Tête-à-tête

It has been quite a long time since my last post. And yes, probably I did write the same words and I made the solemn oath to myself to write more often.

And yes, life happened and the blog got thrown right to the back seat together with my solemn oath and my will to write once a week or so.

Spring is finally here and this would be the third spring season on the blog. Funnily enough the daffodils pictured three years ago (http://thehappyboobclub.com/2013/03/17/the-first-daffodil/) are the same who decided to bloom first yet again three years later.

So, life happened. Finally I started my course on Early Years Education.  Finally I got a job working with children as an assistant. The place is fairly new and there are children from 6 months old to almost 5 years old.  Being an assistant I pivot from one room to the other  and I get to see the “ins and outs” of childcare and everything I am reading in books notes and lectures from my course I can put into practise – or not – during my work.

Needless to say I am learning so much and gaining so much experience that I feel I could write volumes. More than once I thought on writing on this blog about my day as a sort of cathartic experience but then again I am so intertwined with the confidentiality policy and child protection and child safeguarding that the idea soon became an illusion.

Not because of the name and shame – that of course would not happen – but because of the back-of-the-brain fear that my catharsis would fall into the wrong ears. Paranoid? Yes of course. I read “1984” quite a while back and it has become one of my desert island books and living with the world posed by Mr. Wells in the now is tough enough. Nowadays where EVERYTHING is readily available at the press of a button (or the slide of a finger) no matter how hard you try to hide, you will always, inevitably be found. Unless you decide to go wild and get rid of any means of communication even then you would not cease to exist in the virtual world.

Do not take me wrong. I think the advance in technology is beyond awesome and some good comes from it. I wonder – in the same way probably my parents did – what is ahead and what the future would be like for my son who uses a “Smartphone” as easy as I use a toothbrush. The innovations in technology are so embedded into us that we take it for granted and it is hard to go back to the good old paper letter instead of the fast email as a dear friend reminded me a few days ago when we were having a conversation using skype whilst she was in Argentina and I was in England.

This techno life we acquired – either by will, force and/or need – is unconsciously (or not) being transferred to children. Proof of this is not only the innumerable amount of parents who decide to switch from open dialog to Smartphone but the behaviours I see amongst children as small as 9/10 months old in my place of work.

As I said at the beginning being an assistant I hover around different rooms. Last week I had to assist in babies’ room and the babies were playing at length with different toys. Amongst those toys there were some that looked like a mobile phone made of wood with big coloured buttons and a mirrored surface (see picture, courtesy of http://www.toyshopuk.co.uk/brands/erzi).

Anyway, time came to serve tea and of course all babies were seated round a table. Guess what? Two or three babies were having tea, with a pseudo mobile phone by their plates and they were pressing buttons and time to time picking them up whilst eating. Until I intervened and removed the objects from the table which of course caused some discomfort.

This is a picture that is ingrained in my memories and honestly it hurts. It is one of those things that it does not matter how many times you blurt it out, it will still be there. It raises so many questions. My main question is if these babies when they grow old and are fully formed adults would understand the deep value and meaning of a dialog face to face with another breathing human being either across a table or side by side when they grow up without having a screen in their hands.

The interview

Last week I went to my local library to return some books that I
borrowed a few weeks back for me and some books for my son.  As I was
waiting for my son to pick up another book to take home, I was having
a good look around the free leaflets and magazines and I picked up a
tiny magazine called “The Parent Directory” for the spring/summer
period (yes, old issue) and it brings information about education,
local services, activities, etc. I picked up one so I could have a
quick read at home since at that very moment I would have to proceed
to  operation “let’s pick two books instead of 20”  with my son.

That afternoon as I was looking for something that would distract me,
I decided to have a proper look to “The Parent Directory”. First
impressions? Quite useful if it was the right time of the year to look
at it – that means “Spring/Summer” as advertised on the front cover,
not middle of October! – it provided me with a healthy jealous feeling
of all the things I could have done if only I knew. Then it was full
of advertisements of different schools, nurseries, entertainment and
many ballet academies.

There were a couple of advertisements that caught my attention – not
only the ones for ballet – but one who advertised tutoring for early
latin (never crossed my mind there was a “late latin”?), verbal, non
verbal reasoning, advice and interview techniques. Sounds mad? Well,
all this aimed for children between the ages of 7 and 13. Later on
that day I recall discussing this with somebody who went to several
schools, private ones and all this person had to say was “well, I was
tutored for interviews, because every school I went to had
interviews”.

In my life I never been – for as far as I can remember in my school
life – into an interview for a placement in a school. The one time I
remember going to a “meeting” (perhaps that was an “interview”?)  was
when I got my scholarship to see me through the last two years of my
primary education, with lunch included (yay!). All I can remember from
that occasion was the headmaster agreeing with my mother that she
would not have to pay and that my exercise books, notes and homework
would be under severe scrutiny from the teachers’ board once a month,
to keep my scholarship going. If the board finds some lack, then I
could kiss goodbye to my scholarship (and my lunch).

What I remember most clearly from that day is that I was given full
access to the school library so I could borrow the books I needed for
my course (yes, no money for books either, looking back I should have
been pleased I had money for exercise books and ink for the fountain
pen along with some other few school utensils). I was so happy! I
almost forgot all about the scholarship and what it involved. But I
was constantly reminded about my responsibility by my mother who with
all her patience would sit with me when she came back from work to
check my exercises , my notes, my drawings, make sure everything was
tip top on paper. After that first inspection, she would check with me
if my uniform was clean, shirts ironed, socks clean and shoes
polished. That is how my day ended from Monday to Friday.

After that and no interviews whatsoever – just application form and a
“this is going to be your next school” phrase from my mother –  I went
to another 2 schools, 2 universities (the entry to the last one
involved an interview, just so you know, but I was in my late 20’s and
it was a British University). Job wise I have had in my working life
(almost 30 years) 4 interviews (+ 2 inside the same company). And
guess what? I never ever had any tutoring.

I am wondering if my son will have to be prepared for interviews when
he comes to that age. Or perhaps interviews are just for the upper
crusts who are going to get into upper class (and beyond) schools? If
the interview is a way to know the child and the parents (providing
the observation of the law with regards of child protection) should
the interview be done with the family/next of kin/guardian?

Perhaps my ignorance/lack-of-interviews-when-a-child prompts me to
think that this interview thing is just bonkers. On the other hand,
perhaps interviews are the future, because in this society all is
competition and only who could sell him/herself properly will get the
most chances. If the latter is the case I am deeply saddened because
slowly but surely children are stopping being children, without being
“interviewed”.

Is it really dead people? A 3 minutes conversation

A few days ago I went to a very interesting talk at The Waldorf School of South West London. The speaker was a lady called Erika Grantham and the talk was entitled “Doing not talking”, aimed to parents and school tutors for kindergarten. No need to say the environment was ever so peaceful relaxing and very welcoming. The thought that in that same room children spend their days made me somehow jealous.

All the colours were soft and warm, there was a nature table with natural flowers and hanging from the ceiling a beautiful weeping willow branch, with some of the ends covered in green, symbolising the spring buds. As you can imagine we sat in tiny chairs in a circle, and perhaps the mood of the room was so calming whoever entered automatically pulled a couple of gears down and spoke very softly and calm.

Regarding our speaker, Erika, she was quietly sitting down, facing all of us, observing and I think enjoying herself with the surroundings as we were. How can I describe her, a tiny woman oozing the strength of a titan, and at the same time that lovely gran from the fairy tales that you wish you could have her as your next door neighbour. With a strong German accent she opened the talk and her words still resound. She spoke about the will, the fantasy and the imagination in a child and on how nowadays all three of them are manipulated by the comforts of modern high tech living.

From this talk and particularly the part of imagination, I remember quite well an episode when I was working regarding this subject.

It was a very cold evening, and we were waiting for a train that was delayed. That train was coming from Disneyland, and I was prepared to greet grumpy parents, overtired children and anxious travellers. But nothing prepared me for the story I’m about to tell you.

As I was saying, I was waiting for the train to arrive; I was informed that a wheelchair passenger was on board, so I was there on the platform with the ramp ready to be deployed as soon as the train stopped. The train arrived, doors were opened and I started to deploy the ramp for this passenger.

To my surprise, the first passengers to come down the ramp were two boys, who were obviously excited to be back. As you can imagine I kept an eye on these two – who were no more than 7 years old – because I did not see an adult coming after them. So I just stood there, with the ramp fully opened and waiting for the wheelchair passenger to come along.

These two boys were talking between them, and they were dangerously close to the edge of the platform. Obviously they had not thought about the danger – at that age they are not fully conscious of it – and they were quite persistent trying to look underneath the train, and close to the rails. It is worth mentioning that the gap between the train and the platform is quite substantial and the depth of this gap is substantial as well.

I was a bit uncomfortable watching these two so close, so carelessly close to the edge so I decided to walk towards them, you know in a very casual way. As soon as I approached, they came to me, hesitating and talking. Finally after a discussion of “no, you ask” “no you do it””you ask go on” the question came out.

– “Is it really dead people under the train?” blurted one of them.

I have to say, I have heard, I have been asked  so many things when I was working, that I could write a catalogue with details and even so probably I would miss a few. But this question? NEVER. Imagine my shock when they asked me, I simply could not believe for one second that 2 seven year old boys were asking me that.

– How about you move with me away from the edge and then I tell you? I said, calmly and with a smile on my face as if the question was the most natural thing to ask.

– But if we move – said one of them – we won’t be able to see the dead people!

– Well, I’m afraid it is dangerous to be so close to the edge, so please come with me and I tell you all about it.

They agreed, perhaps under the illusion the dead people would emerge from underneath the train and grab them. Although that sounded like the right thing to say  to get them away from the edge of the platform– thinking back on reflection – at the time it did not cross my mind to say it. I did see some excitement in their eyes waiting for the promised answer. But my answer was not an answer, was another question.

– What makes you think they are dead people under the train?

– Because in this game we are playing the dead people hide under the train – started one of the boys

– And then – said the other – you have to kill them all!

– Yes, yes, and the more you kill the more dead people appear and then you have to kill them!! – said the one who asked the question in the first place.

All I managed to say is “Ohh….I see” completely astonished.

At that same time the wheelchair passenger was making his way down the ramp and who I think it was the father called them and off they went. But before they went, they did ask again.

– So, are there dead people then?

– Josh, Matt, come back here right now! – Said the man

– I was folding back the ramp and I answered them “Of course not! There is not such a thing”.

The disappointment in their faces was beyond words to describe it. They went back to the adults who were getting ready to leave the platform with all their bags and suitcases whilst I was making my way back to the office to clock out and go home. Nothing that happened that day could top this last event.

Needless to say this “3 minute conversation” still very clear in my mind because it did shock me and every time I recall it still does. And after listening to lovely Erika and all her wealth of knowledge I started to comprehend – understand is not the right word in this case – as to why these two boys posed such a question.  The first thing that comes to my mind is “their imagination is corroded” by these new games and paraphernalia that surrounds children nowadays.  Fair point, children do have to know that those games exist, violence is a real deal, and life is not as rosy as we, parents, expect it to be. We, parents, do our best to keep life as rosy as possible, but the fact remains; reality is not a soft pillow, rolling hills with green grass and perfectly blue skies.

But then again, isn’t childhood what it is all about? Blue skies, rolling hills with green grass and soft pillows? So, why corrupt it so soon and so fast?

Christmas is gone….

 

It was Christmas day (finally!!). It was my little one’s second Christmas, but I feel it was the first one.

Why?

Because this Christmas he was more “aware” of what was going on. I don’t think he can fully understand what was going on, particularly me going mental from one corner of the kitchen to the other and moving him away from the oven every time I wanted to check on the turkey.

We started the day “as usual as possible” giving him his usual breakfast. And then, the opening of the presents left under the tree. That was a marvel on its own for him I think. I could see on his face the wonder of ripping paper off to discover a wood train or a puzzle (it was a very conscious decision not to buy thousands of presents, just be ruthless with ourselves and go for a few things we knew he would like).

I think the present’s session did exhaust him, because after that he went straight for a nap, a long nap of an hour and a half. Enough time for me to tidy up the front room, set up the table and start cooking. Ah, and get changed into something more civilised and suitable for the occasion. I have to confess, this last thing – getting changed – was a whole challenge for me. Normally used to go around in casual clothes to go to work, then with my uniform at work and then when I get home get changed again into tracksuits and t-shirts, you know when you just get so used to do something and be a certain way, sometimes you forget and continue on the same routine despite the date and the occasion. But somehow I thought to do the effort, as my mother would say “for the picture”.

My little one woke up from his nap – just in time for the cooking – timing – frenzy kick off – and somehow everything went so smooth I can hardly believe. As I was cooking/peeling/chopping he brought some toys and played happily; no need to mention I ended up with all of his toys in the kitchen in less than an hour. But that is a blessing in disguise considering he did not try to help me to cook on this particular occasion.

We had lunch all together and the brussels sprouts where a hit for him. He loved them, and the carrots and the parsnips. No turkey for him – he gave it a miss – but the rest was a whole feast in itself, and that is not mentioning his devotion to Yorkshire puddings. As we ended completely stuffed, he was ready to carry on playing and running around the flat.

Time for the Queen’s speech! And that was the only time I turned the TV on. He was absolutely besotted for 2 minutes. Then he started to try to turn it off, either by using his fake remote control (yes, an old remote control saved countless discussions!) or the on/off button. I have to say I found it hilarious to say the least!! The Queen’s speech gone, TV off, so we carry on playing for the rest of the afternoon.

The day ended as it normally ends, with his dinner, some quiet play, bath and bed. He was – I want to think – a happy boy for the day.

As for me, I am happy, contented. If I look back a year ago, I remember myself being lost, confused, trying to get into terms of this thing of being a mum, trying to understand my son, who at the time was so small and fragile. I can see now that my son was not the only one who was fragile; I can see now I was fragile as well, trying to stand up – or at least trying to hold my head up whilst holding the most precious gift life could ever give me.

It is fair to say that as my little one grows in strength I do so as well. I think we are both growing and learning from each other, following the natural flow of life, I think trying to understand less and starting to enjoy each moment more.

And that can only be a good thing.