Happy new year and a drawing

in two parts, respectively done in 2015 and 2017. No need for good resolutions πŸ˜‰ And I’m not even going into the whole “breastfeeding makes you lose weight unless you eat non-stop” discussion…




Lifting the anonymity & the next step in our journey

It has been a long while and many things have happened, most importantly that we have become parents for the second time and I am now a mum of two boys. My second son is 8.5 months, we’re finding our feet, somehow.

Now I’ve decided to change this blog, in a few ways: first, I’m lifting the anonymity. My name is Jennifer, or Jen, half French half British 35 year old, currently living in Ireland with my husband Christophe and our two boys. As a consequence, I’ve also cleaned up the blog of things I’m not sure I want everyone I know to read πŸ˜‰

Second, I’m not only a mum, and I will keep a space on this blog for myself. Here is a good, if sad, read, recently published, on the needs of mums and the wrongs of our society towards mums: SamantahNolanSmith

Third, I’ve decided to “come out” as a mum. I’m a long term breastfeeder and tandem feeder, my eldest is four years old in a month, my youngest is just over 8 months old, both breastfed – if differently. I am, with my husband, also a co-sleeper: one big bed and a co-sleeper barely used for us four! It’s the only way, I think, if you want to continue breastfeeding…

Now it looks like I’m going to be a homeschooler too. As in the children won’t be going to school, or at least my eldest won’t be going for the next two years. No preschool, no school. Unleash the hounds…

We have thought and read and talked a good deal about this decision. We have moved countries twice in two years. We have had a second child in March. We have also had health issues, for both boys, in addition to my own. Then in September, our eldest went to preschool for ten days. The first day, he was sooo excited. After we left, for just an hour that day, he cried hysterically for 40 min – until we came back, totally panicked, not understanding what was going on, though we’d tried to explain… And they had let him cry, when we were just outside the school… And when he’s already had so much to deal with and the language to get used to – we speak French at home and he barely knew a few words of English then. After ten days of trying, again and again, with the teachers, the principal, his crying not getting better and huge tantrums at home before bed, nightmares about being abandoned and walking home alone, I looked at what would happen if we took him out. Nothing, it seemed… Children are not obliged to go to school until they’re six, at least in Ireland. It is a parent’s right to teach him as he chooses. So we took him out, at first thinking that we would try again later that year, or next year. We would leave him time to settle after this very busy year.

Once the first decision taken, I started looking for groups of children, for socialisation, for activities, to keep us out of the house and away from the TV, and I found homeschooling groups (a lot is happening on Facebook) and books. We met people. I read and read and read until I find that I now strongly believe that the mainstream school system is outdated, based on the needs of our society more than a century ago. It may be bad for children, possibly bad for society now – how many schools teach critical thinking, the most valuable skill they should learn in our day (here Sal Kahn creator of Khan Academy, talk about our future)? There are too many children in classes (don’t give me that “it’s the same everywhere” it doesn’t mean it’s good). Closed in classes doing activities chosen by teachers rather than chosen by themselves (what are they, chain workers? I know some schools try to include some self-directed learning principles, but not where we live, or not at a reasonable price…), parked by age groups (a completely unnatural thing) rather than by interests or abilities, and going out on a macadam’ed space only for a few minutes a day even if it’s super sunny outside…

At 3.5 years old I believe he needs to play, to meet other children, to run and jump and experiment. Not sit quietly and give in to the control needs of the teachers (perfectly understandable given the number of children per class), ignoring other upset children, and having to let me leave even if he’s not ready for it… 

Don’t make me say what I didn’t, school is useful. It brings a lot to children whose parents cannot or would not be able to teach them. It has decreased the illiteracy rates in western countries. It may be good for some children, just, I believe, not mine, not now. He is not a number. He has his own needs, because of the language, his life up to now, his personality. One day he will be ready to stay in places without me – technically he was ready before the disaster with the school – like he was ready to stop with nappies, or like he’s now asking to do everything by himself (very unhappy if you don’t let him). He’s growing, he’s changing, he’s learning all the time by trying and playing and repeating what he sees and hears.

And so we meet with other parents, other children, he’s running in the forest and getting his trousers wet… Though less in winter or when sick… But just like his father’s dad or my mum used to do in the 50s. They didn’t turn out bad. If anything, they’re the most confident people I know.

In the meantime I’m also looking at alternative schools, ways to teach him (and his brother) myself – maths, English, reading and writing, arts, gardening, and all the other things my toddler is interested in, from the sound of birds to rockets, dinosaurs or playing piano… – how we can proceed if in two years he doesn’t want to go to mainstream school. How we can help him go to university if he, and his brother, wants to go one day, like we did. I believe the school system (and more generally our way of life) is changing and I want the children to benefit from that change – critical thinking and everything internet can bring. It gives me hope for them and for our society. It’s cheesy but it’s true…

In consequence, the blog is changing to become dual: me on one side (the mum not only mum) and our journey as a family and a homeschooling family on the other (our activities, or a sample of them). I believe this is what our child needs now and this blog might help me keep track of what we do, and to keep my motivation too!

P.S.: not that it’s anyone’s business, not any more than the other things I post here, but we’re still vaccinating the children. Looking for your own information and making your own choices is the way. I personally think the herd immunity is important so that’s our way πŸ˜‰

Some good reads on the subject of homeschooling – for those curious and interested:

– Children taught at home learn more, article from The Guardian

– Teach your own by John Holt
– Dont waste your time homeschooling by Traci Matt with lots tips
– Learning without school by Ross Mountney
– Homeschooling the early years by Linda Dobson, big American book not very recent
– One to one A practical guide to learning at home Age 0-11 by Gareth Lewis

In general for activities to do with children in the house:
– Tinkerlab by Rachel Doorley
– 150+ screen-free activities for kids by Asia Citro
– Also I love Djeco games, Orchard Toys, Melissa and Doug games, Usborne books including their sticker books πŸ˜‰

More generally, here is a link I saw yesterday with lovely videos on the subject of our lives, how we can link the way we live with the environment, live a simpler and healthier life closer to nature: Happen films

Us four

A gentle push to achieve

I’m supposed to finish my PhD, after years of not working on it. Get the last parts of the thesis together and defend it, in public. The last time I properly worked on it, I was pregnant. Then I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, right after I had a series of panic attacks at 5 months, when my baby boy has just started to move in my belly… If that is not scary, I don’t know what is.

I managed to avoid anti-depressant, just, by working on some of my issues with several professionals. I gave birth and didn’t suffer from post-natal depression (despite that doctor who told me that I had a 50/50 chance of having one, very helpful) or had panic attacks since then. It’s been just over two years (my baby boy is two!!).

Now I need to finish that PhD, so everyone who helped me can see it achieved and get their share of it, and so I can move on for good.

But it’s been a while since I worked on it and I forgot a lot of things. Just the thought of having to go back to the text and the work, and having to defend it in front of my old colleagues is freezing me. It would be just one of these PhDs that took too long – I’ve been to these defences and nobody feels like it’s a successful end to the work, most actually pity the defendor, it took too long, it has less value, and he/she is not even working in the field anymore. Most don’t see the effort it took to finally get there. To add to this, the defence will have to be in Amsterdam – meaning plane, hotel, etc. with a 2 year old boy – and without much time and help to prepare in advance.

So that’s it. I’m trying to deal with it one thing at a time. I will try to finish it and defend it, without losing it. I’m scared. I tried to tell my supervisor, and he understands, to an extent: you are scared, a lot of people are, it’s fine, you’ll manage and we’ll do our best to help you and get it done as fast as we can. It’s really nice of him and some of his ideas might actually help. But I know something that he doesn’t. That I may not manage. That it could get me over the edge with the stress and the tiredness and the depressing topic! Which would mean having to let go again, of everything, and then months or years of feeling crap, maybe having to take treatments, while waiting to get better. Is it really worth the risk?

After two years, I’m finally able to do things I couldn’t for a long time. I’m also taking care of my son and he is a lovely little person I adore. But I haven’t worked since I was pregnant. I keep having ideas of what I could do but stop even before I try. It is so ingrained, the feeling of failure, the lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. Maybe I am a bit stuck, and maybe if I finished that PhD, I’d get rid of that. Because, maybe, what I am suffering from is some kind of stage-fright which can be managed with some help. Maybe I could do it and be good at it and not fall over the edge. Maybe I am stronger than I think. Maybe it could free me and help me find another path for myself, and even make me a better mother for my son. If I don’t try I might always wonder. I might regret it. Or maybe I wouldn’t care, moving on!

Anyway, for now, I’m trying to finish that PhD, knowing that I still need to listen to myself and be responsible. My supervisor cannot really understand the reality of my situation – that the next time I fall I might not come back out for another 2, 3 or 5 years – which means that he could unknowingly push too far, and I cannot let this happen. My son is two and my health has to come first!

The difference between a house-wife and a house-mum

I thought I would make a not-so-very important point here. Nobody I know has been really nasty about it but there is a kind of assumption that if you don’t work, then you have time to, and should, clean the house… It is almost a shame to not do it yourself, even for mums who work full time! Hum. Well, we can afford it and so we have a cleaning lady, even though I do not work…

But really, who says that because you are at home taking care of your child you should also do the cleaning and cooking and washing and shopping? Properly taking care of a child takes time, and I don’t have much more time than my husband for all these other things, and I don’t like to do them anymore than he does.

So we’re paying someone to do the cleaning for us. This way I have time to play legos and read books. I can take my son to toddler groups, music classes, soft-plays, and go for nice walks to playgrounds and big puddles to jump in with our boots. All the while taking care that he doesn’t hurt himself in imaginative ways. Every morning is different and afternoons are dedicated to his naps and a little rest for me, not to cleaning the kitchen or hoovering. On week ends we try to go out all together.

My husband cooks and I take care of the dish-washing (with the dishwasher) and the clothes-washing and shopping!

Source: Judy, flickr
Source: Judy, flickr

I made a crochet stuffed toy

I’ve just finished making a crochet stuffed toy for my son and he points and smiles at it πŸ˜€ Watching him play with it, my brains got away with themselves and I imagined him grown up, keeping that toy somewhere, maybe treasuring it because I made it; or myself treasuring it because it is a reminder of when I made it. Like my mum treasures my favourite stuffed toy that I took everywhere with me after I got it as a present when I was 6…

Except that she had not made that stuffed toy. This is something that I do, I stopped working and I crochet during naptime. That’s me, not her. My maternal grandmother wouldn’t make a crochet toy either, she was too busy running the house with four kids. Neither would my paternal grandmother who loved working and had a good and busy career.

Does that mean that the stuffed toy I made will have more value for me, or for him, one day? Will it end up forgotten in a box, or prized on a shelf? I have no idea and there is no way of knowing, because we are in uncharted territory.

There are many things that I love about my childhood, and try to reproduce, and other things that I have tried to do differently. But my only point of reference when it comes to being a parent is my parents. So I keep comparing myself and our life to them, to what they lived and what they decided. I guess it is because I am scared, I need a point of reference to know that it’s going to be all right. What we do now is not new so it’s going to be all right.

But I am not my mum or my parents, I have already lived a different life than the one they had at my age. Everything is new, from myself as a parent to our move to the UK.

It’s scary, so I try to recreate parts of the childhood I had, the environment, the Christmases, some birthdays maybe, some time spent with my parents (where I now play the parent πŸ™‚ ). To create memories like the ones I have in the hope that he will grow up healthy and happy, and remember some of these memories fondly. There is nothing wrong with that. I want him to be happy and safe.

But taking some of what was good in my own and my husband’s upbringing (we have to learn to be a parent somewhere…) and basing some decisions on our parents’ experience shouldn’t stop us from making something new.

Because we both grew up in the countryside doesn’t mean that growing up in a city is totally wrong for a child. It is different. Because I lived in a house or a friend had a dog, does it mean that we should make the some choices? Because my mum worked when I was little, does it mean I should too? Or that I shouldn’t? Because a friend didn’t get along with a sibling, does it mean we shouldn’t have a second child? Because my dad was an only child wanting siblings, does it mean that our child will feel the same way, even if we, as parents, are different from my grandparents? Because my husband and I had siblings, does it mean we should have a second child soon? And make ourselves miserable if we can’t?

Have two children. Have at least three (I actually heard that one). Don’t wait too long to have another, but don’t have them too close or they’ll never get along. Move to a house. Get a pet. Stay close to the family, but not too close or you’ll go crazy. Don’t move to a small village/a big city/another country… So many rules we make for ourselves based on our fears and our own, our families’ and our friends’ experiences!

One of the first things we learned as parents is to (try to) not listen to other people’s opinions. You never see the end of it and everyone thinks differently! But I find it more difficult to not listen to my own deeply ingrained certainties of what we should do and be as a family: that it should be that way because that’s the way we will be safe and happy. There is no certainty in that; we are not our parents.

Happily, it also means that some of the things that they went through may not happen to us…

Uncharted doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous, it is just new. Uncertain. Free.

Terra Incognita, source: http://www.faena.com
Terra Incognita, source: http://www.faena.com

The more time you spend in the kitchen…

I don’t cook. It’s an accepted fact in our family. I can cook an egg or rice or pasta, but nothing more complex, and even that I usually don’t because my husband prefers nicer/more elaborate foods.

But my husband is away this week. This has always been a problem: I usually eat really badly while he is not there. Except that with my son now I really ought to make an effort.

Home-breaded chicken with vegetables and pasta
Home-breaded chicken with vegetables and pasta

So tonight I cooked a bit: home-breaded chicken in small pieces (he loves breaded fish, so I thought, lets try) – first in flour, then in mixed egg, then in breadcrumbs – with pasta and (frozen, lets not push grandma in the nettles as the French say) vegetables. All in all I spent a bit more time on this than on making French toast, which he loves and devours in minutes!

Anyway, he didn’t eat a thing! A piece of bread, a bit of yoghurt, wouldn’t even try the chicken… Even though I know he’s going to be hungry later on. Well, I’ve got some left for tomorrow lunch, we’ll try again πŸ™‚

The fuel analogy

I was reading this article about authors who made a comic to show what anxiety and depression are to people who do not suffer from those. It got me to remember all the times that I tried to explain what an anxiety disorder is.

I’ve had anxiety issues forever, and at least since I was nine. Depression I am not sure, though the teenage years were really quite bad and I have a doubt about those. But because I grew up with anxiety, it shaped my personality – or my personality shaped my anxiety. I am superstitious, perfectionist, idealist and hypersensitive. I am also anxious a lot of the time.

What the authors of the comic show is true: it steals your energy. To go further, I’d say that a good analogy I’ve found is the fuel one: some people run on diesel while I run on unleaded 95, and when with a diesel engine you use about 4 litres of fuel for 100 km, I need to double that amount for the same distance.

Or, to put it another way, if we all start the day with the same fixed amount of fuel (just not the same kind, all engines are different), I run out of it faster than others:

– 1 to 2 litres to get out of the house: are the windows closed, the oven switched off, the cooker off, did I take enough games/change/food/drinks/warm clothes for him? Going down the stairs with him in my arms, going to the playground, going back up again with him wanting to be put down and run (+ the groceries and the baby backpack). Exhausting.

– 1 litre to drive somewhere: did I put his seatbelt right? What is that man doing driving like that?! (I think a lot of people would think these as well, but then they’d forget while I dwell on it, doing my best not to, to focus on the road… What if, what if?!)

– 2 litres for grocery shopping: people, people and people. It’s tiring to continuously make decision while trying to shut down the noise in the shop and the comments in my head (baby crying, child running, woman talking to herself, man-dressed-in-a-weird-way-who-is-not-necessarily-a-psychopath-so-you-don’t-need-to-avoid-him, chicken close to sell-by-date, cash-woman eating chewing gum or with unclean hair. Etc. etc.). Though I hope I’ve become slightly better at it with the years.

Pffff 4 to 5 litres gone!

So what about working, meeting with people, going to a picnic, to a barbecue, or a festival?

Working would be quite out of the question I suspect. I’d need to try again to be sure. Colleagues to talk to, people at the cafeteria, noises, deadlines for unimportant reports and projects (seriously who cares if it’s not done in time, my son walks!/is teething!/sick with a cold! and people are dying of hunger in the world! But I’d have to (force myself to) care otherwise I’d lose the job). And to leave my son at daycare?? I don’t know that I could trust anyone enough for that. Though I’ll also have to work on that, be it for daycare, holidays with the grandparents, or school.

Picnics, barbecues, festivals, I try. Some days are good and we go – when anxiety is on vacation. Some days or some festivals/places/people I just avoid. There is no point in it. There is no fun in being that exhausted, I don’t enjoy some of these things as much, it is true. It’s just too much work.

I work on all these, shut down noises, go out, do my best to accept what I cannot change. It’s just that it takes energy. What some people can do with the amount they have, I some days use it all doing not much, taking care of my son (Eat/sleep, please… Do not stand on the couch! Not that closet! Not the stairs!) or shopping. Even phone calls, emails or writing take their toll. But I still get stuff done.

Source: Ben Hollingsworth, flickr
Source: Ben Hollingsworth, flickr