What it’s like to be different

So, right now we have it easier than a lot of parents. But we also have it different.

Watching my friends struggle through the rigours of home learning these last few months, often holding down full time work, I have been in awe. It is an unfathomable situation for many and I have written before about how much I admire my friends going through this pandemic. The education expectations have been heightened this time so there has been even less chance than last year to take time for yourself. And so in many ways we have been lucky, our son has gone to school so that he can have his routine and a differentiated curriculum. He also needs extra support like OT and Speech and Language which school have to make best efforts to fulfil under the terms of the EHCP.

We had our own mini-experience of the challenges of home learning in lockdown three. We had to coax our son through remote school during our ten days isolation. This included me sitting on the end of the sofa in a mask or shouting from my isolation bedroom to get him to engage. Obviously my husband did the lion’s share (I was ill with covid).I was amazed that we actually managed any of the tasks set. Like lots of children, he has zero motivation and two baffled parents trying to explain a curriculum that looks nothing like anything we ever learnt. So we did what we could and rewarded any effort with the iPad. He wasn’t too fussed about staying in all that time but I was very ready for the routine (and sleep that come with it) to return.

We are really privileged to get the help we need. Amongst all those people struggling to educate their children at home are many children with disabilities and special needs who don’t meet the criteria of going into school or cannot because of health risks. Special Needs Jungle reported recently on the number of children who have their “Provision Denied” in the current circumstances. Without specific actions to address this, their research suggests there may be even greater gaps in learning for these children. As such I feel a real marked difference from many of the parents I know, whether parents of children with special needs, or parents of neurotypical children.

Because he needs something different, we also happen to experience the world a little differently. There are sometimes little shocks like when I hear babies babbling. I didn’t know until much later that my son didn’t babble. He is a talkative fellow now, he just needed some extra support to chatter away to us. At times there are slights which sting, friends will listen to me talk about challenging behaviour and compare my son to their much younger child. Although I too will find it helpful to see a rough picture of child development and (ignoring the age categories), celebrate that he has reached a milestone of new behaviour. He became an appallingly bad liar recently which I am secretly celebrating as a major stage of social understanding that is completely new for us!

Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

I don’t mean to compare my life to others, and especially not to people’s highlight reel on social media. But I share these experiences to explain that we are on a different path. It is a country road we are taking. Not even necessarily slower to get to the same spot. If you happen to be stuck in traffic on the motorway, (for example when you are unwillingly home-schooling your child and I am not,) our car may get somewhere quicker. We may even end up in the same places sometimes (for example our son may end up in a job or at university the same as any other children I know). But we are not travelling there the same way. and the picnic I packed is a little different.

This experience of feeling a little different, reminds me of what my son might feel at times. He is not really sure why he goes to school at the moment, for example. Difference can feel isolating at times. But part of my lesson about acceptance is what I see in children in his class all the time. True inclusion in society is not ignoring that there is diversity in experience, but acceptance that not everyone goes about things the same way and just getting on with the journey that you have to take.

Are you counting down until your children go back to school or will you really miss the fun you’ve been having?

Creativity and parenthood

I have been grumpy and ineffectual for days which means no writing and very little reading. It’s no coincidence that this mood has coincided with early starts. Too many early starts. I am not writing what time I have been woken, nor what time he went to bed because the first rule of parenthood is that there’s always someone who will tell you how much worse their child sleeps!

Sleep deprivation is common in our life. As is grumpy me at the moment. So how can I still be creative and be a parent?

There is no happiness without creativity. That is such a dramatic thing to say. But over the years I have realised that is true for me. I think that suppressing creativity for a long time was a major factor in my unhappiness in my twenties. I suppressed it because I wanted to write but didn’t have any confidence in my ability. I also had lots of writing to do in the name of academia and voluntary journalism. Honestly, I also suppressed my creativity because it takes time and effort and I just wanted to be out.

And that’s fine, I must come to terms with what I uncharitably think of as “wasted years”. I could have chosen to overcome my fear sooner maybe; I could have made time maybe. So many maybes but there is only really what I do now. But the now that I have comes with this little person in tow who tires me out a lot of the time.

It took becoming a parent to even pick up a pen. I can’t explain why, but I think that becoming responsible for another person makes you think about being responsible for yourself. It took time and therapy, but I re-evaluated my life. Building in creativity in snatches became a way to be me as well as Mum.

Parenting gives me built in deadlines, whether it is using naptime or now being ready for school pick up . I have yet to successfully give myself a deadline for when work on the work-in-progress is finished (probably should do that, huh?) In terms of writing a scene, having these deadlines means I have to work fast, on the hop. And I work so much better with a time limit.

A recent addition to my creativity is trying to build our Minecraft world together. He is teaching me much more than I can show him. And although I am not very good, the nature of a sandbox game is that there is no limit to imagination. Although rather like writing a draft, I thought my buildings would look like palaces and they are rather more like sheds. Playing in this way is a small way we can use our imagination together.

Playing is so important for creativity. To see my child’s imagination develop, even though it is completely different from mine, has been a brilliant reminder of my innate. I used to make up stories all the time. And now I make up stories with him all the time. It’s what we naturally do with children, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be part of grown-up life too.

On being asked”I want to be an author when I grow up. Am I insane?” Neil Gaiman asked, “Yes, Growing up is highly overrated, Just be an author.” Words to live by.

I also notice my child sees the world in minute detail and it makes me look again. The way a child sees the world can also tell us how to write the world. You know that quotation from Chekov about “don’t tell me the moon is shining?” I recently learnt this is what he said:

“In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.”

Seeing the world in details is so interesting. I am writing a short story at the moment about rubbish piled up outside a woman’s house. This is inspired by life where there is a pile of fly-tipping near our road-end but it is also inspired by my son’s fascination with what lurks there. He was the one who spotted a creepy doll’s face pressed up against a bin bag and that is an irresistible image for me.

Although finding the time and energy for a creative life is challenging as a parent, it is also become easier in a way. I value play so much more these days. Playing again may even be why we have children? I think our children can teach us so much about how we are supposed to live our lives.

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