Reminder

I felt the need to create this blog entry as a reminder. A reminder of a boy who I didn’t know, but a boy who recently took his own life.

This reminder is set in my mind for the days when I’m tired and scarred by the belittling of my ability to educate my child away from the school system, when the assumptions that any obstacles that may arise are because he isn’t in school. A reminder to myself to breathe in, to lift my head, throw back my shoulders and say what I actually want to say. I won’t argue, but I will say what needs to be said – just like they do – and thank them for strengthening my own beliefs that little bit more. 

From this day I will not hold my tongue. I will no longer smile and nod, go along with the ridiculous charade that finances and qualifications are more important in life than actually living. No. They’re not. How many children will need to suffer with mental illness, spend years in therapy or even take their own lives before we wake up and see that we are killing our children? 
This boy will not be forgotten. Yes, he was one of many. But he was still one. Someone’s one. And statistically, one is too many. 
Wake up, kids, look what has happened to this one and don’t let it happen to you. Look up, open your eyes and see what’s out there. The whole world is at your fingertips, there for the taking. Take it! Immerse yourself in as many cultures as you can. Work as little as possible for the most money you can convince someone to pay you. Start your own business, build your own house, defy the societal norms of previous generations. Be the change. Make the future brighter. Give the future hope. Keep your freedom, your love of life, and learn. Learn your way, at your own pace, and whatever the hell you like.

Hungry for Change

The fear leads us to dumb down our children; it leads us to believe that those letters on that piece of paper are the most important things. In that action, we miss what is really important. 

When we think of William Shakespeare, do we immediately consult the introductory pages of his play to check the grade he achieved for English? Do we look on the back of a Monet painting for the mark it was given by the teacher, because then and only then can we say it’s ‘good’?

Take a minute to watch the expert golfer. Observe the actor. Listen to the musician. Look at the painting. Really look at it. Read the book, get lost it in. Use all of your senses and take in the creative talents of these people. Are they skilled? Or are they talented? Are these terms different? We can gain skills, we can learn skills. Can we learn talent? 

‘I’m cleverer than my brother, so when he gets a good grade in something my parents praise him a lot. They don’t praise me as much because I usually get good grades.’

The ‘brother’ here writes amazing stories but his spelling isn’t the best. He loves to draw, paint and create something from nothing. He is the family’s technology expert. He doesn’t get the highest grades at school in academic subjects. He also suffers from ill health a lot for which he has to stay at home. He is constantly reminded that he is ‘not as clever’ as his brother or sister. That he won’t be able to achieve the things that they will, he may not be able to go to university and get a good job. He tries hard. Really hard, to be something he’s not. To squash himself into the ‘one size fits all’ box where if he doesn’t achieve the ‘standard’ in academia then he’s just not good enough. 

Society has become awash with qualifications. Letters, grades, reports and statistics form the basis of parental opinion of a child. When did children stop being believed in? Why do we need so much proof of our skills and knowledge? Why must we constantly compare children in such a way that they become homogenous? 

We have created a nation of praise-hungry children, endlessly memorising lists of facts to pass tests, to achieve the next level. Then the next, and the next. Years of school to ‘educate’ ready for the ‘real world’. It is no longer acceptable to learn a skill or develop a talent, then go out and use those skills and talents. We have forgotten that somewhere, underneath it all, is a billions-strong collection of individual personalities. We are born thirsty for knowledge, and we leave this world wishing we had more. Life doesn’t come with a guarantee – no amount of letters on shiny, embossed-edged paper will grant you your wishes. And still we plod along, believing that as long as our child can get 20 out of 20 on the maths test next week, or an A in Science, he will be ok in the ‘real world’. 

We are taking away our children’s need to be hungry. Children are born hungry, in all senses of the word. We need to embrace that hunger! Let them explore, let them discover the world around them, and let them be. Let them be anything they want to be. ‘Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.’ John Holt 
A child is not half an adult. We have no right to tell a child that they cannot achieve. Stop dumbing down your children. Start celebrating them.

We don’t need to school the world. We need the whole world to unschool itself. 

Worlds inside worlds

You live in a hundred different worlds. Worlds without boundaries, days without walls. Worlds where anything is possible and anyone can exist.
One minute, you are in the here and now existing amongst the realists, seeing things like everyone else. Admiring the height of the Queen Victoria Tower housing the giant ringing Big Ben. The next minute you have risen to the height of Big Ben, you are a giant monster machine driving on the bed of the river Thames. We take the tube train. You revel at the speed of the trains and the cleverness and coordination of the doors. Once at the station and on the escalator you are Paddington Bear. You have a suitcase full of marmalade sandwiches, you wear wellington boots and a special hat that belonged to your uncle Pastuzo. Stepping outside into the rain you point at the homeless man on the ground. We leave him some money in his plastic cup as he sleeps. Then you are Paddington Bear again, recreating the famous scene from ‘Singing in the Rain’. You dance, sing, and splash about before we walk back to our hotel for the night. 
You live in the right now, in whichever world suits at that moment. I see them as a hundred different worlds, but you see it as one.

Today, you have spent most of your time living in ‘Blaze World’ – your own name for it. We have built all the characters from one of your favourite shows – Blaze and the Monster Machines – and made emergencies and adventures for them. You have watched a few episodes, then created your own. You’ve learned about springs and what they do, and we have discussed dams and how they work, and how the water is held back. All with the help of your favourite characters. I’ve been a laser cutter, a green monster machine and a submarine. I’ve sung about force, speed, power, and transformation. We’ve discussed the difference between surfaces that are transparent, and surfaces that are reflective. All in a day’s ‘work’, and all in your world. 

Happy every day

Every day, we spoil you with our love. We spoil you with our presence, our playtime and our moments. In return, you spoil us with your beautiful developing personality, your patience, your understanding and your reciprocal love.

Your father doesn’t need to be told, on a particular day, that he is your father. That he is blessed, because you have bought him a card or a toy dog or a new wallet. Your father can see each day through the time you spend together that your relationship is worth far more than any card or shop-bought gift can say. Money cannot be, and never shall be a replacement for precious moments of life.

I don’t need a day to have to tell my Dad how thankful I am for the way he and my Mum raised me. I couldn’t fit it all in one day. Society tells me I need to buy him a card, a gift, something to show him that he means a lot to me. But how about I just tell him? And how about I show him, with my love and with my time? My Dad has given me everything, always. Six months ago he was nearly taken from our lives. But in those moments, I didn’t want to buy him things; I wanted to make him better again. I wanted to be six years old again and be able to make him feel better with a big hug and a badly made cup of tea. Now, he has rebuilt the blocks of his life that fell down and every day I couldn’t be prouder, and I couldn’t love him more. I love him and appreciate him every single day. Not just when I’m told.

Being generous with money is a privilege, one that we are blessed with and thank our lucky stars every day that we can give you everything you need through the hours we work, and buy you the things you want. But money can never take the place of any kind of love. Carefully thought-out and selected gifts are lovely, and the thought of the gift is always worth a thousand times more than the gift itself. But if the message that comes with that gift is one of distance, or replacement, the gift becomes a sad representation of a relationship.

We are lucky to have so many people in our lives that want to buy lovely things for our son. And so to all of the people who insist on spoiling my child with gifts – we are grateful. Grateful for the thought, grateful for the choice, and grateful that my child has everything he could ever want and more. In fact he has far beyond everything he could ever need. In the Western world we do not know how incredibly lucky we are, and we never take our easy existence for granted. But consider the impact of your gift. An hour spent in the park, playing catch or football or hide and seek is worth a million Chinese-produced shop-bought toys that he will play with for approximately five minutes.

Consumerism is not a lasting relationship. It is a quick fix. We live in a world filled with products we do not need. Products that are destroying the earth with their production, and filling up our houses, when there are people across the world fighting for their lives without clean water or food. Imagine if the gift you could actually give to our child was generosity – the power to share with those who have nothing. Filling up his life with masses of mass-produced plastic is pushing him further into a bubble that we constantly fight to get him out of. It is not the real world. Not really.

Things are not worth anything, in the end. I love that he has his own, precious things that he plays with everyday. But unsurprising to me, those things are not the biggest toy he has been bought from the toyshop, or the most expensive thing you could find for his Christmas ‘treat’. His favourites, even at three years old, are the ones that have sentimental value – the tiny squashy London bus from when we visited Tower Bridge and he lay down on the glass floor to look at the buses crossing the bridge below. The scruffy, rusty, old-fashioned cars that belong to his Dad when he was a child, the now-tatty Paddington bear who has been with us on every holiday, the two stones he found in the park one day and called them ‘his treasure’. The photos covering his bedroom wall and in his albums of the amazing adventures we have taken as a family – holidays, days out, time together, memories. Because in our hearts, in the end, we don’t think about the things we have bought in life, we think of the memories we have made and people we have loved.

So spoil my child, if you want to. Give him presents, because you can afford them and because they make him smile. But don’t get stuck believing that these will make him happy. This media-driven society leads us to believe that the only way our children can be happy is if we buy them consumer products – from toys right through to education. Life has become a factory. I don’t want my son to live on that conveyor belt. So go ahead, spoil him every now and then. But then sometimes, just be you. Be the people that he loves, the ones he holds in his heart. Not because of what they have given him in products, but what they have given him in love – in a solid, stable, life-long relationship providing building blocks on which to build his future.

Money matters. Money is a privilege, a hard-earned product and something that isn’t shared out equally in the world. But love? That’s free. And just imagine, for a second, if it was everywhere. Perhaps it is. Perhaps we all just need to go out there and find it.

 

I am not a number

I am not a number

Not a value, prediction or prognosis

I’m not a statistic, result, or average.

I don’t meet customary guidelines

Nor am I a drowning inadequacy.

I’m not regular, commonplace or ordinary.

To sleep is to dream, to dream is to live

I wake, sleep, dream and live.

To live is to learn, learning is life.

I discover, laugh, learn and live.

To think is to feel, to feel is to be.

I think, feel, cry and love.

 
I am.

I exist.

I am not a number

I am an all-encompassing entity of individuality and freedom.

I am sentient

I am learning

I am living

I am free.
 
 
 
 

What are shadows made of?

If you have no fear to begin with, you have nothing to let go of. 

Three years ago you were born full of instinct, love, trust and spirit. Rich in compassion for people and animals, with a thirst for knowledge and wisdom, and a kind soul full of happiness.

 At such a young age, there are some choices that you cannot make yourself. Choices that society has invented. So we are not asking you to make them. 

I will never try to take away your natural wants and needs in the world. I won’t tell you that it’s probably too rainy and cold to play outside – you are learning to appreciate the British weather – or that you should be in bed because all the other children in our street are – you are learning what tiredness feels like. Last night at 9pm you said ‘Mummy, I’m going to bed’. And you did! I will not tell you what is ‘socially acceptable’ if you don’t need to know just yet. I won’t compare your development to that of other children. You are you – you don’t know what it says in the book. I won’t say ‘be careful’ when you’re undertaking something risky – you are finding your way in just fine on your own. When you need me, I’m there – but you know that. 

Even though it’s very difficult not to, I won’t praise you when you achieve something you are proud of. I won’t say ‘good boy’ – those achievements are all yours – you are learning when to be proud of yourself. Yesterday you said ‘I made it!’ when you climbed up the netting to the slide in the park by yourself. I try my very best to not tell you what to say, and if I tell you to say ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ then afterwards I tell myself off – because many times you have done this of your own accord and that means so much more. 

I will never make you give someone a hug or a kiss if you don’t want to. Your spontaneous affection means so much more than forced, uncomfortable gestures. I won’t wade in to a dispute with another child at the first opportunity – you are learning that sometimes you have to take turns and share. But, I will never make you share your things if you don’t want to – they belong to you and they are precious. When you choose to share something through kindness it is so much more worthwhile as you will see how happy it makes the other person – and you will feel good for doing a good thing. I try my very best to not raise my voice when something you do goes a little bit (or a lot) wrong. There is no use in shouting at you, or punishing you, or making you feel small. I will try to explain the consequences of your actions. You are starting to see the effect of your actions. 

I will always let you lead your own learning. You know, in your own mind, what you want to know about in that moment. Sometimes you watch your iPad for three hours, then play outside for four, then play rescue missions all evening. Or some days, you want to lay on the bed and watch Fireman Sam all day. Because that’s just how you feel. A few months ago you didn’t want to leave the house/garden/street at all. It was hard, but we respected that you had your reasons and now of your own accord you want to go out on adventures again. 

This is one of the hardest, and I slip up A LOT, but I will always try to let you choose your own food to eat. I will not make you conform to societal rules of when and what to eat – you want food when you are hungry, not when someone tells you it is a meal time. When you ask, I explain about healthy and unhealthy foods, and sometimes you choose the healthier option when I’ve explained the benefits to your body. Often, you pick the chocolate. But you’re three, and chocolate tastes good.

You are my child, but I do not own you. Your body is your own and so is your mind. No one is born wise, but every day I see your knowledge growing into wisdom. I long to see the world through your eyes. Everything is an adventure and anywhere is your playground. Your days are filled with freedom, laughter, exploration, games, questions and more questions. What are shadows made of? Why is the sea blue? What does the grass do? Why are the baby plants babies? What does that bird want? Is the bee looking for his friends? Can you make it snow mummy? Why isn’t the Internet working? Why can’t I have more birthday presents?

It’s not all rosy. But who can say they never get upset? And why would your sadness and anger when your toys don’t do what you want them to, or when the chocolate is all gone, matter less than ‘grown up’ issues? It absolutely doesn’t matter less. We try to explain that sometimes being angry will only breed more anger in you, and we are here when you need us for a cuddle, or to help you put the plastic man back into the train when he just won’t fit. 

Your wants and needs are immediate. You live in the now. You are the embodiment of mindfulness. You have never known anything else. For as long as possible, if not forever, I hope you stay that way.

I love you my beautiful, thoughtful, crazy, stubborn, strong-willed, sensitive, creative child. Don’t ever feel like you have to change, for anyone. You can be whoever and whatever you want to be. And you’re working it all out for yourself, leading the way. 

Me: ‘Mummy will bring this pizza in for you in a minute, it’s too hot.’

You: ‘I’ll get my fire hose.’

I couldn’t be more proud. 

Don’t Tread on my Dreams

The fear. It’s inside us. It infiltrates into our hearts, our minds and our bodies. It quashes our creativity and it extinguishes our fire. Sometimes, we never reignite that fire. The fear can develop over tens of years, or it can sneak into our minds in a matter of seconds. The fear can get out of control; it can run away with our very being and threaten our entire purpose and existence. But where does the fear come from? Are we in a perpetuating circle of the fear? Does the fear come from within, and yet to get beyond the fear we need to fight from within? The fear is real. The fear is an illness. The fear leaks into everything we do, and everywhere we go. The fear is in the unknown and yet also in the familiar. ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’.

 

I’m 11 years old. I’m crowded into a classroom in my secondary school’s music department. The auditions for the school musical are taking place. I’m auditioning to be in the show choir. I’m not outgoing or extrovert at school. In fact I am quite the opposite. Yet I am compelled to sing, to write music and to play instruments. I’m passionate about music, writing and performing. That’s all I want to do – I want to write stories, write songs, sing my songs and let the world hear my music. So that’s what brought me to this dingy, grey, threating space of a classroom with a big bunch of teenagers, mostly older than myself. I have several friends with me, who also decided to audition too.

As an 11 year old, I’m not very confident. When I sing, I feel nervous but I feel free, liberated and excited, because I know it’s something that not just anybody can do. I love that I have the gift to sing. I want to sing all the time. The few people who have heard me sing tell me I am good at it, and that strengthens my confidence that I can actually do something of worth. Something where the bullies can’t tell me I’m rubbish. Something where it doesn’t matter that I can’t catch a ball very well, or read out loud without shaking. Something that doesn’t make me a ‘goody two shoes’ or a ‘swat’. Something just a little bit cool.

The teacher tells us we are going to sing the song all together as a group. He will come round the room, listening closely to us and give us a tap on the shoulder if we need to go into the next group. The next group is the next round of auditions. I really want to be in that group. I know I’m good enough to be in that group. I don’t think the music teacher likes me very much. He doesn’t say much to me, and I don’t say much to him. I’m not sure why. The other music teacher, the one I like isn’t running the auditions. She is creative, and she pays attention to the quiet students who might be hiding their talents somewhere. She is one in a million. And later, she will come to be the reason that I begin to sing again in front of people, the reason I stop feeling like such a nobody for a while.

 The music starts. I inhale a shaky breath and let it out slowly. My confidence jumps out of somewhere and I join in with the other singers in the opening few bars. I am strong, I am loud and I sing with pride. I feel my voice forming the phrases and relish in the fact that I can do this. I am strong! I can’t feel the fear that I had several minutes ago. The teacher approaches us, shoving his ear into the face of every student, tapping some on the shoulder and walking past others with a slight look of disgust. I look across at my friend. She’s been tapped on the shoulder! I watch as the teacher taps my other friend on the shoulder too. I catch their eyes, mid song and smile through my words.

He approaches the person next to me. He walks on by. He’s standing right in front of me. I make sure I open my mouth a bit wider while I sing, and I project my voice a little more. ‘Pick me, pick me!’ I scream inside. He catches my eye. He walks along to the next person, who gets a tap on the shoulder too. I keep singing until the end of the song. Perhaps he will walk round again. Though the ‘next round’ group is looking quite full.

The song ends. I’m still in the first group. The failure group. The bunch of fifteen of us who have just become nobodies again. We are told to go sit at the back of the room and watch the next round or to quietly leave because we have unfortunately not been chosen this time. I sit outside the room and wait for my friends, watching through the windows while they do the next round. The next round turns out to be singing the same song, while the teacher bashes out a different tune on the piano. I could have done that. He smiles at them all and tells them how great they are, and how much fun they’ll have doing the show in a few months time. A few months where I’m going to be left out of it all, all the excitement of putting a show together, rehearsing and learning songs and lines. As usual, I’ll just get to watch from the sidelines. I wonder why I ever thought it would be any different.

This isn’t like not being chosen for the hockey team in PE. I’m the last one to be chosen there, through necessity rather than favour. That hurts, and the bullies sneer at me when I miss the ball, and hit me in the legs with their sticks when the teacher isn’t looking. But I don’t like sport so much. Not those sports. I’m an individual, I like a sport where I can push myself and make my own mistakes. But this, this is what I do. This is what I love, what I live for. This is where I’m meant to be, creating and enjoying the feeling of not being the worst. Not being bullied because I’m rubbish but being praised because I’m good. And now, I’m a failure. I failed this. And it doesn’t feel good. Like all the other days at school, this one has ended with me feeling like a pathetic nobody. They’ll love this, the bullies. My friends won’t be able to help saying that they got in and I didn’t. I don’t like the competition. Music isn’t a sport. That’s why I like it.

 I rush home that evening and once in the sanctuary of my house, where no one can hurt me, I cry as though the tears will never stop. I cry for my failings, I cry because I am angry, and I cry because tomorrow, I have to face everybody at school, and they’ll all know that I didn’t make it. I’m not in the show. My parents are sympathetic and I can see they feel helpless for me. ‘You’ll do better next time’, ‘it doesn’t matter, really’, ‘We still think you’re brilliant’ they say. But I didn’t want next time, I wanted this time, this chance. I let go of the fear, just for this one time, and I tried. I tried so hard, and I didn’t feel the fear.

 I’m 11. I shouldn’t feel any fear. But from this day, I will always feel it. I will always have the fear in my mind.

 

Eight years following this, I was singing live on television to eight million people.

Ten years following this, I was singing on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

Eleven years following this, I began teaching music lessons.

Nineteen years following this, I released my first album of original songs. Not for profit, or for fame or for performances. For myself.

Did that particular knock-back strengthen my resolve to do it? Did that teacher, that day do me a favour? Contrary to popular belief, no.

 

‘Trust children’ says John Holt. We need to give them chances, not create battles of the fittest in every subject. Why can’t the shortest kid in school be in the basketball team? Why can’t the child with the lisp have the lead role in the school play? I’m not saying that children should think they can have whatever they want in life, all the time. But why can’t all the battling just start a little bit later? Why cant, while they are young, they be able to find their love of something. Passions. We need to find our passions, and we need to hold on to them.

 

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,  

Enwrought with golden and silver light,  

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths  

Of night and light and the half light,  

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;  

I have spread my dreams under your feet;  

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats

 

He tread on my dreams. He doesn’t know it, and he probably didn’t give it a second thought. As a teacher myself, I anguish about treading on the dreams of young people. I know I’ve done it, I know I’ve had to say ‘no’ in auditions. And it hurts. It really hurts. I don’t want to do it anymore – I don’t want to walk all over their ambitions.

Today, I look at my beautiful three-year-old son and I know I don’t want him to be hurt the way I was. I don’t want his childhood to taken away. I want him to know when he has done well, and when he hasn’t, through his own independent thinking. He will fail, of course. But I want him to feel that sometimes, it’s ok to get things wrong.

Today, we are a home educating, unschooling family. We’re breaking all the rules. And you know what? I’m not even scared.