jobs, all day and all night to get Lisa a pony.
And yet the mere sight of a donut or beer can divert him from tasks that are vital to the family’s survival. Having discovered that his lack of intelligence was down to a crayon lodged in his brain he gets it removed and instantly dislikes his new higher IQ, getting Moe to reinsert the crayon and bring his IQ back down to 55. And he once shot Marge with a poison dart.
I like Homer because I can relate to the bits of him that are devoted to his wife and children and yet, I realised that he has been characterised in such a way that he is just one step away from a moron. Still, even the moronic traits ring bells with me at times. If I was passing a bar full of my friends on the way home from work could I really resist popping in for a quick beer just because I had promised to be home in time to bath the kids? If I lived next to an annoying, self righteous and holier than thou neighbour how long would I pretend to like them for the sake of keeping up appearances? I know that burning your bridges when you leave a job is a stupid thing to do but which of us blokes haven’t wanted to tell an overbearing or useless boss where to stick it?
If I had my choice then pork chops for dinner every night would be just fine and a beer hat would make an excellent piece of apparel during a football match (so long as it was in private). I might know that ‘gym’ is not pronounced to rhyme with ‘dime’ but I’ve never lasted more than three months of any gym routine ever.
Obviously the child strangling and the forgetting you have a baby and the failure to relate to a clever middle child are not ideal. The first and second of these traits are ruthlessly exaggerated for comic effect but the last is truly tragic. Here I wonder how many men, having suppressed their intelligence for one reason or another, regret doing so instantly they have children.
Suppressed their intelligence? Yes, that’s what I said. Intelligence is not always manly. A stupid bloke can still be one of the lads. Boorish they may be but they will simply attract boorish friends. Think of Trigger in Only Fools and Horses. There are odd jibes about him of course but the one thing he is not is ostracised. Instead people buy him drinks in the Nags Head and involve him in their plans. It may be a comedy plot device – much like Homer’s stupidity – but that doesn’t mean it’s not based on real life examples.
Intelligence at school is not celebrated among boys. If you were a clever boy at my school then you were a ‘Boff’ or a ‘swot’ or you were ‘gay’. I don’t know what perceived insults are used today but I bet the targets are the same. The boys that were admired were the ones who were good at football and fighting and smoking and going further with a girl than just a quick peck. Arrest, lung cancer and teenage pregnancy were not considered. It would be easy for a boy who wanted to fit in or even lead, never mind get laid, to suppress his intelligence, to not try, to eventually become thick because you no longer read or thought or challenged. And so, potentially bright boys are consigned to a life of scamming on estates.
We can even do it on a temporary basis. When I get a paper I will tend to get a broadsheet. The Guardian or, if I’m fed up with its political correctness for a bit The Times or The Independent. When I went away to football games we’d go on the train and I would get The Mirror because everyone got a tabloid and I didn’t want to get laughed at (but at the same time refused to buy The Sun). Sometimes it’s just easier with the crayon in.
But getting it re-inserted on a permanent basis when you have kids? Spending so long pretending to be thick that you actually become ignorant? What happens, then, when you get a child who is born with the natural intelligence that you eschewed (a bit like Lisa Simpson)? When they start to ask questions they expect you to be able to answer?
Don’t get me wrong, I am dreading either child doing A level physics because they will be officially cleverer than me if they do and I won’t be able to help them at all but I should be able to teach them to read, add up and tell the time. To explain why it is dark at night and cold in the winter. To answer why it is we land back on the ground when we jump. Later on to advise on creative writing or algebra or practice their French pronunciation. The second you ask Moe to permanently reinsert that crayon in to your brain is the second you let your children down. Homer Simpson can be a role model for basic love of family, (less for consumption of booze and fat and acting on impulsive whims) but it’s his relationship with Lisa that, for me, lets him down as a parent. He is, already, lost.
Daddy Pig’s relationship with his kids is not lost and he does not have a crayon in his brain. Daddy Pig’s boorish side comes out in his insistence that he is ‘a bit of an expert’ at things he is not (particularly map reading and French) – in other words he over estimates his cleverness – but he is often portrayed as intelligent in the series too (a job in architecture doing complicated sums is sometimes alluded to). He can explain how fog forms (though not find his way through it) and why it is about to snow or why you need to go to the opticians. SOMETIMES Daddy Pig will be portrayed lazily watching the TV and admiring his rather large belly but most times he is shown playing with his children, intelligently and collaboratively. Just when you think he’s over exaggerated a talent it turns out he really is Renaissance Pig as he plays the accordion or executes a perfect dive from the high board, or pulls off a ballet move or makes up a story on the spot.
He does, however, share some traits with Homer and it is here that I mean you only have to look at the media for a short while to get an impression of a typical blokey Dad. He shuns exercise (‘I’m naturally fit’) and calls the local fire station emergency number when he can’t find the tomato ketchup during a BBQ. One morning he sits in the garden with his paper under the false assumption that it’s a Saturday (it’s not, it’s Thursday). He sleeps in the car on a camping trip and falls asleep snoring a puppet show put on by the younger members of the family.
I shun exercise. My dad has been known to fall asleep after lunch. I have been known to take over the map reading and get us lost. When I say I see myself as a mixture of Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson I’m not kidding. Sometimes I play collaboratively with them and sometimes I teach them useful things. Sometimes, though, I sit in front of the TV drinking beer or do things completely on impulse.
Why is there a typical theme when Dads of a certain age are portrayed in the media? Because many men of my age share those characteristics. It is around the edges that we are different, that our ideas of what constitutes a good father differ. Where, however tempting it is, we must resist inserting the metaphorical crayon in to our brains.
Posted in Miscellaneous Brain Chunder on February 6, 2013
Boy is now in Year One at Infants School. When I was his age Brighton and Hove was a lot more white and a lot more working class than it is today. In our year we had one kid who did not have white skin. He was my friend Jamie and he lived round the corner from us. I didn’t think of him as the only kid in the year who didn’t have white skin though, I just thought of him as my friend Jamie. Thirty five years of exposure to writing and speaking on race, debates about multiculturalism, epithets from the right and politically correct labelling from the left is what made me consider his skin colour in context.
Around the same time I asked my parents if a man could marry another man. Obviously they laughed nervously (this was the mid 1970s) before saying that no, they couldn’t as ‘it wasn’t allowed’. Boys marry girls I was told. I considered this profoundly unfair. Why on earth was this the rule? After a vote in the Commons yesterday it may not be for very much longer.
Is it right to look at this with the simplistic eyes of a 6 year old? Obviously there are all sorts of people who cannot marry for perfectly legitimate reasons that a 6 year old wouldn’t understand. Close relatives. Children. People who are already married. It isn’t quite as simple as ‘it’s not fair’. And anyway, while I am certainly in favour of what I see as fairness, equality for the sake of it can be pointless and stifling. We are not all created equally and, frankly, we never will be. So fairness to me is about treating people as people, as individuals rather than a label.
On this basis you should be able to praise the efforts of an outstanding white male middle class citizen and be able to point out a scumbag regardless of their creed or colour. And vice versa (Chris Huhne is springing to mind right about now).
On this basis you should also be able to see that if two men, or two women or a man and a woman love each other enough to get married then they should be able to so long they are not close relatives or minors or already married. Not because of their sexuality but because, when you strip away all the bullshit, that’s the right and proper way for society to treat them.
For once forget gay rights, forget religion and think for a moment like a six year old. Yesterday we took a step towards a genuinely better society, one that is more fair to all its members.
Hopefully in 10 years time, mums and dads will be able to answer their six year olds that yes, a male can marry another male, without any embarrassment whatsoever. Hopefully by then we’ll also be back to just referring to marriage instead of ‘marriage’ and ‘gay marriage’.