Don’t Strive for Perfectionism

I wrote a truly exciting blog earlier on my rather more professional site about whether revision is worth the hassle, I even did a video to go with it. I spend most of my professional life advising kids to chip away at tasks to make them seem less daunting. My tutor duties are definately skewed more towards skills and confidence than knowledge – often kids arrive knowing the end point, but have no idea how to transition from rabbit in the headlights to practical students. Much of my advice centres around doing your best and rewarding yourself for progress.

I am of course The Actual Worst when it comes to taking on too much and demanding perfection of myself. I don’t think I’m alone here – in fact, I’d put money on the vast majority of teachers being massive perfectionists who tie themselves in knots over the slightest thing.

Take for instance my tutoring rating. I currently sit at 94% (it’s like a centile, 6% are rated higher). Now, do I see me higher than 93% of tutors and celebrate? Noooo. I work out how to outdo the 6%.

Similarly, of my 294 lessons (IKR! How did that happen?!), 2 have been rated 4/5 which has ruined my perfect score.

This haunts me.

This really does haunt me. I even have a tattoo to remind me & bring me back to reality. 3 hours of scraping needles & ink into my skin to have a permanent reminder etched on me that I’m “Good Enough”.

This attitude is celebrated in many schools as having Highest Expectations or Always Learning. Except this is a huge mistake. Fostering a love of learning yield far greater results than scaring them into retaining facts. Fretting about missing that 0.02 is an indicator of serious anxiety issues. Encouraging this behaviour in kids is plain wrong.

We are currently raising a binary generation of people like me and people checking out entirely. The sheer volume of kids with anxiety shold be ringing alarm bells so loud that you can’t hear the lunch bell. I saw an insight of this when my girls did their SATS over the past few years

– Beanpole worked hard and chased down every mark. This was a 10 year old who knew how to interrogate a past paper. Extra lessons were attended, lunchtimes missed in lieu of revision. She acted like a 16 year old with GCSEs and would heed none of our advice to relax.

– TinyPants made herself physically sick worrying over the marks that she struggled with. She was awared no extra time despite the aching joints of Ehlers Danlos rearing their ugly head. In the end, after 6 months of revision stress she wrote “I DON’T CARE” in 3 inch letters across her exam paper. Her summer school report was a simple “Not High School Ready”. She died her hair pink & left primary school making some interesting hand gestures.

In both cases, we have been exceedingly lucky with their high school who took the pressure down and have given them a breather. TinyPants still refuses point blank to read anything for pleasure and “you just haven’t found the right book” is met with stubborn refusal. Why? Because she was forced to pick apart texts for a year, identifying modal fucking verbs instead of fanning her creative spark with literature. I will never forgive Gove for stamping out a love of reading for so many kids.

But I digress. My point was that we are teaching kids that nothing short of perfection will do all the way through life and that extreme stress just means you’re working hard enough – complain about it & you’re a snowflake (spend 10 minutes on twitter to confirm this). Despite wrapping it up in the “keep failing until you get it right” posters, nothing they are taught backs up this theory – don’t fail your SATS or you’re not High School Ready, pass your GCSES or you can’t get into College, get AAB in your A Levels or you can’t get into University… Ad infinitum.

Fast forward to the 38 year old & it’s still going. Pass your job probation, ace the appraisal observation, get the highest tutor rating, the only disability is a bad attitude! (barf), what do you mean you can’t work and parent and sort the house whist on a constant slow release of morphine that you forget to take on time because the neuro drugs have melted the intelligent part of your brain??? Brain fog is no excuse for stopping. Keep up. No-one is irreplaceable.

My unique state is part nature, part nuture. My adrenal dysfunction likes to fool me into thinking that the harmless lesson observation, or coffee with a friend is on a par with being eaten by a tiger. Nuture wise my wonderful, but ultimately messed up mother spent my entire childhood comparing me to fictional kids who were way more intelligent than me and who grew up and married very rich doctors (Go Feminism!). In short, I’m constantly terrified that I’m actually no good at the thing I’ve trained over a decade to do and get high ratings in.

Eventually, I’ll end up in a cave as a hermit where I might make friends with the tiger that’s probably less scary than leaving the house. Until then, welcome to my mind palace.

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Why I Let My Daughter Dye Her Hair Pink (and blue and purple)

I’m riding the “bad parent” wave each time we go out this summer. TinyPants starts high school in September and at age 11 has asked for a number of things that I’ve agreed to despite parental tutting. Here’s why:

She’s always had a strong sense of identity and year 6 has contained some big knocks for her. Instead of the last year of primary school being a fanfare of goodbyes, she counted down the days until she could be rid of bitchy cliques & a head teacher that she openly hated (strong words, but she had big boots to fill & did little to endear herself), and then there were SATS.

Since September, everything was building up to these bloody exams. Art, music, creative writing, science – all the things that made TinyPants love school went by the wayside. Maths drills, spellings, & exam papers were the daily grind – after which there were hours of tearful homework.

“Do your best & we’ll be as proud as always” we kept telling her. In the end, she sat in pain for 4 solid days doing her best (she was allowed to get up frequently, but allowed no extra time. Fearful that she wouldn’t finish, she didn’t take breaks. By day 4, she had a roll of physio tape strapped to her). Previous end of year reports have been a joy to read with comments given across the curriculum; this year one page was given with a table highlighted in red for each of the maths & english exams – “did not achieve”. The pass mark is 100, in most she scored 98 & in one 94. No “how I enjoyed my year” comment, but a “how could I have improved in my exams”. In contrast, her sister has a high school report with gold stars for effort & all subjects treated equally.

I was furious. My baby has fought past being born so tiny that she lived in an incubator; she fought apnea; she worked so hard to read (something that didn’t come naturally); she has emotional intelligence to rival most adults; she is a young carer; she has mentally prepared herself to be in daily physical pain & smiles through it; she worked like stink to pass those exams and yet she was deemed insufficient by a margin of 2 marks. She didn’t see how close she was – she saw “failure”. The piece of my mind that I’d like to give Gove, Morgan, & Greening may leave me without a mind. This narrowing of the curriculum and constant testing is stamping out the creative sparks that we’ll need in years to come.

So she asked to rebel, much like getting a statement haircut after a big break up. Step 1 was pink hair and I agreed to dye it for the final day. Step 2 was leaving primary behind – I genuinely feared her going out in a blaze of verbal glory, but she took the high ground and walked out with her head high (mentally flipping the bird as she left). And that was that.

She’s using the summer to find herself & that includes strange hair colours. We’re watching a pre-highschool reinvention of herself & it’s fascinating. She’s ditched the little kid clothes for older, but sensible shirts & jeans. I’m watching me grow up from a distance, but with a lot more self-esteem! Yes, we’ll have to get busy with the Head & Shoulders to remove the colour before school starts (eye roll), but for these 6 weeks the girls are allowed to be their genuine selves, whoever that may be.

We’ve just got back from a week at Disneyland where she asked to ride ALL of the rollercoasters on hoiday. I feel sick letting her put her body through that kind of strain – she’s already in pain most days & her back is a big culprit. Ibuprofen, TENS, & physio tape already feature quite regularly. Now, I could insist that she protect her joints at all costs, but shit, what right do I have to sap the joy from her life? She knows that adult life is going to hurt, but the pair of us are adrenalin junkies. At her age & into my teens I rode the coasters, I rode horses, I cornered so hard on my motorbike I could pick daisies with my teeth. So each time she wanted to go on a gut wrenching ride off Mr Geek went & rode with her.

Did it kill her? No. Ok, near the end of the holiday Mr Geek had to carry her out of bed & she gained wheels just like mum for part of the day as she couldn’t stand. Most days we paced quite well, the day before we’d thrown caution to the wind, but had the “best day evaar”.

Hell, even I rode a coaster – Mr Geek scoped it out and made sure it had head & back supports, I spent the previous day resting, he lifted me in – I screamed for the entire ride (on which my kneecap moved completely out & I pulled out both shoulders) – he lifted me back out & helped me pop things back, soothed the muscle spasms, then I rested for two days. All that pain for just 5 minutes? Yes. Totally worth it for feeling alive for just a while.

TinyPants looks at me and knows what’s coming – right now she wants to live as much life as possible instead of snatching 5 minutes of flying.

So, yes I’m letting her dye her hair far earlier than I ever thought I would, but it’s a small price to pay for the catharsis that its brought her. And as for Beanpole, well there’s no hair dye there – her genuie self blossomed at high school and my meganerd is blossoming into the intellectual fangirl that I expected, but she deserves a post all of her own.

Note: I’ve spoken a lot about pain here – for more info on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, please read this post.

I’m Unlikely to Be Making Anyone a Sammich

Over the past few weeks I’ve been following a story relating to the continued threats made to Anita Sarkeesian. These have ranged from the standard troll comments to detailed death and rape threats, and now to a threat against a university if they allowed her to speak. (Link here)

This woman must be about to unleash some awfully sensitive or dangerous information… oh. Hold on. No. She made a series of videos and blogs about feminism in gaming.

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I don’t particularly agree with some of the things she says. Having played games on various devices since I was tiny, I don’t think the games industry is trying to put women off. Those games that have become more and more misogynistic… I don’t buy them. Nor would I buy them for my kids.

I am a massive advocate for parents actually clueing themselves up on what a PEGI rating is and why buying an 18 rated game for a 10 year old is basically damaging.

I’ve gone off on a tangent…

My point is that I spend a large percentage of my life trying to show young people that anyone can enjoy tech, that being a geek is awesome (just try telling my kids that cryptography is boring – they have been getting encrypted messages from Dr X all week :p ), that girls can code just as well as boys, and developer creative hissy fits are a well recognised phenomenon.

Then I read the news.

Then I dwell on the dark corners of the world I’m encouraging these kids into.

With every living breath I try to pass on the absolute love I feel for Computer Science. But there’s that nagging doubt that it’s going to be tough for the outspoken.

What do I do? I keep going of course. If a pair of breasts close to a keyboard is such a threat, then that is not the fault of the breast-owner. That suggests some deep Freudian insecurity on the parts of these keyboard warriors.

Tim Berners-Lee created the internet to be a vast network of shared thoughts and ideas. By trying to silence one woman, they made her message go global in the national news. It seems the internet bit them back.

My Daughter is a Raptor

I think most parents with an aspie child have days when they look at their child and think “yeah, I’d probably do that too”, it’s just today I envied beanpole’s way of dealing with things being up in the air. Tonight that has taken the form of her being a raptor & it’s making her happy. (School project has allowed her to immerse herself in her favourite subject since the age of 2. Dinosaur knowledge is way beyond stuff I know). I have chest pain…. She’s being a raptor. Frankly, I reckon she’s coping much better!

It’s been a weird old week. Beanpole went off to a school residential camp, I’ve had a course outsude of school alongside long evenings with open days for new students & our usual weekend routine got turned upside down.

By Friday I was coming apart at the seams. My personal limit was found when I eventually found where beanpole was staying (5 minutes further than I had anticipated), found a dodgy parking spot and was promptly told to move. There was nowhere else to park. I tried to reason, but instead had to do a 12 point turn and drive back up the single track road until I found a bush soft enough to park the car in so I wasn’t blocking the road. This wasn’t the plan. Now I was late. I’m a professional adult who has been reduced to tears because I didn’t know where to park my car. In fact I hadn’t quite pulled myself together by the time I joined the other parents. A few excuses about work being full on….

At least it’s the weekend. We have a routine. But not this weekend,  because seeing as I’ve been ill for two weeks and have barely stopped we’re going to cram extra stuff into the weekend on top of the 10 hours of prep/marking that I’m attempting to get done. Our standard family dinner where we discuss the week went out the window, so now I’m already unprepared for Monday. The less organized I feel, the tighter my throat feels and the more I feel like running away and hiding under a blanket.  Or more realistically,  stamping my feet publicly and shouting at everyone to do what they are meant to be doing & stop changing things (translated in my head as why are you acting like arseholes? Can’t you see this is driving me mad? )

This is all sounding very familiar.

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I think this suggests I’m back to being anxiety girl (with the superpower of blowing things out of proportion! )… and I secretly know where beanpole gets it from.

I’d much rather be a raptor than me right now.

Why My Husband Is Not Allowed To Die Before Me

Obviously, this is a bit of a weird & morbid thought, but I’m pretty sure I’m allowed to think this. We’ve been together for over a decade now and he’s put up with some crap in that time. But this evening I had a weird thought…

… I’d just got out of the bath & was feeling a bit achey & sorry for myself so asked him to help me dry my hair. As we sat in my wardrobe, he brushed my hair as it dried into just the style that I like it. I watched him in the mirror & thought “when I’m old and go a bit doolally, I wonder if him still doing this will be what makes me remember us and smile”.

Now I appear to be making the assumption that I’ll be the one to go dotty. But working on previous experience, it’s more likely.

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Note: This isn’t him btw… It’s a Fuggler version of him. It’s the hum teeth embodiment of him though.

But in the words of Pooh Bear. If you live to be 100 years old, I hope I live to 99 years & 364 days so I never have to live without you.

There’s Something About Sunday… It’s the Yorkshire puddings.

There really is something about Sunday that makes it realistically essential to my sanity. This stems from a mixture of time to sort out my life & food.

I got up late this morning after LSH let me lay in until 9.30 (bliss!) as I’d been up half the night coughing like a plague victim. I needed sleep. I needed my body to just get on and heal itself.

So at 9.30 I dragged myself downstairs to drink the final cup of coffee from the machine and commence on the standard Sunday morning homework marathon (them doing it, me marking it!). I find this quite relaxing now as they know Sunday is homework day – there’s no arguments, just get on with it. And now beanpole likes her teacher, she’s throwing herself into her tasks!

LSH took the girls over to his mum & dads at around 11, leaving me at home due to the evil germs that I really don’t want to share around. So, I carried on with various prep & marking bits until 2 then put away some laundry until they got home.

Our afternoon was spent with TinyPants drawing, making dens and playing strange computer games whilst Beanpole and I made a start on her take home task (like homework, but long term) which she’s chosen to do on dinosaurs (huge surprise)… The task is to chose a time and place in history that you would like to travel back to & make a scrapbook about what went on there. She’s throwing herself into this one!

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The best bit about Sundays is that we have time to cook. Traditionally, it’s a roast, and today we’ve got roast chicken with all the bits. Especially Yorkshire puddings.

These are my domain & today’s are sage & onions yorkshires.

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They start off looking a bit weird, but then I sit in front of the oven threatening to maim anyone who dares to open the oven as they start to rise….

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Wow, my oven needs cleaning… Well that’s on the list!

After this stage, it’s basically witchcraft to get them to this stage….

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Cue one big family dinner, bath time all round and ready for another week at school 🙂

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The Evening Before Scotland Potentially Bares Their Bums At Us

I suppose I ought to pass comment as this is realistically an issue that will affect us all the way down here in the softy South. But unlike all the slightly unhinged facebook & twitter posts I keep seeing from those local to me, I’m not going to demand a vote, or tell them what to do.

Why?

Well, because it’s a union. A bit like a marriage. We work as partners (ok, there’s 4 of us, so it’s a bit polyamorous, but just bear with this metaphor). And now one of us is considering leaving.

We’re in that crucial stage of any relationship breakdown where one partner needs to make up their mind (in this case, vote). We are the one left behind, and just like a marriage going badly, we don’t get to say to the other partner “this isn’t over until I say it is”. Why? Because frankly that’s just creepy. It’s not up to us.

Scotland will make up it’s own autonomous mind & we need to respect that. If we can prove to them that we are still the country that they wanted to join with until referendum us do part, then we need to get ourselves to the political gym and start paying enough attention to them, because let’s be honest, we’ve been a neglectful partner. Perhaps get Cameron to wear the occasional skimpy nightie (oh ew ew ew no, too far..). But if they decide that they want to leave, we should have the good grace to wish them well & let them go without turning up drunk, crying and snotty at Hadrians Wall begging to just hold them. We have more dignity than that & that sort of behaviour will just make them delete our phone number.

So Scotland, this is us, just a country standing in front of you another country, asking you to love us.

And if not, you know how to whistle don’t you? You just put your lips together & blow.