If I met my teenage self, I’d cringe and pretend I didn’t know her.

Sitting in Starbucks this morning, I found myself in a situation I haven’t been in for almost a decade; sitting next to two teenage girls on study leave, complete with massive ringbinders and several too many different coloured highlighters. As with all girls who have committed the day to serious revision, they spent most of the morning chatting to each other and putting on unnecessary amounts of eye-liner. I normally feel pretty young, but when confronted with the real deal, I left the coffee shop at the ripe old age of 25 feeling almost painfully old in comparison.

Sharing the same seating area as the couplet, and as a result of teenage girls having absolutely no concept of privacy, I naturally now know these two better than most of my own friends. (I shudder to think the amount of people who know my entire life story from multiple loud coffee shop and bus ride conversations that I ignorantly broadcasted before I left school.)

I wouldn’t want to spill confidences, but here are my fave tidbits from the few hours we spent together. Wise words from the youth of today, all verbatim, all said with entirely serious faces.

On friendship.

“We’re not exactly best friends.”
“Well, would SHE consider you to be her best friend?”
“Yeah, probably. But I wouldn’t say she’s MY best friend if you know what I mean.” -pause- “Obviously don’t tell her I said that.”

___

“I used to make friends so easily, like remember when we were in year nine, you could pick and choose you know? Now it’s just so much more complicated.” -worldly sigh-

On relationships.

“Did he call you?”
“Well he didn’t call me, but he did text me before he went to sleep. And then I replied, but he didn’t reply.” -pause- “..but he was probably asleep.” -longer pause- “…although he’s probably awake now.” -checks phone-.

___

“Did you see them together?”
“Yeah, I was really surprised. But look, its up to him who he gets with isn’t it?”
“And she IS so skinny now.”
“Yeah that’s true. Maybe I’m not that surprised. -pause- I wonder if she’s like, anorexic.”
“If she is, someone should definitely tell him.”
“Yeah, maybe I should tell him.”

On family

“Wow, I really love that skirt.”
“I know. And my mum said it didn’t match my top!”
“My mum said the same thing!”
-high five-

___

“I personally think you’re prettier than your sister.”
“Right but she IS really smart.”
“She’s fake blonde though right?”
“That’s true.”

On politics

“Do you want to study at mine tomorrow?”
“I actually said I would study at X’s. I would totally invite you but I’m not sure if people are invited or if its like a thing.”
“Oh ok.”
“You know if it were my choice them of COURSE you would be invited, but I just don’t really know what’s happening. -pause- why don’t you phone and ask? You should definitely phone and ask.”

On work ethic and self image

“Can you test me on this vocab?”
“Sure. But first look at this pic from X’s Instagram.”
-laughs far too loudly- “That’s amazing!!! Here, lets take our picture.”
-they move to sit next to each other and spend five mins taking the same selfie over and over and deleting it-
“Ah, that ones good. You’re so pretty.”
“What do you mean? You’re stunning! I look awful today!”
“You’re crazy!”
-returns to studying, vocab clearly forgotten-

Five mins later:
“We’ve been revising for ages. Want to go get food?”

 

Definitely the world leaders of tomorrow. Now to spend some time on Google checking no one’s written a blog about the creepy lady who was frantically transcribing their conversations all morning in a less than subtle way.

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The Building Blocks of Life.. Literally.

Today I’m going to be making a deep point about lego. Well, to be more accurate-Megablocks.

As a side point, I wonder how many more kinds of lego are going to be patented. It’s actually shocking that in a world where no one has invented a truly leak-proof nappy, or a vest with poppers that fits a child older than 2, or a device which gets your kids up and dressed in the morning, (preferably activated by parents snoring) that we have about 18 dozen forms of connect-able block.

Anyway. My son has recently started enjoying mega blocks. He excitedly brings me the bag to unzip, and empties them out onto the carpet. He rifles through the assorted sizes and colours, hand picking the ones he wants, and is now truly adept at putting them together and pulling them apart. The last few weeks he is even building complex constructions and skyscrapers galore. It’s amazing.

However (and this may be a shock to some). My son has neither an engineering nor an architecture degree. And at the ripe old age of 1 and three quarters, he has very little concept of foundation or structure. So lego and its peers are very much a supervised activity, with parental help as and when.

Which brings me to my point. How much help is too much help?

I have 3 options. (In lego at least.)

  1. I help him build his tower, replacing pieces in his hands when I can see he is making a poor choice, trying to explain why, making the whole thing pretty much a formal learning game. In other words, let’s call option one, Sucking all the Fun Out of Life. 
  2. I secretly rebuild the tower as we go, waiting until he turns to get another piece before rearranging the four pronger from on top of the one pronger etc, and remaking the foundations until I don’t have to hold it secretly between my own hands to get it to stay upright. Let’s give this one the ever catchy Lying to our Kids title.
  3. I let him make his own mistakes, letting the tower fall to the ground every time he places another brick, and hope he starts to work it out for himself instead of the far more likely options of him getting very angry and/or giving up. Let’s give this the optimistic heading of Embrace the Tantrum.  


I doubt I need to explain the metaphor. There is so much that my son is on the cusp of understanding and doing himself. Every day he is trying to learn new things. But he is a baby. And the combination of easily frustrated and not very good at stuff is not exactly a match made in heaven. To avoid the seventeen episodes a day which range from mild whining to full blown tantrum-ing (I know sweetheart, it’s because the square doesn’t fit in the triangle hole.. Overreaction much?) I either have to do something for him, basically taking away his independence and causing a different whining episode, or make it look like he’s in control, when really he isn’t. (In which case-how is he ever going to learn?)

Like so much of parenting, it’s a balancing act. A lot of over-forced happy sounding “Oh dear!”‘s and “Let’s build it again!” and trying not to get frustrated audibly or noticeably with my own adult shortcomings, thus setting a bad example for how to deal with failure.

But part of me is waxing nostalgic over the days when play time was a simple trying to chew the head off a plastic dinosaur.

The lego guy never gets to go out with his friends…


 



How to teach our kids to be average

Nobody wants to be seen as incompetent. We all know that we have strengths and weaknesses. No one is good at everything. But if we cant be good at something, then I dont think being bad at it is appropriate second place. In my opinion, shockingly bad is the next best thing.

For example. I am so bad at ice skating that I literally cannot let go of the side. It takes me about twenty mins to pluck up the courage to step onto the ice itself, and all I do for the entire time I spend at the rink is go round and round the edge holding on with both hands and glaring at anyone in the same predicament who is in my way and stopping me getting past. A really good day is if I can let go with one hand. But this doesnt bother me. I am not embarassed to be awful at this or anything else. Awful is not really humiliating, because it generally connotes “I’ve never done this before.” In the cases where it doesnt, it is normally laughable enough to get you through the experience relatively unscathed.

Being awful, means I can look on in awe at the people who are actually better on ice than on land, exchange sympathetic glances at the equally inept visitors to the rink, and shake my head in companiable mirth at the newcomers who enter with excitement, thinking they’ll be swishing along in no time. If I were merely ‘bad’ at this particular sport, I’d just feel like everyone was looking at me wondering why on earth I’m there. Needless to say, I dont go that much, but when I do, I am truly safe in the knowledge that it looks just like it’s my first time.

Unless you are on the way up towards good, bad is not the place to be.

R is on the way to good. In pretty much everything. Where he has been inept at something, it is an obvious matter of time before the necessary wheels are clicked into place. For example, I embraced baby led weaning wholeheartedly when my son was about 7 months. Until then I basically spent twenty two out of every twenty four hour period worrying that he wasnt eating. The other two hours were spent feeling guilty that I was currently giving him milk when he wasnt eating food. (Shouldnt I be starving him so that he eats orange mush?)

The first time I gave him a piece of broccoli, he opened his mouth wide, and mashed the vegetable against the side of his face. Shockingly bad. Within a few weeks it had improved to ‘on the way to good’ where the food would enter his mouth and promptly fall out again. By 8 or 9 months, he had cracked it, and was eating 3 meals a day, plus various amouns of my own 3 meals a day.

This is his life as a baby. He is introduced to something new, and jumps in with both feet, no inhibitions. He is normally abysmal at it, but quickly progresses, with a swift pause at bad, straight onto good and then normally great. At the moment for example, he is inept at walking. He started off by taking one shaky step, grinning, and falling flat on his tush. Shockingly bad. He now takes lots of steps, but not quickly, and with his whole body shaking, looking to all the world like he is under the influence. I have no doubt that by the time is is 18 months in a few weeks, he will be running around faster than his parents.

But what are we supposed to do when they, or we, dont get to the good part?

One day, he will be awful at something, and then get slightly better. But that’s where it will stop. Whether it’s drawing or dancing or maths or public speaking, he will find a challenge that cant be overcome by repetition or us holding his hand while he does it. And there is nothing I can do about it.

There are plenty of things that I am bad at. I dont mean to the skating extent, just generally not very good. Art, Tact, Patience.. the list goes on. And my answer, probably the same as many adults, is to avoid it entirely. Just stop doing things you find really hard. For most, once school is over, this is a pretty acheivable choice. Choose a career that plays to your strengths, choose a partner and friends who bring out the best in you. No one is going to force you to mix test tubes of liquids if you arent good at chemistry, no one is going to make you lead a group when you would rather be the wallflower. Normally by the end of school, we have all developed the skills to deal with doing subjects and tasks we dont want to do, and while obviously happy to be leaving those things behind, we then carry with us the ability to get on with something we are below average at when the time arises.

Not me. Unlike most people, I made my choice to ignore my mediocre side when I was far too young. And no one really stopped me. If I didnt like maths, I just didnt go. If I didnt like authority, I just didnt listen. And so now, I hate being average at anything in grown up life, because I’ve always been able to ignore it. When something comes up, in my career, or my relationships, that I can’t laugh away by being shockingly awful at, and I cant push past the ‘okay’ and keep climbing towards great, I just dont know how to react.

But then there will be plenty more times in my life where I have to do things I dont want to do, and as I havent really built up an ability to deal with that, I dont know how to teach R either. I dont know what to say to him when he says “Why do I have to?” because I never listened to or agreed with the “Because I said so” reply.

I dont want to force my son to keep doing things that he will never be good at. Personally I dont think it’s fair, or that it does him any good. But I know that a lot of parents would say differently, would say pushing your kids builds character, and teaches them invaluable life skills.

I dont know. What I do know is that when my son is terrible at something, I will remind him of his strengths and abilities elsewhere, and where possible teach him to laugh at his own weaknesses. When he is great at something, I will be the proudest mum ever, while trying to make sure it doesnt go to his head.

It’s when he is mediocre I am worried about.

Thoughts?

 

Watch and Learn

Just a quick lesson learned from my 1 year old today, proving that he continues to teach me just as many amazing things (if not more) than I could possibly hope to impart to him.

Not everything has only one answer. It doesnt matter if you’re following society’s strict notion of what is ‘correct’, just as long as you’re doing your best and enjoying yourself along the way.Great job carving out your own path and ‘sticking it to the man’ little boy!

 

Messy Play

This morning, I completed a morning of arts and crafts. Not being the most artistic person in the world, I rarely reach for the PVA glue in my free time. However, as part of my Sunday teaching job, I joined twenty 5 and 6 year olds, in rolling up my sleeves and picking up my felt tips.

As a five year old, we have already been trained to love arts and crafts. Talent does not really come into it. Sure, some kids are better at staying in the lines and glueing accurately, some can be trusted with the glitter pot whilst some clearly cannot, but generally, kids are not aware of these differences. The enjoyment of icing your own cookies is not marred at all by the fact that the kid next to you has a pretty passable flower on his biscuit, while you have mixed so many colours that you just have a pool of brown sludge on yours. Cover it with sprinkles, that’s right-no one will guess.

But as we get older, we let go of the hobbies that are not either ‘for our own good’ or that we show some proficiency in. If we are not artistic or creative, then the enforced lessons after primary school until we can let go of the subjects, are at best- an annoyance, and at worst- highly embarassing.

Where does this embarassment come from? We weren’t worried as a kid to have our ‘artwork’ proudly displayed on the refrigerator, regardless of its similarity to whatever it supposedly depicted.

I think the answer is praise. As a kid, we are clapped and cheered for the smallest acts, whether we deserve it or not. Without this praise, we are unable to develop as we should, and we have no encouragement to repeat and learn behaviour which enables us to grow and change.

I found myself doing it this morning, “wow, that’s lovely!” to a child who basically tipped the bowl of icing onto his plate. “Is that a picture of the Greeks?” to a kid who’s scrawlings resembled a pretty intentional scribble. Before a child reaches a certain age, it is impossible to be critical of their artistic endeavours without simply coming across as mean.

And then we grow up. We start to understand that we are in competition, even when it is unspoken, and our competitive urges come out. We want to be the best, something most young children dont even think about, and so in order to keep ourselves at the top of the game, we search for the activities we are most skillful at, and improve on those further, leaving our poor efforts of other genres behind without a second glance.

I dont think this is necessarily a bad thing. We can’t do everything, after all. So why not stick to what we are really good at? As a kid, we are praised for everything, giving us the ability to explore all our possibilities and decide what’s right for us. Later on, we learn the difference between false and real praise, and hopefully gain the truthful kind once we’ve found our path.

But this morning, picking up my gluestick, and sitting next to another teacher, we engaged in competitive behaviour of the most juvenile kind. Both having qualifications in real grown up subjects, and having left artistic endeavour behind many years ago, we pitted ourselves against one another, laughed childishly when each others projects were going wrong and forced anyone who walked into the room to judge our work against one another. Laughing throughout, it was still truly interesting to see the twenty 5 and 6 year old’s reaction to our playful opposition.

Firstly, throughout our game, and letting the kids get on with their own work, we never once heard one of them boasting about their own work or putting down one of their peers. The contentment with which they created their own masterpieces was truly enviable. It didnt matter what anyone else was doing. For the two of us, the competition was a huge part of what made it fun.

Secondly, on showing the kids our own creations, they not only could barely see the difference between them, but while they voted for and against our respective models, a few kids took it upon themselves to do exactly what I had been doing only an hour earlier with their biscuits.

“wow! you both worked really hard on those!”

“you put lots of time and effort into that!”

Placated by a five year old. I think I made the right choice saying goodbye to arts and crafts and sticking to the writing.