Magic stays with you

Part of the Waldorf curriculum is on fort-building with children. You might think it is all frivolity, but fort-building is about creating magic with your children as well as teaching them skills to be practical, safe, nurturing and creative. I am quite sad really that there are many grown-ups out there in the world who do not know how to build safe loving homes.

If you look at some photographs on Pinterest, you will see how magical forts are.

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My children’s father and I used to build forts with our children when they were little. We would use bedsheets, cushions and torchlights to create magic – as I was working full-time in those days and did not have much time to spare, I just used glitter pen to draw stars on the sheets, but when shined with torches in a dark room, you see something magical. And we all felt that whenever we crawled into our little fort.

The magic stays with you forever. Today, I went shopping for a present for my beloved partner. He is a man who hated possessions so what could I get him? There is so much I want to give him but there is nothing he wants materially. So I decided to buy him materials to build a very grown-up fort – a teepee tent – so that I can create that magic with him on the cliff of our house. I think that is a very precious gift indeed ❤

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F0r an article on how to build a fort, click here

Work hard for the right reason

 

It’s no secret – I detest work that requires sitting down and I detest work that requires using my brain. These two traits were the cause of my dismal exam results: I managed three ‘O’ levels despite going to an expensive private school and those three ‘O’ levels were in subjects that required literally no studying: English, French and Mathematics.

Though my Ma did not give me a hard time over it, in later years she confessed that she was shocked that I did not even manage a ‘C’ for Biology. “You knew so much,” my Ma said.

Well, the reason was, I never had the discipline to study.

In my parenting books, I enclosed this diagram:

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My Ma never forced us to do anything. She used to say cheerily, “Ooooh, when you are an adult, there will be so many people telling you the things that you can’t do, or things that you have to do. So enjoy what you have now, dearies.”

Thus, we had a magical time growing up. I will always remember the closing years of my childhood sitting on the beach with my younger brother when we were supposed to be studying for our ‘A’ levels, and going to the Polytechnic library to waste time instead of work.

Whatever issues that arose from my Ma’s magical ways were laughed off with her cheery, “Don’t worry, it will all come out in the wash.”

Maybe we were just plain lucky or maybe my Ma had been right all along, but all her children turned out just fine academically and in our careers.

Because you see, though my Ma was easy-going with us when it came to ‘unimportant things’, she taught us very strong work ethics, moral courage, inner strength and commitment where it matters. And where it matters is human relationships.

I began working fiendishly hard when I became a mother and my baby-daddy was a happy-go-lucky chap who did not earn that much (and who had no intention of climbing the career ladder). To the amazement of all who knew me, I won a scholarship to Oxford. Whilst at Oxford, apart from the burdens of studying and caring for three young children, I worked in part time jobs to supplement the family income. I worked hard in my career too, not for my own glory, but to provide for my family.

 

I write this post because very rarely do parents teach children the reason for working hard. These children grow into adults who work for the sake of working. “Can’t see the wood for the trees” as the old adage goes. I strongly believe that if we work hard for the sake of work alone, it is a very empty life. We might get bolstered by our colleagues’ accolades, the financial rewards or job satisfaction, but what is at home and in our hearts? Many true anecdotes abound about men who keel over and die the minute they retire or marriages breaking up when the husbands retire. And even more about driven careerists who did not place enough importance, commitment and hard work into the family, often causing pain to their partners and children.

I believe that we exist to love. Love is the Universal Law. In Mathematics, what an object is is not determined by what it is composed of, but rather, by how it behaves with respect to other objects.

I certainly find that I am more committed and more dedicated to work when there is a human element involved. For example, I am now working fiendishly hard on my forthcoming parenting book that I am co-authoring with someone. It will be her first book and I feel morally invested in making our book a success for her.

If you are looking for something to think about this morning, I would like to urge you to think about raising children to be firmly rooted in love for others, love for themselves, love for the world and love for the Universe.

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Parenting is Work, Work, Work

Last week was the celebration of St Joseph, The Worker.

As I sat in church, half-listening to the priest, I wondered what St. Joseph had ever done to deserve this great honour that lasted over 2,000 years. The Worker? It wasn’t as if he built roads or led armies to war. He didn’t do all that much. He didn’t even preach. Not much was written about him in the Bible.

Then I thought back to the biblical tale of the boy Jesus who got lost in the temple. At that moment when He was found, Joseph was a better parent than Mary. It takes a lot to be a good father, I realised.

The most difficult thing is resting the “I” in order to be able to rise to the role of being a parent. A parent is a safe haven, fair judge, tireless servant, kind heart and pair of loving arms. To fulfil all those important roles would require a serious reallocation of priorities, intentions and energies. It is a BIG job. Some would say it is the biggest and most important job you will ever do.

My children’s father did not consciously choose to become a father. He was in his twenties when it was forced on him. He was having the time of his life, why would someone what to change the rules when the going is good? And the going was indeed good for this happy chap from South East London. He was sharing a small house with another bachelor in my hometown, had three sailing dinghies and did what he wanted with his life. He was planning to move to Paris. He certainly did not jump for joy at impending fatherhood. But he had such a magical and beautiful childhood that he automatically, unconsciously, created that sweet, happy space when the honour was bestowed on him. It was as if he could not be anything else but the parent his were.

I, on the other hand, liked the idea of motherhood, largely due to teenage idealism, but then realised very quickly that it required life-changing sacrifices. My life was no longer my own. I couldn’t even afford to go to the University of my choice, because there was no affordable childcare. I wasn’t raise to be a worker, I was raised to be a princess by my adoring mum. It was a shock to my system. That resentment could have lasted for years, blighting my children’s childhood. There is nothing more damaging than a resentful mum, because resentment breeds discontentment, impatience and unkindness.

But fortunately, with investment from my Ma and my in-laws, the resentment did not take root.

Slowly, with humour, warmth, kindness, love and tough love (from my in-laws), I found my way to a different life than the one I envisaged. Some would say it is a better life. Parenting is not a sacrifice, but a compromise. I had to work harder, I had to work longer, just to keep up, to stay afloat. I didn’t have any time for myself, and I no longer owned my own life. But I had little people who looked at me with adoration in their eyes and a man who laughed uproariously with them. We had a crazy-busy life, with me trying to juggle University exams and part-time work, but our life was sweet. Slowly, I learned that compromise is beautiful when those chubby baby-arms and starfish fingers wrap themselves round me like octopi.

I no longer missed what could have beens and found great contentment in what I have. It wasn’t the life I planned for myself, to be cleaning the bathroom on my one day off and working in minimum-wage menial jobs to pay the bills, but the rewards were huge. It was then I became a Worker, with gladness in my heart.

Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.

Kahlil Gibran, Artist, poet and writer

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Six ways of having a fabulous summer on a tight budget

As the summer months edge into September, I cannot help but feel a tinge of regret. I always do, because summers had always been magical for me ever since my children were born. We were financially not well-off in those days, given that I was a University student and my children’s young father did not have a highly paid job. But we had something infinitely more precious than cold hard cash, and that was time plus the mindset to enjoy that time with our children. OK, I must confess here that in the beginning, we used to fight over this: I would rather we worked during the summer months to ease our tight financial situation, but he resolutely would not work at all from July to September. Oh, how we fought over our ideals, but I am glad he won hands down in this instance, because we have had close to 30 magical summers in our lifetime together.

Here are our trialled and tested ways of having a fabulous summer on a tight budget:

  1. Home exchange

This sounds unbelievable, but we exchanged our humble council house in a rough estate in Manchester with a couple from Italy who wanted two weeks of ‘hard culture and party’. Welcome to the Barlow Hall estate, folks, where most of our unemployed neighbours stayed up late drinking cheap beer and watching football on television (you could hear the swearing though the thin walls). The couple from Italy was quite tight-lipped about what they had to offer (they posted photographs that gave very little clues), but we thought we had nothing to lose anyway because no house could be crappier than ours. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at a small palazzo in Venice. Apart from the stress of our children wrecking priceless carpets and falling into the canal, I must say it was one heck of a fabulous summer.

Websites for home exchange:

https://www.homebase-hols.com

http://www.homelink.org.uk

  1. Camping

Over the years, I have visited some really amazing places, but when it comes to sheer magic, nothing could ever beat waking up in a tent in the morning, stepping outside and seeing hundreds of wild New Forest ponies streaming past within feet of me. My children were completely blown away.

Thus, investing in a tent was the best investment we ever made. If you are a camping newbie, you could try ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) or camp in specialised campsites where you could find help on hand, running water and loo.

Though for me, nothing beats hitting the road with the children in the backseat of our old Land Rover, pitching up our tent wherever fancy took us. We camped in a cornfield in Luxembourg one summer (which must surely be the weirdest place ever) and had such a beautiful time in the fields of gold, feasting on corn, making corn dollies and going on long walks. Sometimes we ventured into the town for showers, to buy provisions and visit the sights. We waited every morning for the farmer to evict us, but he never came. We left a bottle of wine and a heartfelt Thank You note thanking him for one of the most magical holidays we have ever had.

  1. Visit hospitable friends

My eternal gratitude always to my dear friend Ruedi Achermann who very kindly loaned us his sumptuous apartment in front of the Rhine when we couldn’t afford holiday lets. We would chug to Basel on our trusty old beast of a Land Rover and live like lords for weeks on end. Look earnestly into your address book – you will have friends like Ruedi Achermann somewhere in there.

  1. Pack up with similar friends

Exploit economies of scale. Go on holiday with like-minded friends with children of the same age group. Not only do the children entertain themselves, adults can trade babysitting duties too.

  1. Collect coupons

We painstakingly collected coupons from The Times for free ferry crossing to France in low-season February, sailed to France for Valentine’s Day and made our magical third daughter there, all on a shoestring budget.

  1. Work for your board

My daughter’s martial arts coach from the UK will be running a three-month martial arts training camp on the beautiful tropical paradise Phuket. His wife and daughter will be accompanying him for this experience of a lifetime. And you guess it, free board and lodging for the whole family, an opportunity to visit somewhere amazing and start something …. all on a shoestring (airfares covered as part of the deal).

An evocative article on autumn: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3220331/Crackling-bonfires-new-books-school-Yes-end-summer-saddest-time-year-adore-it.html

My Much-Loved Mother-in-Law

I had one last thing to do in London before going home to my parents in Hampshire, and that one thing is to visit my mother-in-law. My MiL is in the grips of Alzheimer’s disease. She does not recognise me. She lives in a world where her parents are still very much alive, where she still goes to work. I no longer exist in her world.

Oh, Mum! I don’t have a husband but I have a much-loved MiL. Mum brought me up, because I joined her family when I was a spoilt, screwed-up teenager. She wasn’t going to put up with my nonsense, the way my family had. Her son and I used to sneak into bed in the afternoons, and she would knock hard on the door. “Get up, the pair of you,” she would holler. “Why are you in bed? You are not sick!”

We fought. Because I was lazy and spoilt and did not know the value of money that she had to work so hard for, firstly as a cleaner and then as an office clerk for London Electricity Board. She scrimped and saved all her life, whilst I did the opposite. My parents’ pleasure principle did not sit well with her.

She showed me how to clean the shower cubicle. With a toothbrush. And told me that I have to clean behind refrigerators. “Mrs. Lumkin does that at home,” I told her haughtily. “Surely you can get someone in to do this?”

We fought over sausages. I refused to let my children eat the cheap ones she bought from the local butcher. “Mum, 99p for six! What rubbish goes in there!” I would exclaim. ‘No way will I feed my kids that!”

“Nothing wrong with my kids,” she would retort heatedly. “And they were brought up on these sausages.”

“We’ll bring our own food for the kids when we visit your parents,” I said firmly to the poor man caught in the middle between his warring mother and the mother of his children.

“How do those poor children of yours ever survive?” my MiL would say, half in disgust.

There were always faults she could find with my parenting. Babies being breastfed on demand, no set mealtimes, clothes smelling of mildew, late potty training, kids jumping on the bed, parents sneaking off to bed in the afternoon, oh you name it, and you can bet your last penny that I had transgressed.

I was the daughter-in-law from hell, but Mum never gave up on me. She taught me to sew and knit with varying degree of success. She taught me to cook and clean, of course. In the process, she learned how to love me. We grew especially close despite the tempestuous nature of our relationship when we had to move in with the in-laws whilst saving up for the deposit for our first house.

“Oh, Jack, you didn’t have to go through all this trouble for me!” she would exclaim each time I brought her fresh flowers or a little cake that I had baked. She never wanted to trouble anyone. She was a carer for her mother who went blind when she was 11. Her father died when she was still in her teens. Mum never had anyone looking after her. She never had any frivolities. I loved treating her and see the light in her eyes  miraculously switching on.

“Oh, you didn’t have to!” she would exclaim each time, with my every little gesture.

Over the years, as the children grew, she could see that my extravagances and strange values had not marred her grandchildren at all. My children are still ‘salt of the earth’, equally happy in a rough working class neighbourhood as they were in Knightsbridge or the country. My second son especially did them proud. This boy had always been close to his father’s roots: during his school summer holidays, he would come home to this working class neighbourhood and worked as a furniture removals man. I know that through this son of mine, his father’s race continues. And through my youngest child Georgina, who fights in the same fight club in Woolwich that her grandfather had all those years ago.

My MiL used to come and watch G fight. She would take the front row seat. I could see the dreaminess in her eyes, as she reminisced about her late husband fighting in this same club.

“Nanny, I have beaten up all the English boys,” G would say proudly, sliding her little hand into her grandmother’s.

Children are indeed a wonder, because they are the source of my MiL’s love for me, and mine for her. I have a lot to be thankful for. My children’s strong Spanish genes, for example, and their physical beauty. The tough love my MiL had given me, that was the making of me. My strong relationship with God. A sense of belonging to the bedrock of England. My love for her grows forevermore.

Today, I hugged her close, glad I made this journey. ‘I had to,” I whispered. “Because you are my Mum.”

I hope somewhere, deep within her Alzheimer’s diminished brain, she knows just how much I needed to make this journey to tell her I love her.

The Importance of Family Support

On the second day after my second son was born, post-natal depression hit me. I was sitting in the bath at home, door locked, and Kit was screaming at the top of his lungs. My mother-in-law had come down from London to help, and I could hear her saying to OAB, “She’s not producing enough milk, the poor little soul is hungry, bless him.” I looked down at my leaky breasts and still-huge belly, and felt a right failure. All my friends were at University; I had to take another year out. We lived in a little house with no central heating except those run by the 50p meter, and my bedroom in my parents’ house is larger than this whole sodding house. I was stuck here with a penniless man, his disapproving mother and his screaming brat. I felt like my whole life was over.

I got out of the bath, got dressed, and announced with deadly calm to OAB and my MiL: “I am leaving.”

He was shocked and tried to stop me. His mother, in her infinite wisdom, said, “Let the silly girl go.”

The silly girl went straight home like a bat out of hell to her parents.
Obviously, I went back to the penniless man and his screaming brat. That was 25 years ago. I left him many times since, to move back to my parents’ house, albeit for a few hours, a few days, and even a few weeks. And here’s the thing: no matter how old we are, there is always traces of the silly girl/silly boy in all of us. Who do you take your drama, heartbreak, depression and neediness out on? Your long-suffering partner or do you burden outsiders with your woes? Or do you just bottle those up?

I am blessed that I never had to go beyond my family to seek help. I don’t expect the father of my children to be the solver for all my problems; after all, I am not his child and he has enough children to deal with. I don’t expect my friends to accommodate my occasional neediness; after all, they all have their own lives. There is nothing more unattractive than a needy, desperate clingy grown-up. Fortunately, I have brothers to deal with that unattractive side of me, that I bet you have too, hidden somewhere in your grown-up self.

Here’s my article on family closeness for Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/jacqueline-koay/six-ways-of-growing-sibli_b_5871482.html

If you need someone to talk through your problems (don’t go through it alone), these are the people who are there for you:

The Samaritans

Pre and Post Natal Depression Support

Miscarriage Support