Talitha’s been trying out and thoroughly enjoying a levelled book subscription service called Reading Chest. The idea is that your child receives books in the post and when they finished reading them, they put them in supplied envelopes and pop them in a post box to receive more.
She’s actually a proficient reader now so she doesn’t need levelled readers. She’s just finished reading The Railway Children, borrowed from the library, for instance. However, she’s enjoying the Reading Chest’s “Extended Readers Book Band”. They’re fun, quick reads and I like that they often raise interesting points for conversation, especially if she’s reading aloud, as she likes to do with non-fiction books, generally.
I know a lot of home educators aren’t keen on levelled readers, feeling that they can often be quite dry and that children should practise reading on “real” books. However, when Talitha was learning to read, she really liked having books that she had a good chance of being able to read independently. We struggled to find books that suited her ability at the library so I wound up buying Oxford Reading Tree’s Biff, Chip and Kipper, the levelled reading series that people love to hate. I actually found them pretty dull but she loved them and quickly worked her way through them.
With Reading Chest, you can choose books across many different reading schemes or opt for a random mix, which we’ve been doing. You also have to option of choosing fiction, non-fiction or a mix. Talitha changes this almost every time she returns a set of books then looks forward to the next delivery, which has been consistently prompt, meaning we have a regular flow of new books coming through. I can see that being particularly helpful for those who find it difficult to get to a library or find that their local library has a limited selection. Their schemes span Collins Big Cat, Oxford Reading Tree, Treetops, Bug Club, Project X and more and they stock an up-to-date, extensive collection.
From our point of view, it’s great having lots of new, quality reading material which doesn’t then become more clutter in our home. It’s an opportunity to borrow lots of levelled readers without having to buy them, trying out varied styles and trying books that you or your kids might not normally choose. There are also no return dates or late fees and you can cancel at any time.
There are few different options in terms of how many books you borrow and it’s really easy to swap levels if you need to. For our first delivery, we had a look at the books for one of the younger reading bands online, reading excerpts on the website. When they came, Talitha found the books to easy so we moved her up to the final stage for the next delivery and we’ve stayed there. We also took the option of requesting “no scary books” – pretty important in this house!
Multiple children can be added to the subscription so I have thought that if Ophelia were reading, we might get quite a lot of use out of that option but she’s not there yet. I think we’d probably get the most use out of a subscription like this with a four or five year old who was learning to read, which might be Ophelia later this year as she’s very interested in letters and is starting to pick out the sounds in words, of her own accord.
There are some fun options thrown in like sticker reward charts which we don’t use unless decides she wants to track her reading that way for fun. The books initially came with a bag which is useful for keeping them in one place between delivery and return. She’s also been enjoying reviewing the odd book for the Reading Chest website, which is another fun feature.
———- Reading Chest gave us a subscription in exchange for an honest review.
“You should never leave someone alone if they don’t want to be alone!” my six year old appealed to me. Laurence had been gone for a couple of days. The twenty month old was doing early mornings with the change of seasons and I was running on a deficit of sleep.
After a particularly tiring day where every transition had been a struggle for my four year old, I just felt done.
Now she wasn’t ready to get out of the bath and all I wanted to do was put the baby to sleep so I could sleep. So, feeling at the end of all my patience and creativity, I shouted at her and left the room for longer than I should.
Actually, I knew what I needed to do. I could see even in the moment that I needed to find a way to reconnect with her to help her regulate her upset, climb out of her primal brain and listen to my reasoning.
But I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be responsible, to do the work of remaining calm and reflecting instead of reacting. I just wanted her to listen to me right now so everyone could go to sleep and I could clean the kitchen, watch Netflix and go to sleep myself. So I effectively threw a tantrum and removed the only grown up from the interaction. Then physically stormed out of the room.
Talitha sat beside the bath, comforting Ophelia, quite upset herself when I returned. Somehow, we managed to get everyone to bed, with Ophelia sleeping in with Delilah and me. And I’d love to say that all’s well that ends well, except that the stress I’d generated in that experience carried on playing out long after they’d all gone to sleep.
By the time Laurence got home late that night, I was in full on defeatist mode. I’d moved from feeling upset about our evening together to picking apart all of my relationships. He reminded me that when he’d checked in with me earlier in the evening I’d said we’d had a really good day. But I was too tired to detach from how we’d ended it. How I’d ended it.
Another restless night, another early start but I woke up feeling a lot calmer, with perspective somewhat restored. I realised I had a couple of options. I could say, “I messed up. I’m going to keep messing up. What’s the point?” And I could extend this to imagining myself an imposter, walking around with this epic disparity between what I know and what I do.
Alternatively, I could treat myself kindly and speak to myself as I would a friend who’d lived through the battering of the night before. I could empathise with myself that it was a hard situation, that I was tired, on my own and that I’m only human.
The first approach would effectively involve me beating myself up. I might even justify by subconsciously reinforcing that if I made myself feel badly enough about my behaviour, I wouldn’t repeat it. I’d been trying to modify my behaviour by punishing myself, without even realising that that’s what I was doing. But punishment is ineffective.
It’s just not possible for me to maintain my calm if I don’t feel good about myself. I will inevitably register normal, everyday experiences with my family as emergencies if my inner world is characterised by scarcity because I’ll have nothing left to give. How can things change if I’m constantly telling myself that I am wretched and that things will never change?
On the other hand, if I can connect with myself, through empathy, remembering all the beautiful things I do, I can see that I have a huge capacity to give and receive love. I can see that I am always capable of learning new things, of growing and evolving.
For me this involves prayer, putting my hand in the hand of an eternal Parent. I also have to put myself in situations where I can open up to safe people to share and listen deeply so that I can experience and practise empathy. I read and listen to people who promote kindness and respect. I apologise to my children and make myself accountable to them.
And I choose to forgive myself. I keep forgiving myself because a bad moment, a bad evening, week or even season doesn’t define me.
I started this post on a day that took it out of me. I’d texted a friend earlier admitting that I was finding everything too hard, that school looked like an attractive option. And actually, come September, I could have two kids in school since Ophelia would be reception-aged.
Almost as soon as I’d offloaded and she’d empathised, though, I knew that I didn’t mean it, as is often the way. The reasons we homeschool run deep, our third year in.
Every now and then someone asks why we home educate. I wrote a little bit about it back when we were just starting out. With some real life experience under our belts and a lot more thinking time, the reasons have expanded and gathered more weight so I thought I’d share some of them with you.
I am so mindful we are privileged to be able to home educate and that it just isn’t possible for everyone. Perhaps this list is partly an attempt to remember not to take this opportunity for granted.
The chance to grow together
We never liked the idea of sending our kids to spend most of their waking hours away from their family. Childhood lasts a few short years. We just want to enjoy being together. And actually, it turns out that they’re not keen on the idea either. I asked Talitha tonight whether she’d like to go to school at some point and she essentially said that she wouldn’t mind going some of the time but would rather spend most of her time with us. I kind of think, at six and a half, fair enough.
I also see great value in the time our children spend together. My mind is regularly blown by the thought that, had she gone to school, Talitha and Delilah would never have had time at home together apart from weekends and holidays. Who knows whether that might have altered the dynamic between them? And yes, the three don’t always get along perfectly but it’s interesting to observe them develop in their negotiation with and empathy for one another. I’m certain that having an abundance of time to connect with each other and work through these processes helps.
Freedom for our family
We are grateful that school does not dictate the way we spend our time, structure our day or define our values. And I don’t just mean we want to avoid the stress of school runs and take holidays in term time. Actually, we’re trying hard to make decisions democratically as a family and this is far easier to achieve without school. If we need to take a slow day at home, we can. If we need to spend hours outdoors, we can. If we need more time to play or snuggle or have bigger conversations, we have it. If we need to take a few months to totally change our rhythm we can – and we did this both when Delilah was born and when we moved from Bristol to Cornwall.
Autonomy for our children
Directly related, we want our children to be able to make real decisions about their lives, right now. That means we actively choose discussion over dictation and try not to impose arbitrary rules. We’re on a real journey with this, so sometimes we catch ourselves slipping into familiar authoritarian patterns but on the whole, we’re aiming to model self-control and create a consensual environment where everyone’s voice is heard.
Even when we lived in a city, we prioritised time outdoors, even if it meant hanging out in our garden or going to the park around the corner. We may have more access to natural beauty spots now but the aim has always been to spend a lot of our time outside, giving all of us the opportunity to become familiar with local fauna and flora, align our bodies and minds with the changing seasons and move as much as possible. Admittedly, we go out less in deepest winter but, generally, the kids are spending most of their childhood out in nature, which has always been a priority for us.
Time to pursue interests
Most of these reasons centre on time because that’s the gift home education gives us. I appreciate the time our children have to work on the things that matter to them. For Talitha, that’s mainly time to read books and play with her sisters. She also has time to practise her violin in the mornings, when she’s feeling fresh and motivated. For Ophelia it means making things, dancing and having me read to her.
Both get to spend time on life skills because we are unhurried. So I can say yes when they ask to help me cook and clean or to make their own breakfast or try to fix something that’s fallen out of place or torn. Not that they always want to do these things, obviously, but their desire for independence often drives them to work out how to do things for themselves and they have time for that process. It’s interesting to see what this abundance gives them the time to do at every stage.
A tailored education
With three children with varying temperaments and timelines, I have a small sample confirming to me what most of us know, that children are all different. Yes, it’s possible that a nurturing school would be mindful of their needs but I severely doubt that any classroom could match the attentiveness of our adult-child ratio. We have spent far more time with dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt than the national curriculum would allow, for instance.
Learning is unhurried and driven by delight. We’ve been loosely keeping nature journals and for weeks the kids vetoed every topic I suggested, insisting that they wanted to keep finding out about birds, drawing birds, setting up bird feeders, looking at videos, reading books, identifying them in our garden and listening to them on our walks.
They’re also free to learn the way they want to. At the moment that looks like lots of read alouds, trying things out from magazines, listening to podcasts, drawing and roleplay. I’m mostly interested in them developing positive associations with learning and with learning how to learn.
Independence by choice
This may come as a surprise to some but one of the reasons we home educate is to allow our children to develop their independence on their own terms. Just as the goal of attachment parenting is to give babies a secure base to move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, our hope is that our children will move into new environments with confidence and optimism.
In addition to this, we want them to be settled in their values and sense of self and to trust themselves so that when they do separate from us, they’re able to think critically, make sound decisions and relate to others compassionately. At the moment they have small opportunities to separate, whether that’s going to a friend’s house, playing that bit further away, going to a class or a group. As they ask for more, we’ll work out what that looks like.
I thought I’d include this because one of the most frequently asked questions about home education is how children socialise and yet this is one of the reasons we’ve chosen to do this. We love that the children have time to play extensively with friends and that we can be on hand to help them navigate challenging social situations, should they need it.
They also get to play and develop friendships, more often that not, with children and adults of varying ages, getting the chance to explore lots of different roles in their interactions and to develop their social confidence in an atmosphere that looks a lot more like real life, because it is.
I have a workshop airing today (23/02/2018) at the online Start Homeschooling Summit. I’m speaking on how to homeschool older children with a baby. The summit has been going for a few days and finishes tomorrow and you can access it for free until then. There’s an opportunity to buy lifetime access to the workshops afterwards and they cover all styles of homeschooling from classical to unschooling. Do check it out. The links I’ve included here are affiliate links so I get a percentage if you decide to upgrade to the paid bundle but I really think it’s worth having a look even if you just take in a few videos for free today and tomorrow.
I’ve experienced culture shock twice. The first time I was nineteen. I’d just moved to Brighton from Trinidad to study English Lit at university. There wasn’t a language barrier (much – there still managed to be a lot I didn’t understand or couldn’t make understood easily) but just about everything else was unfamiliar, from the sense of humour to the cultural markers to the public transport. But I was fortunate to fall into a lot of fast friendships that sustained me through those years and many of those people remain close friends today.
In a way, the second culture shock was harder to get past. It put more cracks in my confidence. My imagination struggled to be regained. Becoming a mother seems to shake a lot of us.
This time I didn’t have the safety net of university around me. I wasn’t in a place where everyone was young and away from home for the first time, eager to make new friends and start the new chapter of their lives together. Having moved to Bristol a sneeze before falling pregnant with my first baby, I lacked pre-existing friendships and the energy to initiate new ones in a new city. I struggled to breastfeed, Talitha did not sleep and I didn’t drive or know the area we lived in particularly well. I found new motherhood baffling and depressing, more so because I was so isolated.
Eventually, friendship did happen. That’s kind of the way it had always been for me up until that point with others mostly initiating and friendship mostly happening to me. I’m grateful for the people I met in those six years in Bristol, for the hopefully lifelong connections we made.
Yet I always struggled to go deeper a lot of the time. I held a part of myself back for safety, fearing judgement and feeling worse for motherhood opening up deep pre-existing wounds while waking up an awareness in me that this could all be different.
Without realising it, I was longing for the place Lucy Aitkenread describes in her new book Moon Circle: rediscover intuition, wildness and sisterhood where I could know and be known, to belong and to heal. Lucy’s book was released the week that a friend here in Cornwall was gathering a few women together to form our own circle. Reading it in the light of stepping out into this new, potentially revelatory thing was powerful.
In the video below, I’ve talked about where I think moon circles fit resetting our life intentions over the lunar new year.
It’s been year and a day since we moved from Bristol to Cornwall, which was another destabilising experience. I felt so responsible for the happiness of everyone in the family. We were starting life all over again, this time with three children and I was ill-prepared for the onslaught of grief which came with leaving a place where we’d built a life together.
But there was excitement too. Here was this opportunity to launch into new things. I googled red tents because I knew by then that I needed to connect with women on a much deeper level to navigate this next chapter but I didn’t get any further than that. In the meantime, I just got a lot more proactive about meeting people and building those friendships I knew we all needed. Then my friend asked late last year if I’d be interested in joining something she was starting and the timing of meeting in the new year just felt meant to be. Reading Moon Circle sparked excitement about all that gathering like this could be.
The book takes us through how a moon circle functions as a non-hierarchical gathering where women can deeply listen and deeply speak. The idea of ritual safekeeping runs strong as a theme throughout with practical suggestions for how we might create a space where vulnerability becomes possible, where we talk without fear of judgement or unsolicited advice and empathically listen without engaging our analytical brain. Lucy writes: “the net of women sitting together is a refusal to believe the myths we are told about how women relate to each other.” When I think about how fear of others discovering the worst parts of me kept me back from really sharing with anyone, I realise I’d bought into those myths.
There is something innately spiritual about meeting with others this way and indeed the book talks a lot about creating our own rituals to mark the circle as separate from the everyday but Lucy notes “these Circles are strong enough to hold the beliefs of all the women present – they are so encompassing and so expansive that a Circle can bind us all in healing.”
Some of the activities suggested include connecting through silence, singing for wellbeing, hand massage and creating small ceremonies that help us transition into new stages of our lives, whether that’s moving into cronehood or retroactively honouring our menarche. There’s an emphasis on finding what works for your specific circle, being mindful that some activities will be uncomfortable or unsuitable for some circles.
Moon Circle, naturally, encourages creating rituals around cycles, both of the moon and its phases and of how the menstrual cycle can mirror this movement. For instance, Lucy suggests that meeting on the New Moon might help us to share our “dark side” or that women might order themselves in the circle according to where they are in their menstrual cycle, while recognising that not all women menstruate.
She also discusses how hosts might act as “guardians of the circle”, from practical ideas like lighting a fire or introducing a talking piece to guiding principles like reminding the group to avoid chatter and advice.
All in all, I think it’s a read that would do a lot of us a lot of good. It’s pretty short and you might just find it transformative. Better yet, read it with a friend and start a circle together.
My six year old asked me the other day whether men’s bodies store sperm or make it continually. She qualified the question by pointing out that she knew baby girls were born with all their eggs.
As we talked we got on to the subject of what happens once a month when an egg isn’t fertilised, how you insert a menstrual cup and why I’m not menstruating at the moment (ie lactational amenorrhea).
She wandered off, seamlessly losing interest and moving on to something else but I paused, grateful that we’re able to have conversations like these. I’m also aware that talking openly about bodies, sex and relationships isn’t standard fare for many families with younger children. Personally, I think it should be.
For a start, whether we’re aware of it or not, we communicate with our children about intimacy and physicality from birth. Asking to pick a baby up and allowing them to indicate, even if only subtly, teaches the beginnings of consent. I wish I’d advocated for my older two when people picked them up without warning, let alone without asking.
By parenting babies responsively – cuddling them when they cry, and perhaps breastfeeding and bedsharing – we prime them to expect physical touch to be positive. We’re also modelling the empathy we hope they’ll show others someday. Can you imagine a generation whose sexual experiences are characterised by empathy?
As toddlers, we help them redirect from accidentally hurting others. We work at making time and space so we can respect their body autonomy around nappy changes, potty training, leaving places or getting dressed. We also talk to older children about respecting younger siblings by making sure they are playing in a way that everyone’s happy with. My three year old is very good at telling me, “It’s her body, what she says goes!” if she thinks that I’m coercing my 16 month old.
But many of us can wrap our heads around these respectful parenting practices and still balk at the idea of talking to under-10s frankly about puberty and sex. Heck, a lot of us even cringe at the idea of using anatomically correct names for genitals with our kids.
I just want to encourage you that with practise, you can comfortably use the words “vulva”, “vagina”, “clitoris”, “anus”, “penis” and “scrotum”. If it feels awkward it could be worth asking why. Is there something inherently scary or dirty about genitals, to your mind? Or is it simply a lack of practice?
This is really worth challenging in ourselves, from babyhood if possible. Using correct names tells children that these are just body parts and that we can talk about them just as we would talk about anything else, no shame attached. Yes they are private but they aren’t off limits for discussion.
It could also deter sexual predators, who are less likely to target children who use these terms. And should the unthinkable happen, children who can accurately name their body parts could more effectively aid an investigation.
A brilliant side effect of getting comfortable with using these words early on is that by the time your kids are asking, “Where do babies come from?” you may already feel a lot more comfortable talking about bodies.
To work out how to respond to a question like that in an age appropriate way, I’ve tried to follow my children’s lead. I’ve asked, “Do you want to know how the baby gets inside the mummy or how the baby gets out?” Or I might give a short answer and let them ask for more details. My saying, “An egg from the mummy meets a sperm from the daddy and that grows into a baby” was followed up by the question, “How does the sperm get there?” which gave me the opening to talk about the mechanics of sex in a very straightforward way. No “special cuddles” here.
My eldest may have been five when we had this particular conversation. She thought it was hilarious but it was all very matter of fact.
This actually wasn’t the first time we’d talked about how a baby was conceived through sex but she hadn’t remembered. In fact, I feel like I’ve had loads of these conversations with my six and three year olds, which I find pretty interesting. Any extraneous information I supply tends to get naturally discarded. So I don’t really worry about going into “too much” detail because they take hold of what they need and lose interest in the rest.
Like many parents, chats like these are new territory for us so we find reading books to the children a really helpful way to open up conversations and give us the language we need to create a positive script around bodies and sexuality for our family. We’ve read How You Were Born over and over, a sweet home birth story that talks positively about pregnancy and birth. My eldest loves it even though she knows she was born in a hospital. More recently, we’ve read It’s My Body, What I Say Goes (clue in my three year old’s refrain to me), which talks about safe and unsafe touch and trusting your instincts.
My six and three year olds just love It’s Not the Stork. It’s an extremely thorough book looking at bodies, gender stereotypes, conception, sex, safe touch – the works. There’s also a section on different families like single parent, fostering or same sex parent families. I’m reading my eldest the next one up from that, It’s So Amazing, which goes into more detail.
I think it’s so important not to wait to have “the talk” someday. It’s so much easier to create a family culture where sex is a comfortable topic when your children are young than trying to introduce it when preteens are already undergoing body changes and have possibly received misinformation from other sources. You also don’t know in advance whether your child might undergo puberty early or late. If you inadvertently communicate from early on that you find talking about sex and bodies awkward, they may find it unnatural to bring you their questions.
I am so aware that my children may not always want to talk to me about these things. I can only hope that I’m laying a foundation of trust and respect so that they feel able to. And beyond that, that I’m helping them accrue a mental library that they can draw upon. That way they can test the messages they get about sex from elsewhere as they develop their own values and make their own decisions.
November is well underway but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to look back on what we got up to in October. Reflecting helps me to make sense of what our lives look like right now. Yet I’m also cautious because I would hate for someone to misconstrue this as any kind of “how to”. The shape of our home education mirrors the shape of our family in whatever season we happen to be in. For this reason, comparison is unhelpful. That said, I like seeing what other people get up to and perhaps the same is true for you.
Talitha got seriously into cursive handwriting this month. She asked me to write out an alphabet of lowercase and uppercase letters in cursive and religiously traced and copied them. She kept it for reference and checked with me if she wasn’t sure how letters joined together. Now almost everything she writes is in cursive as she wants to practise. I hadn’t intended to suggest cursive to her anytime soon so it’s one of those things that’s been led entirely by her, which is probably also why she’s got the hang of it quickly and finds it fun.
Ophelia is also writing lots of letters (mostly not in any particular order) and can now identify a lot of their sounds. She’s also suddenly started picking out the beginning sounds of words and points to words in books to ask what they are. She’s enjoying longer stories now, often asking questions or making surprising observations as we read to her.
The month’s big read aloud was Heidi. Talitha requested it, having read an adaptation. We’ve really enjoyed it though it’s a lot heavier than I remember! We’re still going, actually! Laurence has also started reading her Tarka the Otter.
We’ve continued to follow Story of the World, which I’ve mentioned before. We’ve spent the month on Ancient Egypt. The curriculum moves on to other things soon but we may stay here for a while as it’s really captured both girls’ imaginations. Talitha particularly enjoyed making a cuneiform tablet and a hieroglyphic scroll and listening to me read Jacqueline Morley’s Egyptian Myths.
We missed the monthly French lesson as it fell in half term when we were in the Isle of Wight with friends but they’ve been learning French on an online programme called Muzzy. I got a huge discount on it earlier this year but was a bit confused by it. Now that the baby fog has lifted a bit, I took another look and it’s actually pretty impressive. Talitha needs some support to do the written games but she’s getting a lot out of it and Ophelia enjoys the videos.
Violin practice has naturally added a little structure to our day. We hit a wall with it this month with Talitha not wanting to practice and I reminded her that she didn’t have to do it. This freed us to talk about what she was finding difficult and what we could change to make practice more enjoyable. I needed to recognise that it is a tiring instrument to learn. I think she’s benefited from knowing that she’s in charge of the process, and that it is a process – it sometimes takes time to learn things.
We’ve vaguely continued using Lynn Seddon’s Exploring Nature with Children, if only for ideas of what to look out for on our walks and read aloud suggestions. The harvest moon so captured both of their imaginations. We tried looking at it from the woods opposite our house but the kids weren’t keen so we viewed it from our top floor instead. I wish we’d taken them to the beach to see it rise as friends had done. Next year. We also made leaf crowns, did a spot of pond dipping and had fun sketching pumpkins in our nature journal as well as learning about their seeds.
This month also threw up a fun opportunity to learn about Diwali, India and Trinidad & Tobago – where I’m from and where the Hindu festival is a big deal. We made diya inspired lamps from air drying clay and had a go with henna.
They’ve been gardening with Laurence as he gets into micro greens and continues his challenge to keep our salad going through the winter. They also planted some bulbs in the front garden bed. We may be getting an allotment so they may be getting into that too. I’d like to say I would too but I’ve got out of practice with gardening and I think I may have lost interest! Is that bad?
The girls asked if we could do a “theme” and they suggested sea creatures. They used to have themed days at their childminder’s in Bristol. To be honest, I was really daunted by the idea. Anything I have to prepare is still really tricky when Delilah is often in arms in the evenings.
As it turned out, they were happy to come up with their own crafts and asked to do activities and experiments from the aquatic issue of Whizz Pop Bang. We still have a few more to do and they’re not ready to move on yet so we’ll be continuing with this theme too.
We’ve read pages they’ve chosen from our animal encyclopedia, looked at books from our collection and the library and checked out videos online. I’m trying to weigh up whether Blue Planet 2 would be a bit scary. Talitha has been sketching various animals and writing down her favourite facts about them.
Serendipitously, this all tied in with a field trip to Plymouth Aquarium with a home education group for a workshop day. I’d love to take the girls back for a day where they could just wander and spend more time on whatever they find most fascinating, though.
The trip made me realise that we really don’t need to be travelling long distances and doing lots of activities. While that stuff is fun, it’s tiring and maybe not the best way to spend our resources. So I’m trying to focus instead on slowing down, keeping it local and making the most of what’s free. Education is not a sprint. We don’t have to do it all now. We hopefully have lots of time to explore different things at the ages when they’re the most meaningful.
I was reorganising the playroom the other day (because when am I not reorganising that room as if I’ll one day walk in and magically find there isn’t too much stuff in there) and I had a bit of an epiphany. I wasn’t holding a baby. There wasn’t a baby calling for my attention. She wasn’t even in the same room, off instead with her sisters in the adjoining living room, genuinely trying to join in with whatever game they were playing.
I know it’s been like this for a while. They make a lot of space for her and I’m not even sure she’s aware that at fifteen months old, she’s a good few sizes smaller than they are. But I don’t know. Filling a bin liner of stuff-we-are-so-not-keeping-why-did-we-even-bring-it-with-us-in-the-move, I recognised a clarity of mind that’s been absent for some time. I feel like I’m waking up from a two-year stretch of dysfunctional sleep in which my dreams have mainly consisted of trying to wake myself up or trying to lift my eyes to see something above me and finding my lids an obstacle. It feels like freedom.
Nine months on from our move to Cornwall, a settling the length of a pregnancy, I’m waking up somewhere new, somewhere I’d never imagined being. My life looks so different here. My children are considerably older. It’s becoming a stretch to call Delilah a baby. She has only to start walking and I’ll have to admit what she already knows that she is a child. Ophelia is suddenly, at three and a half, full of conversation, reasoning and astonishingly well-expressed opinions. Talitha is on to chapter books and bigger questions and showing me how to do stuff. Six feels like such a different phase but then I’ll always feel that way about the eldest, I guess.
But it’s not just about the kids. Something has shifted for me outside of that. Perhaps the physical space is impacting the landscape of my mind. I do believe in that sort of thing. I am spending so much more time outdoors than I ever have in my life and there must be some effect specific to being confronted by so much beauty so frequently. I am amazed that I get to exist here right now.
There’s also something in the practicalities of how our life has changed. I’ve had to make more of an effort to grow a social network. Concern for the kids has been a powerful motivator in that regard. Coming to terms with that has been such a freeing thing, to know that I just have to go for it so I’m just going to go for it. Recently, I recognised that I experienced a huge loss of confidence when I moved countries eleven years ago and I’m really only starting to recover some of that now, through this process.
At the same time, I still harbour a lot of fears around taking these wonderful connections that I’m making with people and going further with them. Yet I know that caution is double edged and while not making myself vulnerable, not opening up might spare me rejection, it also prevents me from going as deeply as I want to go with people and anyone who already knows me well knows I am always longing to go so, so deep. So, yeah, that’s something that’s going to take time but it’s also something that doesn’t happen on its own.
Waking up from the baby haze means starting to ask a lot of questions again about what my life is going to look like, about where I’m going to invest my love and energy. I feel the need to create, to reach out there, to be a part of something bigger again.
Inevitably, my thoughts also turn to God. I don’t shy away from talking about faith here on this blog but it is difficult sometimes to know how to frame it when mostly my mind is full of questions and my heart is hungry. I know others who say they’ve found great sustenance in God in times of overwhelm like the baby rearing years and cross country uprooting. That’s not me.
Honestly, I feel like I’ve not had time to process a lot of things that have happened over the past few years and that I haven’t had the clarity to contemplate. I’ve felt sometimes like I’m walking into spiritual experiences broken, with doubts and disappointments that should not be named for fear of what others might think. This is no way to live so I won’t do it anymore. I am hopeful that God’s hand still holds me when I feel uncertain about being touched. I don’t know what the journey looks like from here but I am so open.
I suppose this post is a bit of a chatty one, attempting to start throwing my thoughts out there again with some regularity, even if it means at times laying myself uncomfortably bare.