Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

Adjusting (or not)

I find it difficult to get used to this place. The next door neighbor is a single mum with three young kids, and from my point of view the kids are out of control, the whole family constantly screaming at each other (and worse on occasion). Though her youngest and mine rarely play together- the pervasiveness of their life is starting to affect my kids. Rafe, who is normally incredibly good natured, has started screaming at me. I have long learned how to handle that type of behaviour and can nip it in the bud with a stern word of warning, but it disturbs me just the same. My daughter,11, occasionally plays with the other girls on the street, and afterwards she is belligerent, demanding and snotty. Trying to manage these new behaviours is demanding as they are not part of my kids normal makeup, and are the result of influence. I find that I have to be even more strict than usual and can’t let them get away with it for a second. My eldest is son is thankfully not yet affected, he is not allowed to hang out with the few boys his age on the street as I know they smoke and drink. He’d like to go to the skatepark but the kids there are nasty little cretins and Dev finds that instead of just being able to play, he has to spend his whole time arguing or standing up for himself. Never mind that he is bigger than the kids and could easily lay them out if he decided to let them have it, that’s not in his genetic makeup and I think they see that.

The nights are difficult. Though we are fairly tucked away, our road is some sort of bus through-fare and they come and go at all hours. People come and go all night as well, usually loud and drunkenly. The dogs of the neighbourhood wake me up early every morning with collective howling and barking. During the day the street is full of kids, normally just playing, but when the neighbor kids are about you can be sure their mother will turn up soon and they will all start screaming again, usually just outside our windows. The little one, only 6, will inevitably start crying and there will be more screaming and I end up pacing the floor, wondering what I can do and usually just taking my kids to the park so they don’t have to listen to it anymore. Once I could hear her sobbing through the walls with occasional screaming at the kids and I gathered up all my courage and went over to ask if I could help, maybe by taking her kids to the park or something, she pretended not to be there, and when I pressed said she was fine, thank you.

Her behaviour disturbs me, especially as I worry about her kids, and the effect on mine, and initially I was very judgemental about her. I softened though when I remembered being a single mother for 8 years with two kids, one of which would later be diagnosed with a “social communication disorder”, which just means he screamed a lot as a kid, and occasionally jumped out of moving cars on busy roads because he couldn’t control his anger. It took me a few years to get the hang of this parenting stuff, and I remember being so hard on my son for silly things. I want to help my new neighbour, but she clearly does not want my help. She struts around the neighbourhood, wine class in hand, screaming at her kids or sobbing about some transgression to the adolescent girls that make up her entourage. I find myself less sympathetic and understanding and more irritated and disgusted. When the screaming starts I twitch the curtains, worried she will strike one of the children and knowing that if, when, it happens I will not be able to stay out of it anymore. My family knows this, and while I don’t think they would truly want me to stand back if she were beating them, I know they want me to be quiet, mind my own business, not get involved. I feel embarrassed that they feel this way, that I am some big mouth always getting involved in things that they don’t think concern me. I feel ashamed of them, too. We once came across a man and a woman fighting in the back of the van at a red light. We could see him punching her, could see the blood on her face and clothes. Instinctively I got out of the car, started to shout at them but was dragged back in by the sounds of my family shouting at me. I knew it could end up with me being hurt and didn’t want my kids to see that, so I got back in, and called the police instead. I thought perhaps I had taught my kids an important lesson that night, but now I wonder. Could it be that I am raising kids, and am married to a man, who can stand back and do nothing while others are hurt or treated badly and worse, believe that is better somehow than getting involved?

I long for our detached house in the tiny little cul-de-sac, where the cats could sleep all day on the road outside without ever being disturbed, where the nights were mostly silent and the only noise on a Sunday morning are the church bells in town, which I opened my windows wide to, so that we could hear them better, especially in the winter, when they chime Christmas carols.

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trapped

I feel… trapped. Imprisoned. My chains? No, not the children. Not even the husband. Religion? Nope. Gender? Not in the west in 2011. So, why? How can I feel trapped? I have a roof over my head, food in my ample belly. Opportunities that women in other countries can only dream of. How can I feel trapped?

I think to myself that I am limited by my bank account, that I want to get on a boat or a train and see the world, I want my only limits to what I can do, to what my family can do, to be our imaginations. I think I want to grab life by the horns and live it to the absolute fullest and if only I had a few million in the bank, I could.

Other days I don’t want that at all, I want nothing more than a big house in the country, surrounded by fields and to spend my days pottering around my large kitchen, or lounging in my library, reading or writing. Having huge holiday celebrations and family reunions and just…living a good, content, full life.

Alas, both options require money. I am not sure why my life in its current state cannot content me. My children are healthy, intelligent, beautiful. My husband is caring and loyal. Even on the days when the cupboard and the fridge is full, there is plenty of money in the bank account, the bills are paid and my hair is clean and shiny, I still feel…unfulfilled. As if something is missing and I can’t work out what it is. A sense of purpose? Perhaps. Security? Independence? Perhaps.

I feel as if I am living constantly in the house of cards my teenage son constructed this summer, stuck at home with a broken leg and a pack of cards I had just handed him. He had never built one before and even the slightest hint of a breath would send it tumbling to the floor. I can’t get that feeling out of my head. Every day I become more certain that I never will. No matter how successful I might ever become, or how much money amasses in my bank account, no matter what great things my children persue in their lives, I fear that I will never escape that feeling of everything tumbling down around me at the slightest hint of a breath. That no matter how many pills I take or counseling I have, I will never feel happy with myself or my life.

I wonder why this is? Is it because I was unhappy as a child? Bullied incessantly at school and disliked at home? Have I become conditioned to feel this way? Certain that any feeling of happiness or pleasure is a sign of a great wind bearing down on my house of cards. Is it because there is some fundamental glitch in my programming?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, only that as I get older (Hello, 30! See you soon!) they become more pressing, more relevant. I wonder if it is perhaps a part of growing up, and that perhaps I will grow out of it, as indeed I grew out of my “I know everything, nobody can tell me what to do, it’s MY life so fuck off” teenage years.

On the bad days, the ones where for whatever reason I have found myself lying in bed at 11am, sobbing uncontrollably, the black hole in my chest absorbing light and life and threatening to consume every ounce of me, I find myself wanting nothing more then to go home.

“I want to go home.” I sob in to my husband’s chest hair, helpless and small and wishing I could melt into him, not understanding why I’m saying it, why my heart is feeling it. There is nothing left for me there. I think if I were to die suddenly I would not want to be returned there, to travel 6000 miles in a box and be buried so far from the people that love me the most, so why do I long to be back there in my darkest days? Perhaps what is calling to me is the desert which I love so much, the free and open spaces where I could never feel trapped or confined, where I could climb a mountain and watch the sunrise over the peaks and cactus. Even standing on the shores of Great Britain, gazing into the Atlantic Ocean, where there is nothing but sea and sky before me, I feel trapped. An island full of unfamiliar people behind me, a vast inhospitable sea before me.

I wonder if I will ever leave this country again, if I will ever leave behind the feeling of being imprisoned and lost within myself.

Britain the Beautiful

I am fairly certain that had I enough money, enough to be comfortable, to have a large house in the country far away from civilisation, I would be quite happy living here in England. That is because England has a truly spectacular beauty, that strikes me dumb every time.

It is the little things I appreciate the most, like this field of Sunflowers just off the road on the way back from the dentist this morning. I have never in my life seen a field of Sunflowers and I instructed my husband to turn around and go back at once.

The field is department of Defence (No! Bad immigrant! They call it the Ministry of Defence here. At least I got the spelling right!) property, so a stroll through the flowers was not an option, but it’s a beautiful day, and the flowers are beautiful, and the heather is beautiful and the poppies and the thistles are beautiful, and the horses and cows in the field down the lane are amazing, and the trees and sky and grass and the occasional large house tucked away behind some trees or in a field is beautiful. And for a moment, as I stand there surveying this strange land I have come to call home, before we drive back down the hill into our own depressing lives, a fleeting thought flickers across my mind that I could be happy here.

Sunflowers and thistles

purty view

Idsworth

About seven years ago a friend of mine that I knew online introduced me through MSN messenger to a friend of his that he knew online. I knew my friend through a photography website/forum and he knew his friend through a forum for people with an unhealthy interest in airplanes. (Occasionally known as “anoraks” in this part of the world.) We hit it off and started chatting and emailing. Five months later, we were married and four months after that, my two kids and I got on a plane bound for England with a one-way ticket.

It has not been rainbows and butterflies, in fact it has been a rough road and last year we separated and remained that way for over a year. My husband moved back in a few months ago and a few weeks ago I slipped my wedding ring back on and didn’t take it off. Now we are in a difficult period of readjustment. I could fill a large room with all the reasons why we separated and all the reasons why we got back together, they are many and varied and sometimes even conflicting. What I wanted to share was an image.

Last night I was searching through some old emails and came across hundreds he had sent me in 2005. Every day, all different. They were pictures. Pictures he had taken. He chose the most beautiful, the most interesting, his best. The ones he wanted to share with me.

They are all beautiful images, but my favorite- the one that made me long for England, the one that excited my kids about our move, the one that convinced me that this move was the right thing to do was this one:

Church

Oh, how I fell in love with this church. We talked about getting married there, and it became synonymous with England, with our new life. I’ve been to that church a few times since living here, it is local, but not close enough to walk to. It is as beautiful and quaint and picture perfect as in the image. This is such a beautiful country and if the day ever comes for me to leave, it will be with a sadness in my heart.

Cornwall 2010

Around this time last year I was not in a good place, and as I watched my settlement money from my unfair dismissal claim quickly dwindle, I knew I needed to get away before it was all gone and I was poor again.

 

So, I made last minute arrangements (as in “Hi, do you have a room free? Great, we’ll be there in 6 hours” kind of arrangements), arranged for the neighbor to keep an eye on the cats who had plenty of food and water and an open window so they could come and go (we live in a quite cul-de-sac and the neighbor would keep an eye on them). We threw all our gear in the car and we went. We spent a week in Cornwall, our 1st favourite place in the UK. We stayed in the former governess quarters of a large Victorian manor house, and spent our days taking long walks, going to the beach, exploring all the wonderful Cornish towns and villages (Mevagissey, Polperro, etc) and just really enjoying being together and not having to worry or stress about anything. (Well, not completely true, I took our big computer with us so I could finish an essay that was due imminently, but by our 3rd day I admitted defeat and arranged an extension instead. Good decision.)

Newquay, 2010 Olivia and Rafe

I love going on holiday with my family. I am glad we had that week in Cornwall last year, and grateful we had the ability to do it. Yes, I’m feeling ragged and tired and another Cornish holiday is exactly what I’m dreaming about right now. But that was a good time, and the memories and the pictures make me happy. So, I’m marking the calendar for next year, and hopefully we’ll be able to take a holiday to celebrate being a family, and not another one hiding from the problems that have been tearing us apart, though even those can offer some solace to a tired soul.

Parenting Styles idealistic vs realistic?

While I have dozens of blogs in my bookmarks folder that I read at least weekly, there are only a very few that are in my top sites and I click on daily (or as often as they post something new). One of these is my favourite, because I really do identify with the blogger and enjoy reading what she writes. I especially enjoy reading about her parenting style, as while it’s not to different from my own, there are some stark contrasts. I find her style of parenting to be on one hand refreshing, possibly even inspiring. On the other hand, I find it naive in its innocence, lacking perhaps in depth and I wonder if her children won’t be in for a nasty shock when one day they step out into the real world without her there to protect them.   This is of course, not a post meant to slam any other blogger, I only know of her parenting style that which she cares to share through her blog, and I’m not criticising her.

I only use her as an example because when I read her posts about parenting, I, of course, compare it to my own style and wonder which is best, ultimately. That, I don’t know. I am accused of being over protective of my kids, I am told I should give them more freedom, especially my oldest son.  I try to be fair, and I certainly don’t want my children to feel as if they are caged, so I consider it.

When I moved my oldest children to England not quite six years ago, I had these wonderful ideals about the childhood they would have. To some extent those ideals have been fulfilled. We take long rambling walks through the woods, go to the beach all the time, they climb trees, eat fruit straight off the branch,  know the joy of a snow day, and are sick to death of historical monuments and buildings. But the one ideal that has not been met is the one where the kids would spend days out playing, like I did and I imagine my parents before me. I built huts in fields, rode bikes, played in my friends houses, played hide and seek at twilight. My kids don’t do those things, or not often anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, they LOVE to do those things.

Smiley

But, Britain is a funny place. Children here are a strange breed. Having gone out to ride bikes with her big brother, my daughter has come home in tears, having been shoved off her bike and punched in the stomach by a bigger boy. My son has been the victim of a group attack after having gone to play at the skate park with friends, by kids he barely knew. He has also been the victim of random violence, coming home one evening.  The children who live across from us, who my kids used to be friends with and the older one went out to dinner with us for my sons birthday last year, turned nasty and started doing things like calling us names, throwing eggs at our house, even ringing our doorbell and running away. Their parents couldn’t care less.

Children who very much appear to be younger than 5 play outside on their own, or with slightly older siblings. Older teens roam the streets with beer in hand, shouting abuse and obscenities.

So, yes, I consider giving my children more freedom. I would even like to. But, it seems like it would be ridiculous to ever follow through. I worry about my daughter, she is only ten. It seems she is at an age where she is at risk of being kidnapped or even sexually assaulted. She is allowed certain freedoms, but very little compared to her friends. She complains about it, but I can only cringe at the freedoms her friends have.  Once while at the park with her friends after school (Daddy was there to keep an eye on her), one of her friends had a strange phone call from a man who said he wanted to meet her in the woods. The friend wanted to go into the woods to meet the man(!!), but my daughter talked her out of it. I have no idea if the girl really did get that strange phone call, but the point is that had my husband not been there, there would have been no adult supervision whatsoever. He was there only because I refuse to let my daughter play at the park alone with her friends, the other girls parents would have had no idea he was there. Another cringeworthy example is my daughters (former) best friends freedoms, we took her out Trick or Treating last halloween, and for fun stopped at her house, at some point after dark. We told her father we’d have her home probably in an hour or so, and he said not to worry, she could walk by herself (!), after dark, on Halloween!  I was gobsmacked.  (We, of course, dropped her off)

Rocket Man

I worry about my 13 year old son, who is at an age where I myself was experiencing my first days in juvenile detention, sleeping on the streets, smoking, having sex and doing drugs. Needless to say, I lose countless hours of sleep worrying about him. I give him some freedoms, he is allowed to go out to “play” but I insist on regular, in person, check ins. I like to know where he plans to be and who he plans to be with. He gets ever so annoyed about my frequent reminders about not smoking, drinking, or kissing. I am strict. Failing to check in and being gone for hours and hours is a guaranteed road to grounding. I seem too strict but I find my method works. I have a better idea of where he is and what he’s doing. He has a failsafe, he can always get out of uncomfortable situations because his mom makes him check in and after years of this, I know that when he fails to check in it is usually because he is having a good time with his friends, riding bikes or building forts, and I worry slightly less. If something off were going on, he would be more likely to check in and not go back out.

I find that far from constraining them, my limits allow for more quality family time. We can hardly take those long rambling walks, go to the beach or enjoy £1 bowling or movies if the kids are never around. The kids moan about it, but they are far happier when they are out with us than when they come home having been with their friends all day.

As parents we always have our kids best interests at heart. The other blogger obviously wants her kids to have an innocent childhood, blissfully unaware of the bad shit that happens in real life. This is commendable, but I wonder if it’s realistic?  On the other hand, I believe in being honest and open with my kids. They know all about the bad shit. My daughter knows what to do if someone tries to grab or lure her off the street. My son knows about smoking and drugs and sex. They know that sometimes kids get killed, and they know that the world is not necessarily a nice place.  Is this a good way for them to grow up, have they lost some of their innocence?

Easter Cake

I never quite know which method is best, and I sometimes covet the apparently idealised childhood her kids seem to have. But, I can’t quite remove myself from the stories of bad shit that happens to kids, or from my own experiences, enough to let go and let them have the freedom they want, and others tell me to give. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Do I need to cut the cord? Or is my parenting style encouraging stronger ties with their family, giving them a strong support structure and keeping their minds open to all the opportunities out there, beyond spending 6 hours jumping on a trampoline, culminating in a level of boredom that will lead to drinking/smoking/making out?

I am truly interested in this, because I must admit to getting irritated at the constant squeaking of the people involved in my sons education who listen to his complaints and refer to me as overprotective and controlling. I disagree with them, I am not blind and see the way kids are being raised around me, and surely it is my job as a parent to do whats best for my child? Is my 13 year old son really old enough to make his own decisions and be trusted with the level of responsibility necessary to keep himself safe and healthy on a day to day basis when is being pressured? I wasn’t. Hell, I can’t even trust him to remember to feed the cats every day. Is it really safe enough to allow my daughter to play alone at the park with only other 10 year old girls with her, or walk home alone late in the evening?  Do I need to take into account that we live in Nowhere,Hampshire as opposed to Central London?

I wonder what others opinions are on this? If you have kids, how much freedom do you allow them? Is family time more important than friend time and do you let your kids be aware of the bad things that can happen, or do you keep them insulated from it as much as possible?  Would you prefer your kids had extracurricular activities and interests or would you rather they enjoyed the freedom of going out to play with their friends after school and on weekends?

summertime…

In Britain, summer can be a flash in the pan. So brief that if you blink you might just miss it entirely. The last week has seen simply glorious weather here in the south of England. Endless blue skies, high temperatures and so so wonderfully dry. Like the oven of the Sonoran desert I grew up in and miss so much. We have learned that it is necessary to take advantage of these summer days when they happen, otherwise you miss out and find yourself bitching the rest of the year about how there was no god damn summer, AGAIN, and oh, yeah- Scotland called, they want their extra rain back!

I have been bogged down with work, work, work all week, not to mention that nasty little vomiting bug and bad tooth infection, so I have enjoyed the glorious weather from the inside, with open windows and my fan on.

The kids have been out and about with daddy all week, though, basking in the radiance of the sun. Yesterday they took their second trip to the beach this week and had a grand time.

On the beach

Rafe on the beach. He likes to play with the sand/rocks & rarely goes in the water.

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