Saturday, 24 September 2011


When you work with children you get some wild and wonderful ideas from them. Their little minds are bursting with creativity and unfettered by societal constraints of what is realistic and what is not. However, you occasionally get a child who so far off topic and in their own little universe it is funny.

Up until this week the tale of the slug has been my favourite one of these.  This child was in my booster group and we had spent days walking in the snow, looking at frost, talking about all the sensations of cold weather, using our 5 senses so that he would be able to write a vivid description about the snow. This is what happened:

Teacher: What is this?
Child: My description.
Teacher: What is it about?
Child: A slug.
Teacher: A slug.
Child: His name is Ralph.
Teacher: What?
Child: The slug. His name is Ralph. He wears a top hat.
Teacher:(sighing) What were you *supposed* to write about?
Child: (indignantly) I did!
Teacher: Where?
Child: In the first sentence.

And sure enough, the saga of Ralph the top hat wearing slug began with the sentence Ralph the slug was cold so he went inside. There you go. Illusion to snow made, let's crack on with the fascinating tale.

This week another of these off topic tales has emerged with another child I work with. His class is called Spain (as all our classes are named after countries) and they have been reading Michael Morpurgo's book Toro! Toro! and watched the film of Ferdinand the gentle bull who loved to smell flowers.  I should have known there was trouble when the child kept forgetting who he was in the story. You were supposed to  be desribing how Ferdinand felt when he was captured and on the way to the bull fight.

Me: How do you think he was feeling? How would you feel?
Child: Scared. I don't like to fight I might get hurt.
Me: Yes I am sure he was scared.
Child: The bulls horns might stab him.
Me: Honey, you ARE the bull!
Child: Oh yeah.

So when they had to write a description of the Matador this is what we got:

The matador was tall and he liked cheese and crackers. Cheese and crackers was his favourite food. He ate cheese and crackers all the time. He ate cheese and crackers so much that he turned into cheese and crackers. When he was not eating cheese and crackers he was bull fighting.

Bit peckish, are we? Thinking about your pack lunch then, hmmm? It turns out no.

Me: You must really like cheese and crackers.
Child: No. that's food for matadors.

Silly me. So when you work with munchkins sometimes you get the strangest things in response. It may not make sense to you, but on Planet Kiddo, it works out perfectly.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

How do you talk to yourself?

See, I’m not asking DO you talk to yourself. I know you do. I’m asking HOW. Do you speak out loud or do the voices in your head tell you what to do? Do you speak kindly or do you heap harsh words onto your head that you wouldn’t say to your worse enemy? Do you give a running commentary on all you need to remember to do? e.g.  Click file, then print, then pages 1,3, copies 3, go. Do you repeat mantras or calming words in times of stress? When you give yourself a good talking to, do you speak in FIRST person e.g. I am in my happy place. I am an ocean of calm or do you speak in SECOND person e.g. Calm down, you’re going to be fine. Take a deep breath. You can do this.

I only ask because I talk to myself a lot. Out loud. When I need to remember something I repeat it out loud until I do the thing I need to remember --yesterday it was Pick up Ruth, pick up Ruth as I had brought my ukulele (answers to name of Ruth)  to school and I didn’t want to leave her in the music room when it was time to go home. I also give myself pep talks in times of stress--and boy there has been many of those lately. I know touchy feely new age hippy claptrap says you should always use the first person--I am a lovely, kind person who can handle this difficult situation with grace but I feel a bit dozy doing that and end up using my kindergarten teacher voice which annoys me then I don’t listen to the advice I’ve just spouted to myself. I find I work better in second person--like a good friend with their arm around you, telling you it will be ok. You can do this. It may be hard, but it will work out. You can cope with this. I also find myself lately quoting Julian of Norwich who said:

All shall be well
And all shall be well
And all manner of things shall be well.

I seem to be saying this a lot. Out loud. In my head. When I walk. Between deep breaths. Between bouts of tears. All the time really.

It is funny that when faced with difficulty and annoyance if it is me and someone else I usually act calm and am the one who pushes us on. When someone else is whinging and moaning I tend to be acting all:
Let’s pull together! Spirit of the Blitz! We can do this! It’s not really a problem unless we make it one! Come on, soldier, buck up! I’m not tired! Don’t worry about things you have no control over, just let them go!  This’ll be fine, you’ll see!

Even if I think this is a load of codswallop and what I actually believe is:
 I think everything is actually falling apart, we can’t do this, it is a major problem, I’m exhausted, everything is out of control, this is the worst day of my life! I don’t show it. I am the better one who keeps us positive and singing songs until the rescue crew arrive.

The one person I can’t fool is Spiderman. He is the only person I can be my most authentic self--for better or worse--and I can’t ever hide my feelings from him. I cannot put on a brave face with him because he can see straight into my heart and know I’m lying and that I am really miserable. I can say all sorts of things aloud like come on, it’ll be fun or at least we’ll be able to laugh about it later, right? And he knows I don’t mean it. He cannot be fooled by my Polyanna exterior. So I find it hard to even try to fake it with him. When I look into his loving eyes and know he is seeing me for who I really am, all I can do is weep and ask him to hold me. With him, because I cannot disguise my feelings of sadness or annoyance, I am the one whinging and moaning. How annoying it must be! And because he is quiet and doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, sometimes I don’t realize that he is suffering too.

There are lots of things going on in our life right now that are very stressful. I am trying to be the positive one and failing a bit (quite a bit Spiderman might say) but I am trying to cope without making my beloved completely miserable himself. Because in a marriage joy and sorrow are both shared equally. Joy is light and easy to carry, but sorrow is heavy and it really takes two to hold back the tide to prevent each other from drowning in despair. But two can hold it back better than one. That is the partnership of marriage.

So how does one cope? If you keep telling yourself:

All shall be well
And all shall be well
And all manner of things shall be well.

Then will it be well? Does the act of saying it make it come true or does it just change the way you view the situation?

How do you make yourself believe it? 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sneaky F*cker

This is a term often used by my late father. I have found cause to use it today and thought I’d share the secrets of (un)truth in advertising.

I am a catalogue girl. As a child I poured over medical supply catalogues for biology classrooms with pictures of torsos with all the internal organs exposed and dreamed of having one. I know, I was weird.  I loved the Sears “Wish Book” and would circle all the things I would get if I was a millionaire. Some were practical, some were fanciful, most were for me but some were for gifts. It didn’t matter that I would probably never own these things--the wishing was enough.

There is a catalogue shop here in the UK called Argos.  You go in, flip through the “laminated book of dreams” as comedian Bill Bailey calls it and choose your item. You write the item down on a piece of special paper with a wee pencil like you use playing Miniature Golf and then after you pay, you sit and wait until your number is called. The shop seems quite small but the hidden warehouse must be MASSIVE for within a few minutes your item magically appears.

However, we have learned to be wary of the catalogue descriptions. The cheaper the item the less they tell you about it. The more expensive the more detail you get. See what I mean? Sneaky F*cker.

When I was in the market for a sewing machine I debated long and hard about paying £20 extra for one with a Toyota motor (who knew Toyota did more than cars?) and I finally decided to go with the cheaper one and ya know what? The cheaper one came with a Toyota motor as well, it just didn’t say so. Sneaky F*cker.

So I have been wanting an exercise ball really badly. You know the kind--you blow it up like an enormous beach ball and then you do exercises on it and it engages your core muscles as it is all wobbly. Well, we’re  a bit low on cash at the moment owing to our upcoming trip back to the US so I was worried about paying a lot. The cheapest ball (labelled Value Ball) was £4.99 and was *just* the right height for me, meaning the smallest ball. It is made for people under 5”4 which I am. But the more expensive they got the more they said came with it. You could pay £9.99 for a hand pump and £14.99 for one that came with a  foot pump. My pilates teacher said the hand pumps were crappy and to go for a cheaper model and borrow her pump or get one from school for blowing up footballs.  I still debated about it. It would be more convenient to get a foot pump that I could use at my disposal,  but ultimately a little voice in the back of my head said to get the Value Ball.

I am *so* glad I did because guess what? The £4.99 Value Ball came with a foot pump. Uh huh. You heard me. I almost shelled out £14.99 for one but ended up getting it for  £4.99. But no where in the catalogue does it say that. See what I mean--the ultimate sneaky f*cker. The pump was easy peasy to use and I got the ball blown up on my own and am now sitting on it as I type and I love it. It is so comfortable and forces me not to slouch and keep correct sitting posture that I think I will never sit in a chair again.  I did a few exercises on it and I can really feel the difference. My only complaint is it seems to pick up every bit of dust or grit or bit of thread from the floor which just tells me I need to hoover. That’s not the ball’s fault.

So let that be a lesson to us all. Advertisers lie like a dog (if sins of omission are lies which I believe they are) and sometimes you get what you (don’t) pay for. Oh and beware of Sneaky F*ckers. 

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Oh, that's very different. Never mind

Do you recall Emily Litella played by Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live way back when it was funny? She was forever getting the wrong end of the stick and having a rant and then once corrected became very meek and said, "Oh, that's very different. Never mind." My favourite ones were what's wrong with "new, clear energy" isn't that better than old dirty energy? and what's wrong with "violins" on tv? If we had more clasical music maybe kids wouldn't get into so much trouble.

We had 2 moments yesterday like this so I thought I'd share.

Spiderman: I never would have believed it. there's a tadpole in the Guardian. (hands me newspaper to look at)
Me: (looking in vain at crossword clues for something about a frog) Where?
Spierman: Here (pointing at the puzzle)
Me: Where???
Spiderman (jabbing violently at newspaper) HERE!
Me: What does that have to do with frogs?
Spiderman: WHAT????????????????????

It turns our he didn't say tadpole at all--he said typo. there was a typo in the Guardian. And there was. A glaring one that was easily spotted once I stopped looking for frogs. He kindly drew a small tadpole on the top of the paper so there would be one after all. What a guy.

(you must recall that all of our classes are named after countries).

Me: I can't speak for Scotland or England but I am really impressed that Wales has such a high reading level this year.
Spiderman: that's because they are bilingual.
Me: (thinking that the new Russian boy is in Scotland not Wales)  What do you mean?
Spiderman: because they teach Welsh in schools.
Me: No we don't! We teach French!
Spiderman: (slowly dawning on him  have not been refering to the country of Wales but rather the third section of year 3) Never mind.

This is the story of our lives. At least we can laugh about it.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Because we all know each other, right?

It is the end of the first week at school. I always find that first week back is so hard. You can't eat or go for a wee when you want. By 10:15 break time I am peeing like Seabiscuit and feel like I haven't eaten in months. It does get better once my body adjusts to the more regimented schedule. Summers are a bit *la la la, have a lie in and a snack and lie about on the sofa reading a favourite book* sort of time. School is doing 12 things at once with little people crying or lost or confused or being rowdy or angry and you find yourself saying things like "Sweetie what's wrong, the office is that way, just write down some ways to describe fruit like soft, sweet, juicy or crunchy, sit down in your seat now, whoa! grabbing someone's nipples is unacceptable!" This is an *actual* transcript of the first 15 minutes of my day today. No really. I am with year 3 for the first hour and it is a bit overwelming (not sure if I mean for them or me) There are lots of big feelings when you are seven years old so while I'm hugging crying girl I'm directing traffic with my other arm to get rowdy boy to sit down, confused boy to do some work,  and titty twisting girl to come here for a stern talking to. I'm also gesturing with my head towards the office for lost child who needs to deliver a note.  Most people, including Spiderman, would run away screaming. I like it. I just find it really hectic.

The second part of the morning I go from class to class to help support children with language needs who don't speak English at home. Most of our children can function in English but just need that odd bit of support in their writing. So today I spent 45 minutes with three year 5 children going over stories they had read in class, making sure they understood the plot and vocabulary and helped them plan an alternate ending because Monday they will need to write their own ending to the familiar story. That was fun.

This year we have two straight- from -another- country- don't- speak- a- lick- of -English- kids--one from Russia and one from the Ivory Coast. This is a great challenge for all my drama abilities as I have to act out most things with sound effects. The girl from the Ivory Coast is 10 years old and in year 6 and can read in French so we often plug in a translation of things--the writing assignment/today's hot school meal choices--into Babelfish so she can understand and enough of us speak some French that we get by. She is very shy about speaking English in front of others so we'll have some sessions where we just practice talking.  However, the little Russian chap is 7 years old and this is his first time at school. He is cheeky and funny and smily and willing to try anything. We've been looking at pictures of fruits and veg on google image and writing adjectives like sweet, juicy, crunchy, sour. All of these have had to be mimed by me with sound effects. I'm taking him down to the shops next week so we can look at a variety of food and we can buy some and he can come back and tell the class about it. "This is a juicy pineapple." "This is a crunchy carrot." etc etc

I enjoy the challenges of my job and I am kept running constantly until lunch when I get to go home. I am thankful we can afford to have me only work half days because it is really tiring being with wee'uns if you give your heart and soul to helping them. And the other fun thing is all our classes are named after countries so I started off in Wales, then went to New Zealand and then had a few minutes in France right before lunch!

Which leads me to the title of this entry. This morning a child in Wales asked me this question(while all the previous events described were happening I might add.)

child:  Do you know my auntie? 
me: I don't know. Who is your auntie?
child: names someone I have never heard of
me (thinking auntie is former student--we get lots of aunties and uncles who are more like cousins) How old is your auntie?
child: 36
me: why would you think I would know your auntie?
child: because she lives in New York.

Ahhh. New York is in America and I am from there and therefore I might know her. I promised to get an atlas on Monday and show her where New York and Louisiana are. So I'll just add that to the list of things to do while sorting out all the problems of the world.

Monday, 5 September 2011

There are two kinds of people in the world

Spiderman’s theory is:
 There are two kinds of people in the world.
Those who have nuts and those who are nuts.

My theory is:
There are two kinds of people in the world.
Those who like to count and those who don’t.

Also those who see faces in inanimate objects and those who don’t –but that’s for another post.

I am certainly no mathematician. My math skills are passable at best. But there is something lovely about counting. I’m like the character Count Von Count from Sesame Street. 3, 3 chocolate chips in this cookie, ah, ah, ah! (cue thunder and lightning)

Maybe it the OCD side of me. Some things I like to keep to even amounts such as:
  1. Number of swipes of deodorant under each arm. (8)  Spiderman doesn’t count and sometimes I try to watch him and count so I can see just how uneven his underarm protection is—that was stopped pretty quickly.
  2. Number of squirts of oil—whether it is the sunflower oil I wash my face with (3 squirts) or the oil I spray in a pan for cooking (6 squirts)
  3. How many grinds of pepper. (20) I asked Spiderman how much pepper he usually puts in the soup but he couldn’t tell me in exact numbers. He just said a lot.

Some things I just like to know how long it takes such as:
  1. How many steps from our front door to the nearest pillar box to post a letter. 91.
  2. How many chocolate chips in each cookie. (variable)
  3. How many seconds does it take me to pee. (no really) That is an interesting one—just to compare the variable. No wonder that was a 49—I was bursting.

I like to count as I do things. How many snips will it take to cut out this square of paper. How many stirs will it take for the brownie batter to be mixed up. I don’t even realize I’m doing it. But as soon as I start to do a repetitive activity I start counting to myself.

I’m the sort of person who would love to wear a pedometer and count my steps for the day and make a chart seeing which days I walked the most. Just for funsies, ya know?

Maybe there is more to Spiderman’s theory than we thought.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative

I am the weirdest combination of optimist and pessimist. When it comes to the rest of the world I fall in the Anne Frank category--In spite of everything I still believe people are good at heart. As a Quaker I actively look (and often find) That of God in everyone to quote George Fox.  I can look at a bad situation where there is poverty, oppression, injustice and I can see the role I am to take to help alleviate that suffering. It is a prayer I pray every morning--Lead me where you need me. It is easy to be hopeful about others, but I find I am much harder on myself.

When it comes to myself and my feelings about what I am to do to alleviate my own suffering I am not quite as good. I know I am way too hard on myself. I would not dream of speaking to a friend (or an enemy) the way I speak to myself sometimes. I sometimes see everything I am to do that involves helping myself as a recipe for disaster and failure. Going to London on my own? Cue vomiting and the squits because I am sure I will get lost. I have no sense of direction. I am bad at reading maps. I’m too stupid.  I’ll end up in Belgium. I am working on getting over this--and mostly succeeding--but it has taken WORK on my part and intensive PRAYER.

I find that when I am faced with something with a lot of unknown variables--particularly something I don’t want to do-- I find I cannot seem to “look on the bright side” I just see all the ways it can horribly, horribly wrong. I cross so many bridges that I really will end up in Belgium. I am the sort of person who doesn’t like to “play it by ear” too much. I am fine with saying “Once we get to the supermarket in a strange town we’ll see what they have and plan meals around what we can find.” I am NOT fine with “Hey, we’re going to town we’ve never been to. Let’s just wait until we get there to even see if they have a supermarket.”

And it is funny because the more you say to yourself This is going to be a disaster of Titanic proportions--then it is. The more you repeat that negative thought the more you end up  crouching on an iceberg singing Celine Dion in a quavering, falsetto voice and believe me my friends--nobody wants that. The same is true for positive things. If you think there will be blessings then there will be. If you see every day as a way to go out and do good and that God will put the people who need you in your path so you can give what they need then you will. So why is it so hard to believe that when I need to do something  that involves myself that God won’t make something good come out if it as well? If everyday I encounter people who need me--and I meet that need through love, why won’t God  put people in my path to meet the needs I have with love? 

I have found myself needing more specific prayer times to cope. I do try to pray without ceasing but I find my day is ordered better if I pray, on my knees (sometimes having to move to my bottom if my list of fears and worries are overly long) more than once a day. I was moved greatly by my Muslim students who pray 5 times a day. To start their day, to refresh them midday and to close the day. It is my goal to have 3 specific prayer times a day. Sometimes I don’t manage all 3. Sometimes I only get the morning one in. But this school year I hope to get all 3 in, because I know how much better and more calm I feel when I do.

My morning prayers help me focus on acknowledging  my worries, fears, insecurities and weaknesses and asking for help to defeat them. For God to turn them into something useful that means I face the fear and do it anyway and in the process help myself or someone else. Because God knows what is in your heart--He knows where you try and fail. But until we can actively see our own failures and ask for help then there is not much He can do. It is in being self aware and asking for help that we receive the guidance and peacefulness we long for. The Bible says ask you shall receive.  I never thought this was about “Oh God let me win the lottery” but rather ask for help and you get help. That help may be to do something that scares you, go somewhere unknown, help someone who you find difficult --but it helps you grow in your own faith and love and strength and ability to give freely. Every morning I go thorough what scares me, what makes me angry, what makes me unable to love and give freely and ask for help to defeat these feelings. And I get it.

I also pray to be the lamp and God the light. I want His love to radiate from my being so that people who know me and people who don’t see me full of love and kindness and know that if they need me they can just ask. I have many people I don’t even know stop me and ask for help. Sometimes it is just to talk because they are lonely or to ask for prayers (I have had  strangers ask me to pray for them) sometimes it is just to help with something. Sometimes it is someone I know like a stressed colleague struggling to do something and I can help or take on part of the burden or an elderly friend who needs help doing the shopping.  But every day that I ask the question “Who do you want me to love today? Put them in my path” and then I find them.

I like to set aside a time in the afternoon to pray specifically for others that I know are burdened with illness or sadness or suffering. Sometimes this is people I know or whole countries I don’t. I find this refreshes and relaxes me to spend some time deep breathing--my mantra is Breathe Deep the Breath of God --and thinking actively of those who need love.

In the evenings I like to spend a few moments on my knees saying thanks--but not saving it all up for before I go to sleep because you are sure to forget something and be too tired to say them all. In my morning prayers I promise to not try to struggle on endlessly trying to cope with difficult things until I fall apart and cry but rather at the first sign of stress or difficulty to ask for help. I also pray that every time something good happens I stop there and then to say thanks. To say thanks at every turn because when I do I notice there are so many things to be thankful for.

I remember as a child being really annoying when I visited my religious auntie and we had evening prayers and she thanked God that whatever was in the oven didn’t burn. I recall thinking God is not your oven timer--He doesn’t care about what you made for dinner. He can’t be bothered looking out for your cooking--He’s got more important things to do. Now I can see I got it totally wrong. It is not thank God that YOU stopped my dinner from burning but rather I am THANKFUL it did not burn. When you look at things you are thankful for then the whole world turns into good things.

So yeah. Even with a deep prayer life and lots of conversations (and some rants if I’m honest) with God I still struggle sometimes doing things I don’t want to do. We’ve all been there. God asks us to do something difficult but we’d rather watch telly or read a book or bury our head in the sand with our fingers in our ears singing LA LA LA or anything that doesn’t involve facing people or situations that are difficult. But sometimes  even if the situation is not the best for you, you are the best thing for that situation.  Or that person is not the best for you (they drive you round the twist) but you are the best thing for that person (you make a difference in their life.)

I try to hold on to that fact especially when I am feeling grumpy about being called to go somewhere or do something when I’d rather not be bothered. But if I do it then I know I will be blessing someone else and be blessed in return. That is how it works.  Amen and God bless.