Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Lion Named Cecil

The internet is buzzing to the hashtag #CeciltheLion, so the topic barely needs an introduction. Butchered by American dentist Walter Palmer, a father of two from Minnesota. the story is abhorrent and distressing, but also profoundly informative on our views on humanity and man's place within the animal kingdom.

The world wide web has galvanised itself as judge and jury and I suspect despite his apology Walter Palmer's days as a dentist are over. According to The Mail he has lied about the location of an killed bear he hunted in the past, and further allegations continue to surface. He has apologised - but his apology further highlights the bizarre way we categorise animals in our attempt to understand our place in the world. Palmer said he didn't realise that the lion had a name or that he was breaking the law by killing an animal that had been coaxed away from the game reserve it lived on.

It's this response that has had such a profound impact on me.

What is it about a wild animal with a name?

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Survival - top tips for getting through to September!

The summer holidays. Those nine weeks that loom large after the Christmas frenzy dies down. And yes, I did say nine, although I guess if you want to be pedantic it's a couple of days under nine .... but seriously, who is splitting hairs here? It's week four and they have all gone to bed early after yet another fight and it could just as well be week one given the scary amount of time yet to go!

Don't get me wrong, I love my kids. And I would love to spend quality time with them over the summer. And we do achieve it at times. I just wish they liked each other - at least a little bit!

I did have a plan. Sort of. It's not as if you bury your head in the sand and pretend two months a year don't happen, they loom large once Easter is over and necessitate a Category 5 level of planning. But the Great British Weather hasn't helped and I'm stuck!

I remember my first summer holiday as a mum. Thrilled to have a full two months to spend with my (then eight month old) little boy every single day was savoured. Having returned to work when he was a mere twelve weeks old (the archaic maternity law then stated that 14 weeks was my maximum time off - although my employer would have gladly let me go indefinitely for daring to fall pregnant in my first year of work!) any time off was incredibly valuable. The easiest of my four children by several miles (and some) we had a truly epic summer. Travelling to stay with friends, days out, quiet days at home, trips together - it was a really special two months and perhaps set the bar a little too high. Because let's face it, the reality for most of us is that the key word for the school summer holidays isn't so much excitement as SURVIVAL.

So for those equally trapped, struggling to create some precious memories out of a quagmire of frustration, here are some top tips!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Why the best is no longer good enough

There have been a few interesting articles on education in social media of late. Four year olds saddled with striving for targets at school which nearly half of them fail to meet, the depressing news that we have permitted primary education to get into a "terrible mess", that homework damages our kids and that our teenagers are more stressed than ever before, many suffering mental health problems as a direct result of being put under far too much pressure.

Superficially they might seem to carry the same message - and they do, but it's not the one you might think.

Sadly the underlying problem here, that virtually all parents are complicit in, is the nurturing of excessively high expectations. The modern trend to quantify, assess, regulate and scrutinise is highly commendable in many respects, but we have lost our privacy, spontaneity, professionalism, confidence and resilience in the process. It goes without saying that there is no privacy in today's world. But the insidious consequence of looking too hard and knowing too much is a vortex of expectation escalation. "Can do better" is expected, because surely everyone can always improve? But if improvement is always possible, what is preventing the best being achieved? Thus the tinkering of the system persists, because there must be a way to do better, something much surely be "wrong"? But this perfection aspiration is killing our schools and stifling our children. Sometimes, the best is just not enough. 

Friday, 19 June 2015

Pack up your troubles

It's been a while. We have been rather busy..... 

Four kids, three schools and the end of the school year does not a peaceful time make! I barely seem to catch my breath from one day to the next right now, and my eyes are firmly glued to the prize that is two weeks time, when three of my brood will finish for the holidays. Managing the end of term for one is an absolute breeze - except perhaps when you enjoy the holidays a little too much and forget that one child still needs to leave the house by 8am. Easily done!!

I wrote recently about the difficulties faced by families coping with an array of symptoms- often invisible but nonetheless debilitating, but to which no health professional appears willing to attach a name. That was our reality. The day-to-day self-justification, scrutiny and lack of coordinated care.

Until now.

This week, our label - our confirmation, passport and vindication, our acknowledgement, acceptance, understanding and formal diagnosis dropped on my doormat. 

The letter was not long, but I could not take my eyes off four key words. 

Unable to read, let alone process anything beyond this, I sat for some time just staring. Because not only did we now have a diagnosis, but something truly significant had occurred. Members of the medical profession had actually got off the fence, carefully considered all the information available, and made a decision. That in itself is pretty phenomenal, but that decision - in one single action - removes so much frustration, despair and confusion. 

So what does this mean? 

It means, I don't feel I need to explain that my son feels sick most mornings, and suffers frequent headaches. Instead, we can move on to how to help him feel better. I no longer have to justify pre-emptive care to ensure my youngest son and daughter can continue to join in as much as possible in school, not overdoing things one day only to wipe themselves out for a week. Now instead we can now help them pace themselves carefully. It means basic monitoring will hopefully limit future pain, that my children won't need to learn at age 40 that things they took for granted will be taken away from them. And it means that I am vindicated. Because sticking your neck out for something you believe can be extremely difficult, despite support in high places. Our local hospital has vehemently resisted the verdict from GOSH for two years, making me feel helpless, and marginalised.

You see, having a diagnosis can be the most positive step forward. It's like gaining a suitcase, a suitcase large enough to hold everything you have been juggling, managing and coping with, that you can pack it all in to. And the very fact that it fits so neatly seems to make those burdens lighter, the cumulative whole being less than the individual parts combined.

Because, after all, you can go places with a suitcase.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

The difference between teaching and learning

There is a news article doing the rounds reporting how Australia's Prime Minister "doesn't get why kids should learn to code". Further scrutiny however reveals the glaring misunderstanding is not that Tony Abbott fails to appreciate the value of a basic ability to code, but the fundamental misunderstanding common across the world over not what kids should learn, but how.

Not one of my four children have been taught to code. Yet three of them can, and one is extremely adept. For me, coding is on the event horizon of education - or Education (capital E), because we still misunderstand how children learn and persist in seeking to quantify, quality check and present a body of information to be relayed to the next generation as if Gladstonian Liberalism were still the cutting edge of education planning. I believe the Coding question will define how the next generation of children learn, and what is fascinating is that we had the answer all along.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Somewhere over the rainbow...

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Kate. She spent much of her time playing with her dolls, imagining the day when she would have real babies of her own. As that little girl grew up, she spent most of her free time baby-sitting, with babies and children, making plans for the future.

But you know what they say about planning too far in advance!

I always wanted a large family, ideally 4 or 5 children. However I hadn’t bargained on the chronic health and developmental issues my brood share between them - or our shared infertility. We managed to delude ourselves that #3 would be free of gastro issues and were utterly in denial over our second son’s Autism at that point, but when #3 turned out to be #3 AND #4 we realised we had as much as we could cope with. Possibly more at times….. It was a no-brainer deciding that we are done!!

That, however is different from "feeling" you're done. I do really miss the tiny baby thing, wish like hell that I could do the early months again with any of them without reflux and pain, I feel really cheated on that score. The constant screaming was a bit wearing when everyone else seemed to get at least 10 minutes a day cuddling their new babies - and unless you have survived on less than 4 hours sleep for months on end you won’t appreciate how much we were “surviving” rather than living.

Friday, 24 April 2015

No diagnosis? What's the Big Deal?

Today is Undiagnosed Children's Day. And yes, every day is a particular awareness day now it seems, and yes, it's Allergy Awareness Week too and I already blogged about that on my Recipe Blog.... but this one, this day, really REALLY matters.

You would be forgiven for thinking a diagnosis is an expected and usually almost inevitable end point when you or your child is referred for consideration of a collection of symptoms, often present since birth.  Indeed when you are first sent to hospital with your baby you have high expectations of enlightenment from the medical profession, and although no one seeks a "label" to define their child, it's a commonly accepted fact that a diagnosis in the UK is a passport to services, support, understanding and a pathway to appropriate supportive - and preventative care.

So you might be shocked to learn that  it is not given similar status by Consultants and health professionals. Indeed, there is a culture in this country of diagnosis avoidance, a pretence that by hiding from the logical, avoiding the obvious or avoiding searching for the unexpected they are in some way leaving doors open to you or your child.
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