The Accidental Home School

How we are coping with a new school set up…

Despite the title of my blog referring to my motherhood, I have become more cautious about sharing about my son’s life. He is having a tricky time but the last thing I want to do is make the future tough for him by sharing too much. So to put it simply, he is currently not in school and at home with me. I never intended to become a homeschooling parent but this is the tale of my accidental homeschool and what I would have done differently.

As 2022 drew to an end, I reflected on the confusion of the last couple of school terms

At first I thought we would get to the bottom of the upset and get my son back to school at least part time…it didn’t happen.

Then I thought I should finish work set by school – fighting through my fatigue to meet their requirements and motivate him. Not a chance!

Me and my constant companion

Then I thought I would get a load of books for him to work through at his own pace and then I signed up for online classes… This was the most ridiculous thought of all. Had I forgotten how little he did all that time in lockdown?

None of this worked. If it still looks like school, it is too much. Now he does low demand activities with a tutor once a day and I try my best the rest of the time. The hope is we will not stay in this limbo, waiting for a specialist school placement, for too long. But while wait I have done what I can to look after myself.

How I have coped

Evening walks so I always get outside alone

Taking him to the park and stopping myself feeling guilty as school isn’t the right space for him right now

Ear phones in and lots of brilliant podcasts and audiobooks

Building up my reading muscle again so I can read more physical books in short chunks each day

Quiet time in the afternoon while he plays in his room

Asking the local authority for a tutor so he is not missing out as much

Acknowledging that I do not want to be his teacher but I can help him

And finally, though it means doing less creative work, volunteering my time to help other parents. This has helped me make connection with the adult world a little.

By sharing this part of my journey, I am hoping to explain why I have been less dedicated to my blog. But also take the time to explain that we do what life calls us to do. Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans I have explained before.

I hope that as I reflect on my accidental “homeschool” I can start to add more in again that also makes my life more creative, fun and interesting. And for both of us I hope we find the place where he can be his happy self.

Take Micro Me Time

Time poor but determined to take care of yourself? Time for a microbreak

It is the half term break where we are right now so I am seeing lots of parent content about kids driving them to distraction this week. Well as someone whose son is out of school whilst we find the right special school, I know a little something about having someone around the whole time. As it’s six months now, I no longer chafe against the irritation – instead I try and find time to be me.

Here are some ideas to help take just a little me time whenever you can:

Of course I have to say get up early – what mum blogger is not going to tell you to get up early? But for me that does not mean before my child. He wakes anytime between 3am and 6am daily and needs far less sleep than me. So realistically that means get up with my child and supervise him. But each morning I make coffee in a special mug. Once he is happily on Roblox or YouTube and sit down and smell the coffee – a mindful moment can just get you appreciating life a bit more.

Obviously some parts of my morning routine like writing morning pages have become habits. Though they do not always happen and are usually interrupted -in fact the practice of writing three pages of stream of consciousness means my pages are often about the distractions I face. Irritation is a great tool to bring you back to your body – its usually a sign that I am not meeting a need. I may need the coffee, time to write or even – and this is tricky – enough quiet to think straight.

Having my headphones in is another great way to take a break even if it is not quiet. As well as listening to podcasts and audiobooks, I use binaural music which is soothing. Like a background track to daily life it helps me in those frantic moments. I may not be getting him out the door for school, but I still having to chivvy my child along particularly as getting dressed is harder for him than others his age. Accompanying my life with something which works well to soothe my mind and keep my relaxed has helped me greatly cope with life.

Savasana is the best bit

Take some time out on the mat. My yoga mat sits out to remind me to use it and does occasionally gather dust. I have got used to squeezing it between my bed and wardrobe or kicking aside the rug downstairs. And similarly I have got used to fitting in yoga when I can. By doing simple beginners routines online for just 10 minutes where I can. It’s amazing to me everytime that I stretch just how much tension there is in my muscles. We can become so used to holding it all together. I love this yoga from Yoga with Adrienne for neck pain if you also carry around your burdens on your shoulders, like me.

Quick browse in a bookshop

Finally, I take sneaky microbreaks when we are out and about as a family. Leaving my family whilst I do an errand and grabbing a coffee is not revolutionary idea but that treat can be a reminder you have a right to look after yourself. If my son is engaged I may shut my eyes for a few minutes to take a break or just enjoy being in the other room. I took a longer break this week by browsing in a secondhand book shop while my family enjoyed ice creams in the car.

Sometimes just taking ten minutes doing something you enjoy can be enough to set you up. You can be ready to fill your child’s cup with attention again. It’s not easy having my child with me all the time, I must be honest. But like all life’s challenges, it’s a lot easier if I take time to take care of me.

Infantalism and the modern man

This is my declaration against memes calling men our children

What I wasn’t told when I had a child, was that I was joining a club who were all supposed to make the same jokes about motherhood. There are an awful lot about drinking wine (or gin) to cope with the trials, many dedicated to not enough coffee but the one I get sick of the most is the one that infantalises my husband as my child.

There are times I have found myself getting resentful of my partner as a parent. Those early days when I had to wake up (and the now days when I also have to wake up) are the worst. The tiredness associated with parenting had already taken me to new heights (lows) before I developed a fatigue condition. And if I wanted to, I could make a joke about not enough coffee in the world, but I won’t. I will just say that in this one area there is an imbalance between the one who always wakes for their child (me) and the one who gets kicked in the back to wake up (him.) That means the other times of day have to be more balanced out. When weekends come around, or holidays, I start to insist on him doing specific jobs to balance out the fact I have dealt with wake ups in the night.

But it has been even more crucial to make these stipulations, though I acknowledge he is working during the week, because the fatigue I am experiencing can be so much worse if I push myself too hard. This has been hard to have to list and explain what exactly needs to be done if I need him to do it. Whilst also hard to communicate it all in a fair way (given tiredness can also make you snappish). I learnt a few years back that this is called “the motherload” and the idea has really stuck with me. The emotional labour of listing and knowing what needs doing, when it has to be done and how you do it a certain way is a mental burden that we often discount. Writing recently about my brain fog at Christmas, I talked about passing on some jobs completely so I don’t have to think about them. This is because my executive function, which includes planning out, is reduced with the fog. So I have had to develop systems where certain jobs happen on certain days to combat the chaos of my brain.

Sorry, I don’t have time or energy to supervise another adult

In addition to the motherload, you can also become your child’s “default parent” This does include school always calling you but also that my son only currently wants to play with me. That means me, sat on the floor or doing a puzzle, most likely being instructed what to do and trying to give as much attention as I can. And it is tiring, though we have fun. But when I leave my son to my partner, they will sit happily ignoring each other on screens and when he is ready to play again, my son will seek me out.

The problem with both the motherload and being the default parent is that it does make your husband another child. The relationship is unbalanced by the power dynamics where you are the person who has the answers. The peacemaker. The arbiter. And it is not conducive with the adult company that we both deserve in each other. Worse still, I worry it is teaching my son to perpetuate the myth that mother is the one who holds onto the competence.

It has really made me think about the future, that we have to find ways in our relationship to have a good balance. But also that we have to challenge the sexist ideas that kick around about men’s incompetence. A cynical viewpoint would be that not knowing how to run the hoover and asking what to pack in the day sack are a “learned incompetence” that keeps me doing all the workload in the domestic sphere. But I choose to believe it is not on purpose, just something that has become a pattern of life. It means some things have to be explained to our perfectly capable modern men and little men of the future too.

Taking on the task of raising a little one is no joke, and though I enjoy lots of funny sites that I have listed below, I think it’s time to retire the commentary that men can’t do it all. They are afterall, just as capable of battling through parenting life as us.

My favourite funny mummies online are here:

Scummy Mummies

Hurrah for Gin

Brummy Mummy of 2

Sketchy Muma

Christmas in the (Brain) Fog

I am looking forward to the Christmas holidays and working out how to see through the fog

I can feel the pressure of making Christmas magic rising as I write. As a parent, I have a strong desire to make the young ones’ Christmas a special, sparkly time but what do you do when your brain is not at it’s shiniest best. Last year we couldn’t even see our families, so now we hopefully can socialise there is an expectation that this will be the best year. But amongst all that pressure I am trying to manage the planning and preparation with brain fog and fatigue. Here is what I have worked out may work for us this year.

A foggy winter ahead, photo in the public domain

Reduce your workload: We have planned to go to my mother-in-law so I do know already that I don’t need to cook, a lot of labour is saved and I think that having the main work on the big day taken from me will be a massive help, as well as being extra delicious that we can actually be together this year. In addition the familiar surroundings help me and my son and for that part of Christmas we will stay at home though go over on several days. This is really helpful to keep parts of the routine which keeps my soon’s energy a bit more regulated which helps us all feel a bit calmer.

Pace yourself: I know now that I need to pace myself, leaving a few days between each social gathering and taking it much more slowly on those days. I am so thankful to be back together with people this year but that doesn’t mean I can throw my pacing plans out of the window. January is depressing enough without having a massive crash. When I do socialise, I know already I might need to leave earlier than I might like to or take a little break part way through so that I can join in. It’s tradition to fall asleep after the turkey anyway, so won’t be too much of a surprise if I insist on a rest this year. I may also have some tougher days afterwards but I know if I do things that lift me, like being around people that I love, this will be worth it for me if I don’t go too far.

Buy online: When it comes to planning presents, I am doing tiny chunks and using a lot of lists on my phone so hopefully I don’t forget things. I have to say that I have seen statistics like 42% of people will buy their presents off Amazon this year and though I don’t like it, that will most likely be me. I know already that going to shops involves so many elements that are tiring, this time I need those items to come on delivery. I have been also trying to support a few friends with their Etsy crafts that I love but when it come to the plastic tat my son demands, it’s back to the five minutes ordering on my phone and along comes my friendly delivery lady the next day (who I am quite chummy with now.) Let’s hope that by next Christmas, I can be well enough to face the shops (and they are still there) but for now I have to be realistic about what I can do for us all.

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com – probably less baking this year

Ask for help: Learning to ask for help has been a massive learning curve with managing fatigue. I have worked out what is more tiring now by listening to my body carefully and I have tried to ask for help in these areas. A friend came over this week to get the decorations out of our loft for us, she was lovely about it and though it seems a bit silly with my breathing issues and fatigue it is a massive load off me and I will be very slowly starting to decorate. In addition to asking for physical help, I have set my Mum the mission to find the impossible toy that my son has asked for. I was going round in circles online to try and find this “must have” and in the end I realised the brain strain is too much.

Keep it simple: The final thing is to avoid too much online content that drives me to want to make the magic so much. It is possible that I did “do a Pinterest” in previous year and make cards, bake mince pines with my son and make a Nutella Christmas tree for breakfast on Christmas morning. But it might be that this year is not that year. The Christmas tree may end up less trimmed – though it is one of my favourite things so I may choose to spend my energy on it – But really, what my fatigue is telling me right now, is that these things that seem so important are an image we get sold about what a perfect life can look like.

But if a chronic condition can teach us anything, there is no need for perfect, in fact pushing yourself is the worst thing you could do. After the year we have had personally and the pandemic era we have all gone through, I can only say that what is most important is to savour the time to rest and have fun together.  

Do you have time to read?

A frequent preoccupation, I think about how my Summer of reading might pan out

I have mulled over how Mum’s get time to read before because it is a constant battle. Ultimately, though I love to write and journal, my deepest, longest love has been reading. Often it is escapism. I have been having a real Edwardian fad recently, listening to The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and The Little Ottley’s books by Ada Levenson on Librivox. Along with my current vogue for the PG Wodehouse collections Stephen Fry is narrating on Audible, I have been experiencing a world of manners and often comic sensibilities. Even with House of Mirth which is frankly tragic, I have found a soothing place to escape to. Though these books are not unproblematic, depicting views reflective of their time that are uncomfortable, most of the times we can be swept away by this historic and yet somehow modern era of feisty women, feckless men and ridiculous social mores that people break with mostly little consequence.

This has been a new part of my resolve to read more. To acknowledge that audiobooks count as reading. How strange that I have held myself to such a strict standard for so long. But then if you had told me at University when I stacked my beloved library desk with piles of books and photocopied chunks of essays, that I would have an electronic reader now, I would have been shocked and saddened. Declaring then that there was nothing like “real” books. I still find grand libraries heavenly, particularly where the stacks are filled with beautifully bound books, and you can browse for hours. It will never stop my heart from soaring, but this is not my everyday life. I graduated fifteen years ago and though I love a research trip, they are not often.

An ereader has been essential to reading more. I can flick between the Kindle app on my phone and my device. I always have a book with me and can pick up whenever I do get a chance. Generally this does involve my son playing on the iPad and I suppose I may never win the war of screen time if I am always on my phone – reading or not. In addition to having access to all my library, I can chop and change as I like. I have always been someone to read different books at one time. Now I acknowledge this about myself without guilt. It’s often about mood. Just as I have been seeking something soothing in recent tired times, there has been other times where I have wanted something deeper or heavier to read (looking at you Hilary Mantel). Switching is so easy now I carry my library around, I wish I hadn’t taken so long to read this way.

And speaking of switching between books, the biggest freedom I given myself over the last few years is simple: I don’t always finish books. As a practice, it feels like giving up or failing. But what precious time I have I need to give to what grabs me. As I wrote in my post about books I didn’t finish, it is frequently about timing. Wintery books are for Winter, some time you’re too bone-tired to concentrate, other times you getting obsessed with a certain era. By not forcing myself to read something that hasn’t wrested my attention away from the world, I do read more. Maybe not of whole books but of a greater breadth, exploring more and letting my whims take me.

I still think that having a goal helps, as I reflected before, the Goodreads reward system helps keep me motivated. Odd to think I need to be motivated to do something I enjoy the most but such is my fickle, distractable brain. By thinking ahead to Summer reading and tracking my progress, I am giving myself the chance of prioritising some energy for escaping into a good book this Summer. Shortly, I will be picking my son up from school as the term ends so here are my Summer picks I aim to make time for this year.

How do you make time to read what you want?