Category Archives: Dodgy parenting

Bored games… Board games… and kids

Not just kids. More, board/ card games that the kids enjoy that I can play without going nuts. We’ve just been on holiday and it rained. We spent a lot of time indoors. A lot.

The kids are currently 9 and 6.

Thoughts on what we played:

Pandemic

I had such high hopes for this. Coming off a couple of weeks of Risk (see below), I was keen for something collaborative, and we’ve played so much Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert it felt like it would be nice to have something new to play.

I loved Pandemic — even though it beat us (I’ll get it next time!). It really taxed us, and made us work together really carefully to sort out the best strategy with the roles we had.

As a result, halfway through one of the lengthy strategy discussions, the six-year old got bored and wandered off. After a couple more turns, the nine-year old joined him. So, not the best game for playing with kids — though I think the nine-year old would have stuck with it if his brother hadn’t been a distraction, and maybe if we’d known more about what we were doing from the start.

Can’t wait to have another go, though.

Risk

Argh….

I remember loving this when I was a kid. Now, I can’t remember why. Essentially, once you start to lose, you keep losing and you get trampled into the ground by a cackling nine-year old (or at least, that’s pretty much how it has worked out so far). The child who is losing (normally but not always the six year old) gets unhappy and bored and although I do firmly believe that it’s good to learn how to lose gracefully as well as how to win with minimal gloating, losing gracefully at Risk is a bit of an acquired skill (and seems to go on for hours).

Top Trumps: Dinosaurs

The six-year old got this for his birthday and we took it along. It was the surprise hit of the holiday — for the kids, anyway. They loved it and would play it together without involving us. That was a bit of a relief, actually, because although it’s quite fun, it wasn’t quite as fascinating for grown-ups as it was for the kids…

You essentially take the top card from your set and choose the quality of the dinosaur that you expect will beat the card your opponent hasn’t turned over yet. Most of the time, you win the hands where you get to choose the quality.

Monopoly

More cackling nine-year old in this one, but for some reason it’s easier to lose. The six-year old will play most of a game before he gets bored of losing and wanders off.

Sleeping Queens

The six-year old’s favourite game and one he has loved for ages. Everyone enjoys it. Nice, not too competitive (unless we let the nine-year old play) and good for maths (ha! educational!!).

 

 

Parenting and Platforming 1

Forgive me while I work some things out. I appreciate that people who think about things more than I do have already reached their position on this, and they’re happy with that.

I still haven’t.

Recently, for reasons too tiresome to go into, I have discovered a fair bit about the “No Platforming” struggle, which seems to consist largely of students demonstrating against speakers they regard as objectionable, and journalists etc. throwing their hands in the air and despairing of this new snowflake generation.

And, you know, how can one possibly argue against Free Speech? It’s one of the fundamentals of our freedom from tyranny, right? If we compromise it, we’ll end up in 1984, being watched by the television and robbed of words like “fantastic” and “ecstasy” (which will become, by order of government, “double-plus good”).

I might be naive but I’m not totally uninformed. I might have spent the last ten years in baby-twilight, but I do know what happened in the totalitarian regimes of the early 20th Century. I have degrees. Some of them entitle me to put letters in front of my name as well as after it. I have spent time freezing my fundament off in archives in Moscow, Ul’yanovsk (now Simbirsk) and Ivanov just so that I can have opinions on stuff.

Opinions like these:

  • Students complaining about things are only complaining. They’re not in charge of the government, they’re not silencing people literally — they are making their own voices heard and protesting. Sometimes, the speaker in question changes their mind about coming to speak. This is not censorship, it is protest — another of our fundamental rights blah blah.
  • Students protesting are very different from totalitarian governments. Perhaps that’s obvious. It really should be.

Break for a moment for me to draw on the last ten years or whatever and mumble about parenting.

If you want a quiet house and you have multiple children of different ages/ strengths, one thing you can do is leave them alone together. In these circumstances, often, there is not much conflict because what the big kids want is what happens. This is especially effective if you put them somewhere you can’t hear them.

Being powerful means you get to do what you like.  It’s true for kids, maybe it’s true elsewhere? Hold that thought.

 

(And, in case you feel the urge to comment and discover it doesn’t show up, please be reassured that I am not censoring you. It’s just that the comments are so crazy with spam that I just block them all.)

 

Well what a surpri– Wait. No one’s surprised.

A looong looong time ago, my son’s P2 teacher told us his written work lagged dramatically behind his verbal skills, and I spent the next six weeks trying to persuade myself that he couldn’t possibly be dyslexic.

In P3, his teachers agreed that while he had some of the signs of dyslexia (a real difficulty reading) he didn’t fit other things they associated with it, and so he wasn’t diagnosed.

We are now in P4, and his reading is not suddenly taking off as nice, well-meaning people suggested it might, so we ended up going to an independent educational psychologist.

Guess what! He’s dyslexic!

(I have come to terms with this in the last couple of years).

Not only is he dyslexic, but he is really quite clever, which is nice because it confirms what we thought was true — he can absorb information beautifully as long as it’s verbally presented. If you write it down, he struggles.

It’s not that he can’t read — sometimes he reads OK, and he’s still coping with the rest of his class, just about, by decoding everything he’s given from first principles. It’s painfully slow and exhausting, but it works.

And I shall skip over the guilt and the self-recrimination that comes after years of asking him why he can’t just apply himself to his reading/writing/spelling etc. when you watch your child doing his absolute best to complete a task that someone else has given him and is totally unable to work it out (word chains, in this case — where whole words are presented as a long line of letters and the child has to distinguish the whole words within them, e.g. hotchildkettledog).

He wasn’t being lazy, or awkward, or distracted. He really, truly, couldn’t do the task, no matter how hard he tried or how much he concentrated. No matter that his General Ability index (which is what they use to measure intelligence in people with specific learning difficulties) is in the 99.6th percentile.

He understands what he’s being asked to do, but he just can’t do it.

So… what next?

He does understand rules quite well and he likes things that can be made into patterns, so I think we might look at some of the reading programmes like Orton-Gillingham and see if we can use the bits that work for us.

I will say I was in two minds about getting him formally evaluated, because I didn’t want him to be pigeon-holed and labelled as learning disabled, but the diagnosis has made us all happier. We know he’s brilliant (of course) and now we have numbers that say so. It’s just this one funny mental trick of holding an abstract image in his head and associating it with a sound that’s difficult for him.

What I didn’t know about bone marrow (almost everything)

I was hanging out in the soft play the other day while my four-year old played with his friends from nursery, and I got chatting to another mother. She’s lovely but I don’t know her very well, and her two boys — one who’s 6, the other who’s just turned 4 — are very sweet. They live just round the corner from us and I’ve had my eye on them for a little while as possible playdates where the kids wouldn’t have to cross a road (in fact, they could probably climb through the gardens in between the houses, not that I’d encourage trespass… Ahem).

What I hadn’t known before is that both her sons had bone marrow transplants when they were babies. What I also didn’t know is that it can be really difficult to find an appropriate donor, so there was only one matching donor in the whole of the UK for her older son.

I also didn’t know (yes, okay, I didn’t know anything) that transplants don’t necessarily last forever. Her six-year old is going to need another soon (he’s been ill again — he was in a wheelchair over the summer) and she’s terrified that they won’t be able to find that one donor again, the one who saved his life when he was a baby.

I’m a bit of a wuss about needles (also, spiders, craneflies, heights…) but donating bone marrow only happens when there’s a match (so you’re only asked if you’re needed) AND they take it like blood, not by extracting it straight from the bone (although that’s an option too).

One final thing that I didn’t know: in Scotland we have no facility for saving umbilical cords — all those free stem cells that could save people’s lives get thrown away. I’m happy we have a separate health system, but that seems really mad.

I don’t have any proper way to finish this post. I’m not going to say: go out and sign up for the bone marrow registry next time you give blood, because that’s up to you.

But I guess I properly appreciate that all my worries — about whether my husband will have a job next year, about my son still limping a bit on the leg-that-was-broken, about whether my kids watch too much TV, and of course how on earth I’m going to lose weight and still drink wine, are actually nothing very serious — they’re good worries to have over Christmas.

Fractured boy

About ten days ago, I went to pick my son up from Fencing and he was sitting at the side, white and shaking with his leg propped up. He wouldn’t put any weight on the injured leg, so I carried him home and then took him to Accident and Emergency.

The doctor who saw him manipulated his leg and chatted to him. He winced when she moved it, but told her it didn’t hurt too much. She suggested that it didn’t really hurt all that much at all, that he was mainly scared it was going to hurt, and he agreed.

He agreed, and she spent the rest of the time demonstrating to us that he wasn’t really injured, and it was exaggeration. She even got him to stand on the foot.

We went home, and he wouldn’t put any weight on the leg. The next day, he wouldn’t even get out of bed. He was always cold, and when he accidentally put weight on his foot, he screamed.

I phoned our doctor, who told us we wouldn’t expect to see any change overnight, and that he might be better the day after, and he was — he was up, and hopping around on his good foot. But he still wouldn’t put weight on the sore leg.

When we took him back to A&E that evening, it was mainly because we were worried he was going to fall if he insisted on hopping everywhere, and we were hoping they’d give us crutches, but this time we saw a nurse and she sent him for an X-ray.

And guess what? He’d broken the leg.

It’s not a major break — it’s a small fracture of the femur, called a “buckle” fracture because the bone bends instead of breaking. He’s in a thigh to ankle cast and he’s got crutches and is feeling much better.

But.

He agreed with the first doctor when she told him it was in his head, because he has been brought up to agree with adults, especially adults in positions of authority, because he is (thankfully, often) a polite child and he didn’t like to contradict someone who seemed so certain.

I rarely berate myself for teaching my children to respect and defer to adults, but it seems I need to. And I would never have guessed that my articulate seven-year-old would be so vulnerable to adult suggestion.

 

 

Nostalgia and parental guilt and all that

Parenting is wonderful — all those opportunities for guilt. Here’s one that’s been worrying me recently:

My boys don’t get a chance to run wild with their friends in the afternoons after school like my sister and I did. When we came home from school (in the 70s — when the sun always shone etc etc) we’d pretty much go straight back out to play with the kids on our street; we’d be in and out of each others’ houses and we wouldn’t stop playing until someone’s mum (normally ours) called us in for supper.

It wasn’t like this — we played in glorious technicolour…

When my boys come home (after the after-school clubs like Judo and Fencing and Swimming etc), they might have a friend or two from school or nursery over — and they always have each other to play with — but (a) it’s not casual and normal, it has to be arranged between parents, (b) it’s always the same friends, (c) there’s always a parent in the background and when things get shouty/ tearful, we normally get involved.

Which is all good. I like my boys’ friends and right now (especially for the four-year old) I’m happy to be involved when the playing goes a bit awry. BUT I have been nostalgic for my own kind of experience as a child, and this hasn’t been helped by a course I’m doing (because I’m That Kind of Parent) called Raising Confident Children. It has only just started but there is an emphasis on allowing children space to play with others — not always those they go to school with — in parent-free (or parent-lite) environments so that they can learn about how kids interact when they’re free to do and say what they want, not when someone’s mum is in the next room listening for signs of discontent.

Anyway. I need to do something about it — I just don’t know what yet.

Related to all this is that I recently re-met one of the boys we used to play with in our street (his daughter now goes to the same nursery as my youngest). He was three years older than us and wonderful — funny and wild and truly insane. We were utterly in love with him and convinced he was invulnerable (he needed to be — he did really crazy things like lying down in the road and only scrambling up when a car got really close). He was a major part of our (remembered) freedom to do exceptionally stupid things in the name of being kids.

So, we were talking and remembering the stuff we did, and he asked me if I remembered that our next door neighbour had used to beat his son (another of the boys we played with) with a switch or sometimes a belt unless he instantly obeyed him. I hadn’t known — or I hadn’t remembered. It always happened when they were inside. And then we talked about the other boys on the street — turns out there wasn’t one in the group of kids we played with whose father didn’t hit him regularly, and sometimes it was proper, alcohol-fueled beatings.

It makes me sad that the funny, wild boys we played with had such a grim thing to go home to, and that we never knew. It makes me sad that all that energy and imagination ended up in trouble with the police, dropping out of school early, in one case even with a prison term.

So. I guess that while I am nostalgic for the 70s, and for all the freedom we had, there’s a lot that has improved since then.

 

 

Not dyslexia…?

So I wrote a little while ago about how my son’s teacher wanted to get him assessed for visual difficulties and dyslexia because his vocabulary is quite divorced from his reading ability.

Cue me hitting the roof and panicking about what was wrong. My friends nobly endured me, and if they quietly slunk into doorways/ dropped down drains etc when they saw me coming, they were generous enough not to let me see them doing it.

And then we got a cancellation appointment with the optometrist.She wasn’t a people person. Nor was she — slightly ironically since she’s a pediatric optometrist — someone who liked children (“Sit still! You’ll decalibrate the equipment.” “What does decalibrate mean?” [silence]) but she was very efficient.

Turns out poor S has a binocular convergence problem, which essentially means that although both his eyes are fine, he has problems getting them to work together, especially when he’s looking at things closely. Like reading.

He thought it was normal that when he brought something close to his face, it disappeared.

So all those times he was fidgeting and staring out the window or looking at the ceiling and I was telling him to concentrate… Turns out his eyes were uncomfortable and he couldn’t really see the letters anyway. Gah. Parental guilt.

Explains, too, why he stumbles over small words but not big ones (he isn’t seeing the small words).

So much for all that. We got a set of exercises which are supposed to solve the problem in “97% of cases” — so effectively, indeed, that the Scottish Government doesn’t think it’s worth having a follow-up optometrist appointment to check whether they have worked.

I desperately hope that by exercising his eyes appropriately for 2 months, S will be able to sort the visual difficulty and see like “normal” kids do. What makes me slightly unhappy, however, is that I can find no research to support this, and the figure of 97% doesn’t appear anywhere (how could it, I suppose, since there are no follow-ups?). Indeed the research I have found suggests that the exercises we have are not actually that effective.

Gah.

Dyslexia

So… Last week we had a meeting with my son’s teacher and she told us she wants to have him assessed for visual issues, including dyslexia.

There’s a significant gulf between his verbal and written skills. And by ‘significant’ I mean, significant. I guess that’s a good thing since it means that if he is dyslexic at least we’ll have discovered it when he’s little, and we’ll be able to help him.

I don’t know if he is dyslexic (and I won’t until we see the optometrist at the end of April). He is — and I know this sounds unbearably arrogant — highly  intelligent. He has an ability to grasp new and complex ideas, process them and ask intelligent questions very quickly. He has never struggled to understand what people say to him. He is much smarter than I was at his age.

Still, he does not read unless he’s made to, and his writing is very untidy.

Whenever I look up the pattern of his reading, I get pages suggesting he is showing signs of dyslexia. So, for example, he confuses b and d (but I remember doing the same), he can read long words (today, without hesitation, he read ‘eyesight’, ‘permanent’, and ‘parasitic’) but stumbles on the shorter ones (he sometimes reverses ‘was’, he struggled with ‘they’ and ‘find’) and when he’s tired, he’ll guess the ends of words. He depends heavily on context when he can, and on guesses. He tires quickly when he’s reading and if anyone else is around who will read, he gets them to do it so he doesn’t have to.

According to The Internet, these are all signs of dyslexia.

It’s not that I would dare to doubt it, but I remember using several of these strategies myself as I learned to read and no one ever suggested that I was dyslexic. In fact I’ve been tested (for research) and I am not.

Maybe he is. I hope he’s not. I am depressed that there are no alternative explanations. I can’t help feel that — dyslexic or not — there are things he will read. Non-fiction about leaf-cutter ants, for example, which he’ll read reasonably enthusiastically (not exactly spontaneously but without too much yelling), stuff about trapdoor spiders.

Update: This is what I mean. This morning he read a little from his insects book about the White-lined sphinx moth (he picked the bit he wanted to read). It was in fairly small writing and in italics so he struggled a little with some of the words. Here’s the passage, with the words he struggled with underlined. I do not understand what’s going on:

“The white-lined sphinx moth visits flowers at night to feed. Like most moths, it has antennae that are extremely sensitive to smell as well as touch. It can pick up the faintest scents, which helps it to find flowers in the darkness.”

So I get that “most” isn’t what you expect (it’s one of the ‘tricky’ words he’s supposed to have learned), and I understand that you have to know that the c in ‘scent’ is soft. He stumbled on ‘it’, though, and at least one other very short connecting word (I can’t remember which), but read ‘antennae’ and ‘extremely sensitive’ without any hesitation at all.

Part of it is context (when I asked him, he said, “I know moths have antennae.”) but is it that he’s not seeing the shorter words (=dyslexia/ visual problems?) or he’s not bothering with them?

Often when he starts reading he struggles a bit, and then it’s like he warms up and things get much more fluent and easy.

His brother isn’t really reading yet so I have no point of comparison. Is this normal or is there something odd going on?

Fairness and parenting

When my sister and I were little, my mother was always nicer to other children.

She wasn’t, obviously, but it sometimes seemed that way. When something needed shared or someone got to make a choice, the people who benefited tended to be our guests and not us. For years, my sister deeply resented a family friend to whom, on one never-forgotten occasion, she had to relinquish her packet of salt and vinegar crisps.

That’s one particular occasion, though, and says more about the intense feelings my sister cherished (and cherishes) for salt and vinegar crisps than about being nice to guests. In general, it didn’t bother us, and in general we understood that when you have guests, you look after them.

It was generally the way things were but not always. The thing that interests me, looking back, is how I felt about parents who clearly favoured their own children. And I can only think of one example, actually, of someone who did. We hated going to her house, though we did like the kids. By contrast, my mum was ridiculously popular with the neighbourhood kids and my school friends, and we had kids in and out of our house all the time (she wasn’t soft — I feel the need to say — she was pretty strict, but she was fair).

It’s weird, because of course you like your own kids better than anyone else’s. However lovely someone else’s child is (and my boys have some adorable friends), your kids are yours, and you understand them better.

So two thoughts:

(a) Is being fair between kids a good thing, even if it means prioritising another child’s desires over your own child’s? I think it is — I think it helps kids understand that they don’t always have to get exactly what they want, and they’re still special and loved. I think it’s part of the whole ethical parenting thing (see this article in the Tablet for really interesting thoughts on morality in parenting).

(b) Does such an approach teach your child that others are more important than they are? Does that impact on their self-confidence and self-belief? I hope not. A child who is secure and loved surely doesn’t have to be most important all the time?

Now my head hurts. This parenting stuff is complicated.

Sports Day thorts

Today was my six-year-old’s first school sports day. He wasn’t hugely keen to go — I could tell (maternal instinct, you know) when he wouldn’t get out of bed this morning and, from beneath the duvet, asked if he had to go to school. It made matters worse, weirdly, that his best friend was wildly, massively keen and — I heard — insisted on getting up earlier than usual and wearing proper sports clothes.

Anyway, here’s the Bad Mother confession: when he told me he didn’t like sports because he couldn’t run as fast as the other kids, I believed him. I wasn’t sure he really needed to go to school and be made miserable by coming in last all the time. Though, of course, I did lip-service to “We can’t all be good at everything”/ “It’s the taking part that counts!” (that one has to be accompanied by a crazed grin to be fully effective), I was kind of sad.

Which goes to show that one can’t always trust a six-year-old’s perceptions and, even less, mine. He’s not slower than all the other kids and, more importantly, he had a fabulous time. He spent the whole morning chatting to the other children in his team (not paying attention to the instructions, which tended to become obvious in the middle of races) and they banded together to rescue the earth worms that were coming out of the wet ground to investigate. He almost came to blows with an older girl who was trying to stamp on them.

So, I’m really glad I went. I’m really glad he did. If he’d taken his hands out of his pockets during the races, he might have run a bit faster, but it really, really (bizarrely) was the taking part that counted — and the way he took part was brilliant.

I appreciate I am dangerously close to donning a smock made of pure, organic goat wool and singing about all children being precious individual flowers blooming in their own special way, so I’ll stop, now, before I do something I regret (goats’ wool is so itchy).