Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy midwinter

This picture pretty much epitomises our eclectic celebrations here:

That was dawn on the day of the solstice. We got up at 6am on that day, lit fires and candles and ate nice food, while the mist sat in the valley like a white sea. The nice food and gifts have kept coming ever since and I think some of the teenagers have fireworks planned for tonight. For me, tonight is just the turning of a calender page - it's just a number. But we did buy yet more nice food and I do wish people a happy 2008.

We'll be celebrating our baby's first birthday in January, so 2007 has been a good year. She's an absolute pleasure for us all. She's not bothered about playing with toys though - her favourite activities just now are climbing, receiving rounds of applause (with which she joins in), polishing things with tea towels when the washing up is being done and putting things in the washing machine. All sorts of things.

Lyddie has just grasped the sound-blending aspect of reading and is wanting to read things all the time. Like with the baby and toys though, she doesn't want to read children's books but the books she considers to be mine, and newspapers, instead. I can understand this. Children want to join in and be useful members of the group, not to live in their own artificial but separate world.

The other thing they want to do is reciprocate. So, if I put a piece of carrot in the baby's mouth, she wants to get some carrot to put in my mouth. And if I teach Lyddie something about reading, she wants to teach me something about reading. It seems very important to them that the slate in these respects should be kept equal, as it were. They don't want to feel as if they owe a person something.

I'm very impressed by them anyway. They constantly teach me that instinctive human nature is innately wise and sensible, if only it's trusted and respected.

Friday, December 21, 2007

What Jax said ;-)

Bless her, Jax is hoping I'll write something brilliant and inspiring about this petition, about which she blogged so beautifully and expertly yesterday.

Well, I definitely signed the petition and I didn't know about it until I read it there so I'm grateful to Jax about that.

But what do I really think about all this government Early Years silliness? I'm afraid I'm less polite and moderate in my views on the matter than Jax is, or indeed than the petitioner himself. It goes without saying, really, that I wish we didn't think we needed such a thing as a childcare industry and that if we hadn't been conned into thinking we needed one, government wouldn't be able to get away with pretending it can try to prescribe what our poor beleaguered young offspring 'should' be learning at each stage of their short lives.

Altogether now? It's bureaucracy gone mad. If we carry on like this, we will live in a world full of grey-faced automatons. If we don't already. But only we have the power to stop it.

I signed the petition and maybe enough signatures will make 'a difference'. Reclaiming our rights and being the change we want to see in the world stands a better chance of success though, I suspect.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Trying to explain clock-free living to a time-obsessed five-year old - and Christmas

Lyddie: "So when are you going to get dressed and go downstairs?"

Me: "Soon."

Lyddie: "But what time?"

Me: "When I've finished typing this email."

Lyddie: *Looks at clock* "Nine o'clock then?"

Me: *Stops typing.* "Look. Some people like to do things at set times and some people just like to do things when they're ready, or when they feel like doing them. I like doing things when I feel like it, or when I'm ready to, ok?"

Lyddie: "Ok. But don't forget we're going out at twelve o'clock."

Me: *Sighs, gives up.*

We're not going out at twelve o'clock, or at least we don't have to. She's just decided we are, and where we're going. McDonalds. I hate McDonalds! But of all the places she could choose to go for a Christmas outing, McDonalds is apparently it, so I will go there and eat their cardboard fries and I will smile about it. Is their coffee any good nowadays? Any other recommendations?

Other than enduring McDonalds, Christmas in the Kilner house is a very laid back affair nowadays. In years gone by I have hosted parties - as many as five per season, attended many others, sent hundreds of cards and wrapped presents at 4am on Christmas morning, which I shopped for at midnight the night before.

Before that I was running a busy pub, so Christmas was just one long series of impossibilities. It has got easier every year since, so that nowadays I even get to enjoy it myself sometimes.

When I was a child, it was all about church. But I don't want to have my festival of lights in a cold unlived-in stone cavern of a building while our family home stands empty. And I don't want our celebration of the birth of a new sun to be hijacked into the birth of a new son, though since it dawned on me that Christ actually means 'light' I do feel slightly better about this. However, I increasingly want to follow my instincts and celebrate on the actual solstice, so I'll be lighting fires and candles early on Saturday morning after which the days start getting longer again and the year will feel to me like it has turned.

Santa will come down our chimney on Christmas Eve, of course. He will leave a black sack full of gifts for everyone, many of which are already bought and wrapped. (I must be getting old!) And the teens will go along with it and pretend to be delighted that he gave them slippers and socks and books again. I've been giving them cash for their main gift for years and it's always a struggle to work out what else they could possibly make use of, to open on the day.

We got a tree last week and decorated it. Here is Lyddie putting the angel on top:

It's a little tree this year, on a table so that the baby can't 'play' with it in that charmingly destructive way that toddling babies tend to approach things. Some of the decorations are very old, delicate glass ones. Those are at the top, out of reach, but she can reach the safe ones at the bottom. So we're playing at 'put the decorations back on the tree' every day. Fun!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Original Sin

From time to time this concept comes to my attention again and I never fail to be alarmed by its pervasiveness and the extent to which our society is structured around it.

Original sin. In a nutshell, we were all born evil - or so the thinking goes. "No, not evil," a Christian home educator explained to me the other day, "But with the propensity for evil."

Nope. I just don't get it. As a parent I can confidently attest that babies and children are not evil. Not ever. Propensity for evil? That depends on your definition of 'evil', and I'm not just wriggling out of that. I don't really believe evil exists in its traditional devil-inspired form.

I think it's all about power.

Evil comes from the wish or need to have power over other people, in my opinion. This is usually born out of fear of what might happen if this power over other people wasn't secured.

The opposite of evil also comes about from a position of strength, but this is an integral, self-supporting strength, not the inferior strength that comes from exercising power over others.

Children love to get attention from their parents and this is how they're often perceived to be naughty, or evil. Our baby (11 months old) knows that she's not allowed to play with the wires behind the computer, so she goes there deliberately whenever she wants us to say: "No no no!" pick her up and generally make a fuss of her to distract her. She does this when she's bored, when we're all busy with other things. When she needs some attention. I call it intelligence, not badness. She's found, through trial and error, an effective way of making sure we provide for her needs. It would perhaps be equally intelligent on our part to somehow block the wires off so she can't get to them and no doubt we'll get around to that eventually, but then she'll have to find some other way of diverting our energy onto her when she needs it.

She gets plenty of spontaneous energy, attention and affection from us anyway, which helps. We're happy people and we love her very much, so why wouldn't we play with her, sing to her and lavish her with hugs?

It's interesting that when a weaker party attempts to exert power in a situation, this is described in negative terms but when the stronger party attempts to use its power, this is described as benign. The older, bigger, more powerful party "knows best" and should be allowed to be in charge. This is equally applicable for parents as it is for school teachers, churchmen, policemen and politicians. Anyone in a position of having power over other people. If their position is established and verified by society, their exertion of power over others is supposedly a good thing.

So we use terms like 'good' and 'evil' to maintain the pecking order. Children, at the bottom of this, are seen as being in need of 'correction' by adults. And yet so often it's the correcting that causes the problems, not the children themselves. Our baby only goes for the computer wires because we make such a big fuss of saying no when she does. If we just ignored the fact she was in danger - which I'm not quite brave (or foolhardy) enough to do - she'd probably stop bothering with the wires altogether.

Most cases of parental enmity leading to childhood 'naughtiness' that I see actually emanate from outside pressures. You have to do your homework, get clean, go to bed early, because of school. You have to be respectful and obedient to give the best impression to onlookers. This is how I was raised. If it hadn't been for the school, the church, the neighbours and other judgmental institutions, my parents wouldn't have perceived themselves as being under pressure to make sure we complied with society's expectations and our childhood might have been very different. Might have been, but probably wouldn't because our parents fully subscribed to the view that we needed saving from our inherently evil natures. I don't suppose they ever stopped to question whether that was actually true.

But it's not in a child's interests to make an enemy of its parents and it's not in a parent's interests to make an enemy of its child. Both sides end up losing and the whole family is weakened by such positions. Hmmm. Now then. In whose interests is it for that to happen?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The end of autonomy?

Like many other home educators, I've managed - against the odds - to carve a bubble of freedom out of this increasingly totalitarian world, in which my children could grow up. Well, one of them is now legally grown-up and two others almost are. (In actual fact, all three teens have been grown up for some years now even though the law disagrees.) And up until very recently I'd been assuming they would just slot seamlessly back into the mainstream way of doing things - or something close. By this I mean that I would start asking them to pay for their keep and they would then have to go and find work, or some other source of funding from somewhere. Or that they would move out and start to be completely independent of me and I them. Most of my family members, including these three children's father (my ex-husband) believe that parenting stops when the child reaches the age of maturity. After that, the adult child takes on a position rather like a concerned family friend, in the best case scenario. Or a distant cousin, in the worst. This, I think, is how society and the present economy needs us to think at this stage in a family's life.

But, as with baby cots and bottles, forced schooling and all the other taken-for-granted anti-family mechanisms, my instincts screamed out against it.

The thing is this: I've always said there's nothing magical about an eighteenth birthday. It doesn't make a person suddenly different, so why should they arbitrarily be awarded a whole raft of rights and responsibilities [*yawns* at the GovernmentSpeak] that they didn't have at seventeen? Furthermore, do I suddenly stop being their parent overnight as they reach the age of eighteen? No. Nothing changes.

That's not to say all my children have been babied by me up until their eighteenth birthdays and I want to continue doing so. There'd be something distinctly unhealthy about that, if it were the case. But growing up is a slow and natural process, not a juddery sudden one. My three teens have grown up gradually at their own paces and are now all equally capable of going out and earning a living if they want or need to. I don't treat the boys any differently just because one is eighteen and the other is seventeen and nor, I've decided, am I going to make any different expectations of them.

How can I say to one of my children, whom I still love just as much as all my other children: "Now you must go out to work and give me money to pay for your keep, or you'll have to leave your family home."? Especially after all those years of autonomy. I've never asked anything of them. They've always given freely, and to be fair to them they do plan to contribute to the household budget when the time comes. They are all sensible, fair minded, hard working people.

It's me. I'm increasingly seeing school, college and jobs as being one and the same thing. They're all ok if the person genuinely does want to take part, but if there's any coercion involved - any feeling of having no choice, or being trapped - then they're tantamount to slavery and tend to be the cause of a miserable existence.

I want to keep providing choices for my children, which has made me think very laterally and creatively looking for solutions. I want them to have the option of staying in their family home. I can remember being pushed out of my family home as an older teenager and it was a horrible experience which caused nothing but harm for all concerned. Sure, there's nothing wrong with a person striking out for independence but ideally this would be done in the person's own time and not be instigated by other people or factors.

My instinct, my thinking and my years of research all teach me that it's healthier for people to live together in family tribes than in isolated nuclear units.

Also as a single parent of younger children, I feel myself being socially engineered to make childcare and school arrangements for our little ones and to go out to "work". (I put "work" in inverted commas, because I know from when I used to "work" that the activity is a sight easier, in terms of effort, than staying at home with younger children. And I resent the implication that I'm not "working" already, by raising and home educating them. Somehow we've come to accept that an activity can only be called "work" if it pays money, therefore other activities are somehow not legitimate. How did we come to that way of thinking?) And I don't want to be socially engineered any more than I want to abandon my younger children on a daily basis, any more than I want to shoulder my older children out of their home.

Essentially, I'm being asked to dismantle my family. Coerced actually, with Brown's famous carrot and stick. I refuse to comply.

It's all about the money isn't it? Those little pictures of the Queen (or increasingly not even that). Well, we're now working towards a situation here where we don't need much of it at all coming in on a weekly basis. We think it will probably involve selling our house and building another one in which we can live off-grid and mortgage-free, which will involve a vast amount of upheaval and inconvenience. But it will be worth it.

Anyone selling a piece of land in Yorkshire? :-)