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Homework madness

12 Dec

Domestic mental cruelty comes in many guises and to my mind includes the supervision of children’s homework! A word that now sends chills – and pills more often than not – down me. Described as ‘parent assisted learning’ to be done in the home and an invaluable support of the schoolday? Pah! An unnecessary strain on familial relations and a prescription for parental insanity more like.

I recall how naively as a new, inexperienced parent I longed for the day that our young offspring could dress themselves, feed unaided, and climb in and out of the buggy, car, or bed without assistance. Phew, the hard labour was over. We watched beaming with pride as the little ones grew bigger, blissfully unaware that as they lurch from pre-school to infant years and on to junior then senior status, there looms a clear and present terror to be negotiated and one that will last throughout their schooling. Years, many years – sob. [Visualise this author now rocking back and forth and moaning gently at the prospect]

Carers of tender tikes still nursery-bound look away now – try and enjoy what innocence you have left before the madness begins. From reception class forward, no longer will you ferret through the school bag in search of letters of praise, party invitations, ‘playground star’ certificates. Nope. Henceforth you will learn to view with suspicion and fear bags thrown in the hallway spewing papers and exercise books, forms and charts. Oh yes, dear reader, the homework years are upon you – be afraid.

For sure this form of ritual torture for loving parents has been devised by a truly Machiavellian mind. This weekly dishing out of tasks to students of tender to teen ages – verbal, written or mathematical it matters not – is a cunning strategy for slowly but clearly eroding the sanity of any right-minded adult. The torturous process of completing the homework – and remember it is the child who should be fulfilling the paperwork and not you, tempting as it maybe – will involve cajoling, encouraging, bribing then threatening (usually in that order) your reluctant enfant terrible. How quickly the novelty passes of pleasing teacher by knowing the spellings, the times tables, the capital cities of the world… How rapidly they learn that they prefer their energies to spent in more ego-centric activities. Not more work, they cry, its soooo unfair. Let them take responsibility for their actions, or lack of? They’ll suffer their punishments and learn to work willingly at the kitchen table? It’s not that simple, quick or painless. For what your kids don’t do,  you will be charged as guilty. You will face the prospect of missives from the school, summonses perhaps, and uncomfortable parent/teacher interviews.The shame, the indignity, the frustration is awful, and that is the unfairness you wail. But still you bear the brunt. In an era where ‘middle England’ demands that every word, inkspot, calculation is measured and rated in the pursuit of tabling the academic process, homework has taken on an super-importance of its own.

Not that the little treasures themselves care. Tantrums, tears, melt-downs (yours, not theirs most often) will become the norm as you endeavor to follow the timetable. Missed instructions, forgotten books, lost papers… this is what your evenings will be reduced to. Prepare the darkened room and the soothing head compress. Me? I find I get best results when clutching a glass of the coldest white wine available… and ear-plugs so I can’t hear myself shouting!


Be brave, be truthful

11 Nov

I recall putting my youngest son to bed when he was three, and was taken by surprise when he piped up: “Where’s my Daddy?” It’s not an unusual question Billy has never met his Dad and until then hadn’t asked for him. I knew it was time to reveal: “Daddy isn’t here anymore, he has died.” 
Ouch. I felt horrible using such stark language but know it was the right thing to do. My husband had suffered a sudden and  fatal heart attack two weeks before Billy’s birth, leaving me with a his brother, then nearly five-years-old, and a newborn . 
My older son, in reception year at school, had no comprehension of his loss – how could he as he’d never experienced loss before  – and he seemed stuck on the bare facts. Why didn’t Daddy’s heart work? What made it break?  I quickly discovered the importance of using the right words and understanding the impact they have on young children, and most vitally, allowing them to share the bereavement. A child has shared the life of a close relative, so must be involved in their death, too, or they can feel bewildered, isolated and even frightened.
Be confident that kids are amazing. Interested, enquiring, eager to learn and join in they want to be involved in all aspects of family life. Death is one of the trickiest concepts for youngsters to grasp, and one of the hardest for us grown-ups to share. We want to keep children safe, wrap them up against hurt and pain, and protect them from upset. It’s tempting to try and be comforting by saying the person who’s died has “gone to sleep”, or are “living with the angels”  or have “gone to Heaven”. Adults – even professionals working in hospitals, schools and as social workers, often talk in vague terms about “losing someone” or them having “passed on”.  But this can be confusing.
From a child’s point of view, if Dad’s lost, why can’t we find him? Why did he want to go and live somewhere else – and can I go too? Who attacked his heart? If he went to sleep and didn’t wake up, what will happen if Mummy, or I go to sleep – will we wake up?
Be wary of firing their imagination in totally the wrong way. Saying that someone has ‘died’ or is ‘dead’ is honest, and helps to avoid misunderstandings and encourages acceptance. Professionals experienced in working with bereaved children encourage helping youngsters to understand by giving them information ­perhaps in small pieces to give them time to absorb it, and helping them communicate and express how they feel. Depending on the age of the child, you may have to repeat things many times and allow them to ask questions, often over and over. They may check it out with other adults.
In answering Billy’s question and telling him that his Daddy had died, I had to remind myself it was harder for me to say than for him to hear. At that age, Billy had no real concept of the loss that death involves, but at least he had the right words from the outset and in time will come to understand. For older children, being clear is opening the door for discussion, helping them to share their feelings and ask appropriate questions.
Books, both fact and fiction, help find words. The messages are that it’s ‘okay’ and ‘normal’ to feel how they do. It gives children something to relate to and crucially can provide a springboard for conversation with their peers or other adults. There are books that talk clearly about death and coping with bereavement, and others which are helpful in discussing feelings in more general ways which we can relate to our sense of loss.
The Sad Book by Michael Rosen is based on how he felt when his son Eddie died. Rosen says that books are starting points for conversations. “There is”, he says, “a kind of magic when you put things into words, that help you sort out your feelings and realise what you feel.”
Yep – words are magic, if they’re the right ones.


21 Oct

Amazeballs! I have discovered how deliciously liberating and uplifting it can be to add a new word to my vocabulary, and one which while seemingly slang-dacious, is now listed in the Collins online English dictionary as admissible for overt usage. Admittedly I didn’t actually say it; “amazeballs” I mean. Instead I sneaked it into a Tweet… but it felt just as good as if I’d yelled it out in a school parent/teacher meeting. In fact, my employment of such modern urban language was akin to knocking 20 years off my age – which remains classified information on a need to know basis only.
Oh how lightly I had popped the positively enthusiastic ‘amazeballs’ (denoting ‘approval’ in case you’re not familiar) into a message – using considerably fewer than my allotted 140 characters I might add which is equally youthful behaviour… and launched said missive into the ether. I smirked. How utterly frivolous.

Throughout the day I savoured the way amazeballs rolled around my tongue becoming increasingly tasteful. By teatime I was inserting an amazeballs into nearly every sentence – the kids were incredulous, half admiring half nervous about my literary adventurousness. By bedtime I’d received the  ultimate accolade: a return Tweet from a follower in New York: “We love that you can say amazeballs…” wrote my west coast American cyber-friend. Say it? I’ve moved on, since using it in conversation with the window-cleaner, scribbled it on a birthdaycard to my brother and, rather naughtily, re-named our cat (well, it seemed physically fitting). Their various responses have all been most rewarding indeed!