Ducks Don’t Hold Grudges. Oh, and watch out for the ninja.

I’m all up for freedom of expression, but sometimes my girls manage to leave me totally lost for words.(ok, this blog post suggests otherwise)

It’s been an awfully long day and I’m very tired, so when I wandered bleary eyed through the door 11 1/2 hours after wandering out bleary eyed this morning I wasn’t expecting to be greeted by this!

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Umm… Yeah. So apparently she’s now a ninja.

I guess I shouldn’t expect any less. After all, I decided to be a frog yesterday (which continues to go well. I left today with stuff still outstanding and instead of being stressed out, I realized that it will still be there tomorrow and no-one will die – for those of you who are raising an eyebrow at this point, it all becomes clear in this post).

It just reminds me that the girls have developed the quirky sense of self that I always wanted them to have. Being girly is fine if that’s what you want to be, alternatively wear a top hat and monocle, or nab daddy’s hat and become a ninja until its bedtime.

I’m writing this sitting with them as they settle down for bed and the pair of them have opted to read to themselves instead of a story from me. It’s just another sign that they’re growing up and learning to love the world of imagination that books let you get lost in. I hope they never lose that and by adulthood, beanpole will be just as inclined to dress up like a ninja for the day on a whim.

But on to what I had originally intended to blog about before I was confronted by my eight year old assassin…

Ducks. They don’t hold grudges (technically, neither do frogs, but for the sake of this metaphor lets stick with the feathery pond creature). Having started to let things go, it’s become quite addictive and I was thrown another literary curve ball today with the statement “ducks, they don’t hold a grudge”. Are ducks very stressed? I have no idea, I guess they might be if you started to talk about hoisin sauce in a threatening manner to them… But in general, they swim about, occasionally have a jostle with another duck who’s barging in on their bread time then they swim off as if nothing had happened. They don’t actively avoid the bread stealing duck. They don’t shun the other duck for being a bread pirate. They quack their piece and its done.

I’m not a duck today. I’m still busy being a frog. I’ve been sitting on my lily pad contemplating the ducks though.

I realized that actually, this ability to step back from my racing panic thoughts isn’t something new. A while back when I was in a less than pleasant place, I had a bit of an epiphany whilst driving the car. I remember it clearly – I had just turned onto a roundabout and was freaking out about something that was worrying me and I just heard myself inside my head tell me to calm down and stop worrying as it can’t possibly be so bad that I need to crash the car and the panic went away. It felt like an hour going around that roundabout, but when I turned off I consciously realized that I was actually capable of coping with more than I gave myself credit for.

Within six months of that epiphany, I had got my life more together and whilst I have still been prone to fits of panic and self control to the point of insanity, I have maintained an inner monologue that means I can carry on for the most part. My goal is now to keep calm while I’m at it. Calm? Ok, no not calm, that suggests just suppressing everything. Pragmatic.

So, a pragmatic frog who seeks to let go of grudges.

Ribbit.

Why being a Frog is better than a Prince(ss)

I feel very calm. I don’t often feel calm and it’s a bit weird. It’s the week of the mocks, the actual exam module results come out next week, my boss is away leaving me in charge of a major bit of school software and we’re neck deep in coursework. I shouldn’t be calm, I should be passing out with stress.

It’s just that I’ve discovered stoicism and it’s hit a raw nerve with me. I feel I ought to explain the frog reference, but bear with me for just a little bit longer. The concept of stoicism is to look at situations that cause us emotional distress with a realistic eye. How bad could this actually be? Am I being irrational about how bad this actually is? And even if it isn’t an ideal situation, do I actually have the power to change it? Well, in a nutshell (there’s a fair bit more).

But now for the amphibian metaphor…

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I have been a princess for far too long. I had hugely high expectations of myself and those around me and was (ok, am) massively disappointed when people, including me fall short of these. I considered myself personally responsible for the actions or outcomes of those around me, and most importantly, I clung (cling) to familiar routines and places to create a sense of security. As such, I have lived in a constant panic that the throne might be moved from under me and I will fall flat on my arse.

Instead, I’m aspiring to be a frog. I’m sitting on a lily pad and sunning myself. While I’m here, I’ll assess what’s going on in the pond and when the time is right, I’ll either dive into the pool or hop onto another lily pad to do some more rational assessing of my surroundings.

Frogs don’t obsess over maintaining a kingdom. Frogs aren’t obsessed with constantly looking like the right kind of frog – as frogs go, squishy is about as good as it gets. Frogs don’t try to control those around them – if a stalk swoops, they take evasive action (or get eaten), but they can’t influence the stalk; if a fly lands close, they eat it. Frogs don’t have expectations of their surroundings – if the lily sinks, there are plenty more.

Being a princess is high maintenance and bad for the blood pressure (as my GP has informed me on several occasions). Being a frog gives you the power to let things go.

What good will it do to worry about the exam results now? I can’t change them. I did my absolute best to provide the best learning environment possible.
What’s the worst that could happen if they’re bad? I could lose my grade 1 teacher status. People would think badly of me.
Why am I so scared of that? Why is being ‘top of the class’ so important to me? Is this a need for approval? And if so, if striving for a seemingly unattainable goal is the only route to approval, then is it time to shift the goal posts? And is it in my power to do so? Because if I have no power to change it, then worrying won’t make a jot of difference and it could be a lot worse.

So, for now, I’m a frog and it’s time to ride the lily pad.

A quick thank you to a new follower. I most definitely am becoming a happster. Ribbit.

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Dealing with doubt by impressing yourself

I’ve been reading a book on how positive thinking can actually make you even more depressed than usual. (How very British!) but actually, I’ve put this theory into practice today.

The idea is that you consider what is happening, what you think you want to do and consider why you are too scared to get off your backside and do it. When you think about it rationally, the worst that could happen is usually not as bad as what you are imagining, and actually the human condition can survive a hell of a lot.

This isn’t about the pursuit of happiness, but contentment, or the absence of unhappiness.

To be content, we need to stop thinking we must have everything. A term coined “musterbation”.

And for now I must stop twittering on about the latest psychology study I’m reading and show you my little project of the evening: My CV

Nothing like listing what you’ve actually achieved to create a sense of contentment.

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Mock the week – practice exam survival for teachers

It’s mock exam week for our year 10s and 12s and I’m not sure who’s more stressed, me or them.

Being one of those women who fully expected my A level students to have taken heed of my advice and spent half term revising and preparing for the week ahead, I had to forcefully prevent myself from twitching when I asked to collect in the practice papers that they had been given and was greeted with a collection of ‘oh I only did it yesterday’ and ‘I forgot that you wanted me to compare it to the mark scheme’. I know that it is ultimately their exam. I know I can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink.

BUT.

I have to confess to being a total control freak. I can’t stand to see them waste this opportunity to learn. I want to do it for them. I want to drip feed them so they get it. I am personally wounded by each incident of lacklustre apathy.

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These are the rantings of a teacher on the edge. Maybe. Or, these are the rantings of someone who loves learning and finds it difficult to understand why someone would not want to do their best, go a little bit extra, get that teacher’s pet award. Was I always like this? I remember being a total nightmare at their age. A pierced and tattooed punk/ goth who insisted that she wanted to be a fashion designer (and who later ended up studying computer science and being a software developer…. ). But despite rebelling against my perceived normality with bizarre hair and body decoration, I have always hankered after academic achievement. I have studied in a variety of forms for 33 years and still strive for my best (if I’m honest, I would have been devastated if my recent review had been anything less than a grade 1. In person, I would never admit that.).

I’m actually not studying for anything for the first time in years and I miss it. I have a lot of other things to juggle now, and I’m still learning new programming languages and planning my next book. Oh, and teaching. I love teaching, which I guess is why I find it so hard when my students don’t take ownership of their own learning and give it as much enthusiasm and passion as I have for the subject.

Maybe I’m deluded. I don’t care whether they love the subject with a passion and study hard because they need to learn more, or whether they despise a unit and aim for top marks because they’re going to prove me bloody well wrong. What I object to is apathy. We are the result of millions of years of evolution, we really ought to act like it.

When you fight monsters, you must be careful not to become one : talking about Anonymous in the classroom

When students pop up with the trademark of Anonymous on their desktops, I start to wonder whether it’s time to have a real discussion about it.

I’ve just sat and watched the BBC Storyville program about the group and was determined not to approach it with any pre-conceived ideas. Except I did if I’m totally honest. I see myself as an Internet savvy individual and someone who generally knows their stuff having worked and studied computer science and IT related areas for years. But, I am someone who has only come across Anonymous from the negative standpoint, and certainly whilst I find a certain amount of 4Chan amusing, they regularly push my envelope of decency over the table and into a puddle of dank water.

So why am I back to considering discussing the role of Anonymous with my students again? Because this program made me stop and think. Really think about the movement and why this might appeal to the younger generation and what this may mean for them.

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Is this now something that we ought to be discussing as part of PSHE? Not whether they should take part or not – that is a whole other discussion – but the history of the movement, and some of the lessons which can be learnt from what happens when people act as a group to oppose something that is perceived to be immoral. I am aware that there is no way I could show my students the actual program (the language used was enough to make even me raise an eyebrow), but it raised so many discussion points and the involvement of the movement in the recent Arab Spring to provide a means of communication just hasn’t been reported. Why is that?

It’s almost a lesson in the effect that the media has on our impression of groups in itself. I still can’t morally accept that a DNS attack is acceptable on a personal level, and the jump between memes and activism seems a very big jump (although humour is a good way to propagate an idea), but I can see why people who have strong beliefs would want to use the Internet to create a space for protest. In a way, that’s what I’m doing here – I’ve created a little bit of the Internet for my own thoughts, uncensored and laid bare for whoever happens to see them.

The title of this post is actually a quote from one of the ‘hacktivists’ when debating where Anonymous will go next. The offshoots of the group have created some seriously bad press for them in the media (especially in the UK), and the feelings linked with the group are often uneasiness with a group that attacks people when in fact it seems that the soul of the group is actually promoting free speech whatever your opinion may be.

This is not a new phenomenon.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – Voltaire [François Marie Arouet] (1694–1778)

For now, I think I need some time to mull over the questions popping up all over the place and work out a way to integrate a balanced discussion into the classroom. Is that possible? I don’t know.

Horrible Homework and the Sunday Night Panic

Picture the conversation last weekend at the start if half term:

Me: “Do you have any homework?”
Tiny Pants & Bean Pole “Nooooooo”
Me: “really??”
Cue protests at my disbelief and slurs on my trust of their commitment to education.

Now fast forward to an hour ago as I ready myself for my own return to work and their return to school…. “But our homework has to be in tomorrow!!!”…. This is the homework which magically appeared today and is suddenly MY fault for not letting them do it because we were out swimming, feeding ducks and going to the cinema.

So here we are with two children sitting at the dining table in homework hell. With me and the long suffering husband taking it in turns to refuse snacks, redirect the wandering one back to the table, and mention to the beanpole that she isn’t actually going to die from doing a bit of maths.

So what joys of education do we have this evening?

Well, tiny pants is writing a book report and seems quite enthused. We have one of her favourite poetry books out and I’ve given her a list of questions that she has to answer to make a good report. She seems to be following the instructions and aside from the occasional “how do you spell…” she’s got her head down.

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The bean pole is a whole other story. She’s on maths and we have some ‘instructional issues’. As in she has an inability to actually follow any. She’s been given a page of shopping receipts which she is using for long addition (kudos to her teacher for implementing some constructivist learning techniques, but who was the nail varnish for Mr C?!). The long suffering husband is making an attempt to guide her through the process and is getting increasingly flustered by her lack of willing participation and insistence on telling him that her way is the right way.

I probably didn’t help by taking a photo of her enthusiasm for homework.

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So, how do we get past this homework block?

My initial thoughts were based on shouting and other military drills, but actually I think the long suffering husband has got it right. He’s letting her do it her way (the teacher in me is screaming that it’s not the right way, but it is her way and I have to let her do it the way she’s being taught). He’s just sitting quietly next to them reading a magazine and offering occasional help.

This is why I’m teaching other people’s children and not my own. I have the patience of bloody saints when it comes to other people’s moody teenagers, but cannot fathom why my own offspring just won’t sit down an learn.

AARRGH!

Five Minute Friday: What Mama Did

Alright, I’m two days late for this and I have to write this in five minutes….

What did my mum do that made her my mum?

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She worked. She worked so hard from the minute I was born until, well, now. When I was a toddler she went back to college to re-take her A levels and then got a part time job working in finance at the local college. Then as I went through school she studied even more and became a qualified accountant, but it didn’t stop there. While I stropped my way through high school, she studied for a business degree and gained a first. Since then, she has run her own department in the same college that she joined as a junior when I was four (I’m 33 now) and has consistently shown me through her actions that Success only comes before Work in the dictionary.

I’m proud of my mum. She gave me my work ethic and drive to achieve my goals.

I’m also proud of myself for not inheriting some of her OCD tendencies around the house which means that my kids are allowed to get dirty because ultimately they’re washable. I could probably do with a bit more of the ‘house proud’ gene. I’m not as sensible as my mum, I’m not as successful, but I’m me and I’m me partially due to her example. So, thanks mum. Keep up the good work.

Five Minute Friday

Mum, your roller skating is epic! Oh yes.

Saturday has officially become family day. We will no longer spend the day deciding what to do, ending up actually spending half the day slobbing out then spending a fortune on soft play because of our lack of inspiration. We will have a plan. We will spend rime together. We will have fun!

It turns out that now we’ve swapped our gym membership from the posh club to the local council run one (half the price, but way more child orientated), we not only have unlimited swimming and the kids swimming lessons included and entrance to the local soft play, we also have the weekly roller disco included!

Now, in September I was confined to several square feet having been stuck on crutches for months after dislocating my pelvis and knackering several discs in my lower back. This has meant a long slow recovery to being able to do anything that verges on exciting and we started off slowly in January with a weekly swim on Saturday mornings. While tiny pants had a swimming lesson and beanpole went playing on the diving boards with the long suffering husband, I’ve been able to devote my time to treading water watching them all and hiding in the steam room when, after lessons finish they bring out the giant inflatable for the pool. (Total kudos to the swimming pool though for knowing how to keep hundreds of kids supremely happy for several hours)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve stepped this up a notch by taking the kids to the roller disco, which considering my advice to avoid any kind of impact sport perhaps is a little foolhardy, but as long as I don’t fall over, I’m good. Actually, I’m more than good. I’m having a total ball. This has in a few short weeks taken me right back to going to the roller discos at our assembly hall as a teenager and racing around on skates trying to impress the boys. And to top it off I’m doing something that has totally impressed the kids – they never knew mummy was a skater (I’ve not mentioned that I learnt to skate fast because as a drunk teenager, you don’t care when you fall over after getting air over the speed bumps in the road….).

But this time, we have the added bonus of it returning my legs back to me from the wibbley mess that they have become. In the past year, the lack of movement combined with some serious comfort eating have not done me any good. The gym is not my friend – I dislike the walking balls of testosterone that gaze lovingly at themselves (and each other?!) as they lift heavy things and make faces, I equally dislike the twiglet women who spend hours on the stepper and clearly spent their school life playing netball or athletics.

To add to the excitement this week, I bought my first pair of roller skates since I was 14. Not the roller blades or quad skates that the kids now have with big plastic buckles and shell, but bright blue retro 80s skates. Comfy skates with laces. Skates with bright yellow wheels. Just looking at them makes me happy.

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English Friday Food = Battered

No, not beaten to within an inch of it’s life, and not always fish and chips, but some of my favorite comfort food has always had a generous helping of crispy coating, or for today’s toad in the hole, a cakey, crispy battery bed.

We’re not allowed to call it toad in the hole here, beanpole and tiny pants object to eating toads (fair play), so it has been christened ‘sausage cake’ and must be served with cauliflower cheese and green vegetables. They’ve been known to eat servings of this that adults would struggle with.

It’s just started snowing here and we all need warming up, so to hell with the calories, we’re having sausage cake for tea!

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With the batter made, the oven goes on at top everything on degrees and I am going traditional on this one and putting great hulks of beef dripping into a baking tin. Whilst the oven heats up, I put a whole cauliflower into water to boil (this way it doesn’t go watery). This was a trick that my mum taught me. You then put it in the bowl and use a fork to break it up – no more messing about fishing bits out of the saucepan.

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On the advice of generations before me, the most important thing about decent crispy batter is to get the tin and the oil (or fat) really flipping hot before you put in the sausages or mixture. So in the tin goes while the oven finishes heating to solar temperatures (about 230 C). Once it’s hot hot hot, take the tin out and pour in the batter (it should sizzle) then quickly stick the sausages on top and stick the whole lot back into the mega hit oven.

And about 30 minutes later, it’s ready to come out. I would have taken a photo of the finished thing, but they ate it before I got a chance!

Fabric Drawer Saves The Day (tales of going out on a school night)

It’s not often that I go out with the grown ups to an actual pub, but that is exactly what happened last night. It seemed to slip my mind that I would have charge of my two lovely midgets for the whole of today and the pink wine flowed along with the conversation. At some point my long suffering husband arrived to guide us giddy ladies home by which point I was fairy sure I’d overdone it a bit.

This was further confirmed by a restless night wondering why my bed was spinning around the room and my six year old stroking my cheek as I slumped back onto the sofa for the second time after running off to hurl in the bathroom.

For a while we were saved by Cartoon Network and the movie channel (Pirates in an Adventure With Scientists is spectacularly funny), but no parent can avoid the actual act of parenting for long and whilst tiny pants is happy sitting in her chair & blanket fort with a bag of pencils and a forest of paper, the beanpole needs some entertaining.

In an attempt to be productive, we dragged out the fabric drawer which is still stuffed with coloured fleece after my summer of imagination toy making and embarked on her trying for the crafting Brownie Badge.

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One of the parts of this is to make something using a specialist technique and as they have lost their Brown Owl toy, she’s on a mission to make a replacement using appliqué. (There will be a bit of parental assistance here, but I’m leaving her to do the majority)..

We started off by cutting out the basic pieces and placing them on each other to give us a guide.

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And so we had the makings of Brown Owl:

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It was now up to madam to use embroidery thread to stitch on the eyes using blanket stitch…

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It might be the effects of the mega hangover, but everyone seems really contented and quiet this afternoon, despite me being a rather ineffectual parent.

Updates to follow….