June 29th, 2012
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We're just back from a four-day holiday with the grandchildren. We took them to visit my sister and her granddaughter in Suffolk and managed to fit in all the same things that she and I used to do with our own children when they were young.
The weather was kind and enabled us to be outdoors the whole time. We sailed boats on the boating lake in Aldeburgh which the boys loved. We ate fish and chips straight out of the sea and ate ice-creams galore – so many, indeed, that the youngest announced that his parents 'won't believe how many ice-creams we've had'!
We jumped waves on the beach, collected pebbles, and visited the Aldeburgh life-boat. We took a boat out on the Mere in Thorpeness and taught the boys to row.
I've said it before but I'll say it again that one of the great joys of grandparenting is being able to re-enact all the happy times you've enjoyed with your own kids. It's like an unexpected bonus that you get to be able to do it all over again.
But there's the added bonus that we seem to have more time to enjoy them now. Although the four days were hectic, I felt able to stop and appreciate it all. Small children are such enthusiasts for anything and everything that they really are a joy to take out and about. You see everything through fresh eyes with them in tow. They run everywhere and attack everything with gusto yet they feel so precious at the same time, and their childhoods are so short, that it's a real delight to be able to share some of it with them.
June 22nd, 2012
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About 18 months ago I wrote about our grandsons being very young – far too young as it turned out – page boys at their godparents' wedding. They were just 3 and 17 months, and were supposed to fulfill their duties along with another little girl of about 18 months and an even younger little boy.
The whole thing turned into a bit of a fiasco as none of them wanted to walk down the aisle (those who could walk, I mean) and the bride's entrance was accompanied by rather a lot of cries, objections and even wailing! No one seemed to mind though as it was a very relaxed occasion and the wedding went ahead whilst I and one father took the youngest children outside to play.
Tomorrow, we're going through the same kind of scenario but with much older grandchildren. They're now 4 and a half and nearly 3 – so a different ball-game altogether and this time it's the wedding of their aunty – their mother's sister. So I'm imagining they'll be joined by their cousins – 3 little girls, all similar in ages. And I can't wait to watch as the 5 of them process down the aisle.
I'm guessing that the little girls may be rather better behaved than the boys – only because, as any parent or grandparent of small children knows, boys can be so much more boisterous than girls. In fact you'd think that's where the word comes from wouldn't you? Boisterous as in BOYS: rowdy, rough, noisy, clangorous, uprorarious – all words that accurately describe our two. Yet the derivation seems to come from an old French/English word called boistrous meaning crude, and clumsy – maybe instead boys were named after boistrous?
Anyway, I'll be watching with an eagle eye- and will report back next week on the progress down the aisle – and during the service – and whether the boys were boisterous and the girls angelic. Or whether I'm just stereo-typing the sexes.
My heart went out to the 32 year old who is so far gone in her eating disorder that she wants to die. The case struck a particular chord with me as she could have been one of any number of girls/women I've worked with who've suffered from the same syndrome. I've counselled young women who starve themselves over the course of many years because of their fear of food. Many were abused as youngsters – some by people really close to them, others by strangers. Most have happy loving families. Many are super intelligent and high achievers with great dreams and ambitions for their futures. Then something kicks in that leads them to opting out of everyday life: they retreat into themselves as their bodies shrink; they focus on what not to eat and how not to eat over and above everything else; they glory in their shrinking bodies, seeing every pound loss as an achievement not a matter of regret. And all too often they spend so long like this that the idea of ever putting on any weight and regaining any kind of normal life feels truly frightening and threatening to them – so that they'd prefer to stay the same, if not smaller.
The fact that this woman's parents also wanted her to be allowed to die was perhaps, for me, the most striking aspect of this tragic case. Parents', families', grandparents' natural base instinct is to strive to do everything to protect their children, keep them safe and keep them alive. For them to have reached this stage – of being able to accept that their daughter's wish to die over-rides even their natural instincts and over-whelming love, seems quite remarkable to me. It means they must have watched her suffering increase over such a long long period that they've begun to understand just how ghastly life feels to her and can empathise with her desire to be out of it.
The real tragedy with eating disorders is that there's so little appropriate help available. Many GP's are slow to diagnose and don't know who best to refer on to. And many eating disorder units are basically just places where children are force-fed in order to be returned out into the world to start their destructive patterns of behaviour all over again. It can take years for someone to get over an eating disorder and it needs lots and lots of regular talking therapy. Only those who can afford to pay for this are likely to receive it year in and year out. Until we take the issue seriously enough to decide this is something we as a country should be caring about and spending money on – young people will never receive the kind of help they need.
June 13th, 2012
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We're in France at the moment, on holiday, and this morning went into our small local village to the market. It's a tiny market – a couple of fruit and vegetable stalls, one butcher/delicatessen, one cheese stall, one plant stall, and a couple of clothing sellers. But it's quaint and the produce is local and it's fun to support it. Afterwards we stopped in the village square for a coffee and watched the world go by – and what struck me then was the number of mothers picking up their children at 12 to take them home for lunch. They weren't picking these little ones up from school, as there's no primary school on Wednesdays around here. There seems to be a belief that small children should have a break in the working week – two solid days is enough and then they have a rest before resuming on Thursdays and Fridays. This is all very well, but I know there are lots of working mothers hereabouts and I've been wondering how they manage to fit their working week in around the childrens' odd hours. But they do, obviously. They make good provision in France for childcare from a very early age, but also, it struck me, there must be a more child-friendly attitude from all the local workplaces too, to enable so many mothers to be able to take their children home for lunch on Wednesdays. Of course, they enjoy a long lunch round here – and I guess that says it all. The French enjoy their food and they enjoy their children – so, naturellement, everyone – employers, employees, child care providers and schools – all fit in around those two big bastions of society. Maybe in the UK we should have a look at our values from time to time, try to adopt more family-friendly attitudes….and not put such great emphasis on work, work, work and nothing but work?
Look what I found! I was so thrilled this week to find these modern versions of the old flower pot – designed specifically for children to play with. I have fond memories of flower-pot races – I even think we had them as part of our school sports' day! But certainly they took place on many other occasions along with the egg-and-spoon race and sack race.
I was surprised when OH said he hadn't a clue what I was buying nor what they were for. His school days and youth obviously never consisted on trying to balance one foot at a time, on a clay pot, as you raced against your friends.
My sister points out that racing on old-fashioned terracotta pots is probably outlawed nowadays on 'health and safety' grounds – the pots might break, children might fall off them and cut themselves/break an ankle etc. etc. But surely on soft ground like grass, the dangers can't be that great?
Anyway, we'll be trying them out shortly with the grandchildren and I'll be able to report back on whether as much can be had on plastic as on clay. And yes I have to admit, just to be careful, I'll make sure they're used only on grass!
Our main thoughts on this fourth morning of the royal jubilee celebrations are with Her Majesty and how sad she looked during Prince Charles' speech when he referred to his missing father.
Suddenly, she looked frail and vulnerable and we could read the worry on her face. It's been an amazing weekend so far with some stunning sights and atrocious weather but at the heart of it all is an elderly woman who has lost two of those nearest and dearest to her – and must surely be worrying a little about the enduring health of herself and her husband.
To my mind it was barking mad putting her and Prince Phillip on a boat with no heating on Saturday, and hardly surprising that the Duke was taken ill. My old grandmother would have said he'd got a 'chill' from being exposed to the cold, wind and rain. We're now know that's not how it works, apparently, but we also all know that our constitutions as we age are not the same as they used to be. Many of us feel the cold as we get older far more than we ever used to when young.
And even though royal protocol probably forbad it, I'd have far preferred to see some provision for heating on that royal barge – patio heaters or some such – or regular hot cups of tea being brought to her majesty, than to have to watch them stoically suffering the terrible conditions. It seemed almost inevitable that someone would fall ill – and so sad for the Queen that it had to be the Duke on this her special weekend.
I was knee high to a gnat at the time of the Queen's coronation – 59 years ago today – but I have quite a strong recollection of our family being the only ones in the apartment block to have a television – one of those very early square, dark wooden-framed boxes. And I seem to remember a number of people squashing into our darkened living-room to watch the spectacle unfold.
But the problem with so many childhood memories is that we can't be sure they truly are our memories – and not something that's been planted there by years of being told: 'Do you remember the coronation when we had all the neighbours in because we were the only ones with a television set?' – and so I'll never be able to verify whether the picture in my mind is accuracte or not.
Certainly it can't be a memory based on seeing a photograph for there have never been any photos of that day. People didn't seem to take photos of everything as they do now. Today, a rare event like that would have been captured – a picture of us and all the neighbours jammed around the tv with blurry black and white footage of the queen at its centre. But the event in our home was not recorded for posterity and so my memory remains in my mind unsure if it's true or not.
We hear a lot today from parenting gurus about 'building memories' for our children and grandchildren and I'm all for the idea in principle. But the memory is a weird and wonderful thing, isn't it, and I'm not sure that we need to keep memory-building at the forefront of our minds. I prefer to encourage the grandchildren to live in the moment and to enjoy the moment with them. If they remember it, that's great, if not it's hardly surprising when you think of the amount of storage that anyone brain has to contain across the decades!