Spring Cleaning

I’ve decided to have a spring clean of my social media presence. I run four different blogs about four different aspects of my life and I am now feeling that I’d like to draw the threads closer together. This is probably a good time to apologise – if you’re an avid follower of all things Graham H Miller, then you’ll be seeing this message several times!

I’ve decided to make http://grahamhmiller.com my main hub across the web. It’s the only WordPress site I’ve got a custom URL for and it also makes the most sense. I’d like to be able to import all my blogs to here, but I don’t think I can. This is quite reasonable as I’ve got different follower lists and there no reason, for example, why my Penguin’s Knee followers would want to know about Minecraft.

So, for the minute, until I can figure out something more elegant, I’ll put links to everything over here on one page: http://grahamhmiller.com/otherblogs. So, whichever blog you read this post on, you can head over there to see what else I do. It’s probably worth pointing out that I write both fiction and non fiction, and grahamhmiller.com is my main blog for all things about writing.

What do you, my followers, want me to do? Keep it all separate or try to merge it? Likewise, if you know more about WordPress than me and feel like being helpful, please do get in touch!

Thank you!

Occasional Updates 6

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Firstly, I must apologise for the lack of posts of late. In between being a father and writing this blog,  I also write novels (as yet unpublished). Recently I’ve got to writing the exciting end of the one I’m writing, so housework, sleep, food and blog writing have taken a back seat!

Right, just for once, I’m going to use this post to do something I don’t usually do – ask you lot for money! If you’re offended, please stop reading now🙂

Movember

This is something I do every year and believe in. I’m usually bearded but at the end of October, I shave off the beard and start growing a moustache (a mo) for the entire month of November. It’s partly to raise awareness of male cancers and mental health – most men are rubbish at going to the doctor. And partly to raise cash for research into these illnesses. The link to my page is here:

http://mobro.co/grahamhmiller

so please donate. I’d actually rather lots of people donated £2, £3 or £5 because then when other people come on the page they won’t be intimidated, and then it’d all go up nicely.

Lunar Year Planner

Every year I make one of these. They are almost universally confusing, as they rearrange one whole year by the phases of the moon instead of the conventional months. This year, it’s available from here:

http://www.angelpaths.com/apshop/product_details.php?category_id=78&item_id=507

It’s on the Angelpaths shop – run by a good friend of mine. While you’re there, do have a look around at all the lovely jewellery, tarot card decks and other goodies.

That’s it for the minute – longer post to follow soon!

The children were late today

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As the title says my younger two boys were late to school today. I had to sign them in the Red Book – a tally of all those who are in school after the registers have been completed. Their school has a ten minute window from 8:50 to 9:00 to get children in through the gate and settled into classes. Generally, there’s a bit of wiggle room between 9 and 9:05 when you can sneak them in before the registers are signed off and returned to the office. After that you must sign the Red Book.

Bad Parent

I have to confess, this ties into all my insecurities about parenting and being judged as a Bad Parent. I wonder who reads the Red Book and what they make of the reasons (excuses?) that parents write in. Obviously some are good things, like dentist or doctors. But today, at 9:12 I was reduced to just writing “overslept”. A confession that as a parent I had failed in my primary duty – to deliver the children to school on time.

Or not. I will admit that I was down the pub last night (not drinking as I drove and had Lempsip), but this wasn’t a chaotic morning that ended up with late children. I was up on time to see Eldest onto his 7:50 bus, with a breakfast inside him and in a uniform.

About Sleep

But, with the younger two, it’s a bit more complex. For a start, when we put them to bed, they don’t settle. That is, when they go to bed, they don’t lie their heads on the pillow and drift off to sleep. We have read books, articles, web-sites and chatted to professionals, so we know everything the establishment has to say about childhood sleep. The problem they have is that they don’t settle. By and large, once they have settled, they stay asleep until morning.

Now, when Youngest started school (he’s in year 2 now) he did have some, err, challenging behaviour. He scrammed (scratched) other children and seemed to have a very short fuse. He would go straight from calm and happy, to angry and violent with no warning and nothing in between. So, we took advice, had chats with teachers, read and researched. Finally we came to the simple conclusion that the world, and the people in it, can be inherently annoying. And if Youngest doesn’t have enough sleep, he doesn’t have the mental strength to put up with it, so he lashes out.

Candle at both ends

Now, you can start to see the major problem. He has trouble settling off to sleep – there are nights when The Wife and I retire to bed at around half ten, elevenish and Youngest is still awake. Yet, school says that he has to be there at 9 at the latest. There simply isn’t any way to get enough hours of sleep when that happens, yet we still have to manage his behaviour.

Interestingly this leads to something rare in parents of school age children. We have to go round late at night and stop them reading books! All three of them now are capable of staying up late reading books. Left to their own devices with a good book, the elder two will go to past midnight. As I said on an earlier post, a lot of this is dependent on our mood as parents. If we’re tired or ill, we really don’t want to be going up and down stairs several times in the evening once the boys should be in bed.

This morning

So, we get to a morning like this morning. Neither Youngest nor Middlest were particularly late to bed, but the long term lack of sleep caught up with them. Neither woke up naturally and at just past eight when I tried to wake them they were slow and sluggish. So I was faced with a choice – push, hassle, shout, and do whatever it takes to get them to school on time or just kick back and accept that it’s a Red Book day.

So, at 8:20 both boys were downstairs although Youngest wasn’t yet out of pyjamas. I did what needed to be done, discussed today’s menu, made one packed lunch, found clothes and socks, packed bags, and generally cajoled them into being ready for school. I do know that I’m not very organised and I’m generally not a morning person. I could organise more, and do things the evening before. But that still wouldn’t get the children out of bed on time.

But the one thing I didn’t do this morning was raise my voice or point out the time. They weren’t going to be ready for the bus at 8:40, that was obvious as soon as they got up.

Normally, when we have a morning like today, Middlest, (age 10, year 5), leaves on his own, walks about three minutes to the bus stop and catches the bus on his own. But he was doing his homework this morning and he overslept, so he had a rare entry in the Red Book.

Conclusion

So that’s where we are. I still feel insecure about my parenting skills and guilty for signing in the Red Book. But I firmly believe that the children will benefit more from a good breakfast, a calm morning, more sleep and a natural awakening than they would from being in school on time. They missed twelve minutes of their education today, most of which would have been register and getting ready for assembly. I do know that I can’t do it every day, but I’d rather do this when I need to than deliver stressed, tired children to school.

What do you think? How are your children and sleep? Are they late to school?

Spirited Children

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A while back (when it was out) we took some of the boys to see How to Train Your Dragon 2. It was a complicated day because everyone wanted to watch something different and I think we ended up roping in Grandma to sit with one boy in a film. But then Middlest got scared by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and we all ended up watching Dragon 2.

I didn’t realise at the time that it was a PG cartoon and that it had attracted criticism on the internet for being quite grown up in its themes and treatments. Anyway (and apologies for spoilers) when it got to the big funeral scene, Youngest started crying. I just cuddled him (quite easy at our cinema, the arm-rests go up) and when that scene was over he got on with the film.

But, it has stayed with me for a number of reasons. Firstly I don’t think I appreciated quite how involved and intense their childhood is. They (and I include all my boys, and other spirited children) don’t just go to a film and wonder about what’s for dinner, and critique the actors and think about what the time is. They just dive in and live in that world for a bit, total identification and immersion. Of course, this presents its own raft of problems when it’s not a film, but instead a play activity. Sometimes you need to get them out of Minecraft or Lego and into school or onto whatever other timed activity is next!

Secondly I’m really proud that the other children just accepted crying as something that happens and haven’t ribbed him about it. That’s how I want my children to grow up – accepting of their emotions. In fact, Middlest was brave as well in saying that he found his film too scary and he wanted to leave even though we’d rearranged everything for him to see that film.

Finally I think I like the idea of my children having an emotional roller coaster. Of course, no-one wants their children to be sad, but on the other hand, having a dull monochrome existence could possibly be worse. And I’m too much of a realist to think that they will go through their entire childhood (or lives) with only bright sunny days full of nice things and rainbows. There will be disappointments and sadness – if for no other reason than we have pets which have a shorter lifespan than us. If they grow up knowing that there will be not only bad days, but parents to hug them and support them while they go through them, then can only be good.

One final thing before I sign off. Littlest went out with Grandma for a morning and bought a pre-schooler book to read. This reminded of something I was told a while back. Even when they move through key stages – Littlest is Yr 2 already – there is huge value to be had in going backwards and letting them have play that is simpler. I changed the light bulbs and commented that the box looked like it had eyes. Next minute, Middlest and Littlest had raided the cardboard recycling and had started junk modelling robots. Usually this is a really popular activity for pre-schoolers, but it had enormous value for them to revisit it. After all, how many times have grown-ups joined in with activities for their children, and ended up enjoying it just for itself because it’s fun! So, that’s my message really – enjoy yourself, have sensory play, make stuff out of junk, dig holes, just enjoy!

Occasional Updates 5

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It’s been way too long since I updated the blog. The Summer Holidays have long since departed and we’re into the familiar September routines. All three boys have settled into their new years and are even wearing jumpers when it gets cold! Seriously, this has been a battle that’s been going on for at least eight years in some cases. We have a rule in this house, if you can see your breath then you have to wear either a coat or a jumper. Without this it’d be shorts and T shirts in the snow!

One thing to fall by the wayside was the Summer Challenge Box. Unsurprisingly the handwriting was the least favourite thing and they did like taking photos of animals and birds that they saw around. I really need to clear the main table so we can assemble the Lego Army. When that’s done I’ll open up a spreadsheet and see what it all adds up to. It had better be soon, as every time we fire up the Wii it takes more and more coaxing to work.

One reason underlying all the slow progress is that my shoulder’s playing up and disrupting my sleep. It’s not serious but the cumulative effect of going without enough sleep and having low level pain for several months is very wearing. Also, I’m working on a new novel and most days writing over a thousand words, which also means I’ve been neglecting both the blog and the housework!

Occasional Updates 4

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Well today turned unexpectedly into one of those perfect summer holiday days. It didn’t start out well – Youngest overslept. In fact, he’s been going to bed later and later every night, and getting up later each morning so by the time he goes back to school, he might be nocturnal! Anyway, the weather looked good and The Wife was working from home so we decided to go out for the day.

Spending the whole day out wasn’t ever on the cards however. By the time I’d made a picnic lunch, found three boys, found socks and shoes for them all, and then disengaged them from their activities, it was nearly midday. Never mind, we went to Caerleon and had lunch in the sunshine of the amphitheatre there. Then the two younger played hide and seek round the amphitheatre, while Eldest compared it unfavourably to the Colosseum in Rome (he went on a school trip at the beginning of July) and I explained what provincial meant.

Finally, we made it to the National Legionary Museum, down the road also in Caerleon. (If you don’t know the area, Caerleon is the centre of all things Roman in South Wales.) It being the summer holidays, they had a couple of re-enactors there, showing off cooking and weaponry plus a display of medical science in Roman times. They also had a lovely quiz or treasure hunt that took in the whole museum and gardens and occupied the younger two. Youngest was chuffed to get a golden pencil (not sold in the shop, prizes only) and a bag of Haribo! This spurred Middlest to find everything and get his prize.

Aside from that, they tried on armour, practised with wooden swords and shields, and played ancient games. I even caught the Eldest, usually a surly teenager (he’s just turned 13), dressing up as a Roman with Middlest and thoroughly enjoying himself. Middlest dressed up as Cleopatra just to reassure us as parents that we’re bringing them up as gender neutral as we can!

We then had a quick dash round the Roman Baths museum – a place I love but the boys tend to get bored with before going home.

Once we’d recovered, I got all 50s Dad and fixed a bicycle. It is Middlest’s favourite bike, even though it was a birthday present from 5 years ago so it’s tiny for him. It is a BMX so it kind of works anyway. Then, the weirdest thing happened. To explain let me digress.

My father (passed away over twenty years ago) was an avid cyclist. Before he married, he’d cycle down to the south of France for a holiday. He was a lifetime member of the Cycle Touring Club. When my Mum tidied up she found some of his medals and awards and split them between my brother and I.  There were year badges back to the early sixties along with awards for doing a set number of miles in 24 hours and other such things.

So, growing up, my brother and I just naturally rode bicycles. When I went to secondary school, I rode two miles each way from the age of eleven. Cycling was just in our DNA and second nature to us. So with the older two kids, when they were four or five, we taught them to ride. I still have memories of long summer evenings holding the back of the saddle while they rode up and down the drive. (I’m 6’3″ so it’s a bit of a stretch for me to bend over and run holding a saddle!) I remember the long arguments when eldest didn’t want me to take off the stabilisers. From my patchy memory I think they both had it cracked by the time they were six.

But Youngest is different. He is super-stubborn. He doesn’t want to learn ride a bicycle. He’ll be seven in May and had shown no interest in learning to cycle whatsoever. He’s even happy to tag along on a scooter while his friends and older brothers ride bicycles. We’ve offered to teach him, we bought him a balance bike which went rusty in the garden until Middlest raided it for parts. But he wasn’t budging, not one inch.

So, there I was with this fixed up tiny bicycle and Youngest asks if he could have it to learn on, and could we buy him a bike? I check with Middlest and he’s fine with it which is weird, but he also insists it will always be his!

So, Youngest gets on the bike, with no training, Middlest holds him steady and pushes him, and he cycles off. No wobbling, no stabilisers,  no-one holding him up, no falling off – he just gets on and cycles.

Admittedly he needs to learn some road sense and not to just stop in the middle of the road and drop his bike but basically he’s done. Ten minutes and he’s learnt to ride!

I still can’t get my head around it. The other two spent a few weeks at the very least on stabilisers, and certainly that long being held up and gradually gaining confidence. But he just got on and rode off. He’s not perfect, but the whole balancing, pedalling and braking thing is sussed.

After that shock, we repotted an orchid and that was our perfect day. Kids are now watching TV before we start putting ’em to bed.

Occasional Updates 3

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This update comes to you from deep within the school holidays. Excuse the spelling, typing mistakes and general bad structure as I persuade the boys not to have a “who can bounce a tennis ball highest in the house” competition.

Let’s get scientific

A couple of weeks back I was talking to Eldest about bananas and why we have a banana hook. I had one of those moments where you say something out loud and realise how weird it sounds. I said, “Well, when a banana ripens, it gives off this gas which makes other fruit around it ripen faster.” We looked at each other and said “Huh?”

So, we decided to carry out an experiment to see if this was true or not. Now, he’s just about to go into year 9 so he’s had two years of doing secondary school science investigations. He knew about establishing a control and making everything as much the same as possible. So, on 26 July, this is what we had – identical sized bowls, two apples from the same pack, and one green banana.

The beginning

I will confess that we then went off camping and totally forgot about the experiment. Which actually kind of worked out OK! We then left it for another few days until we were about ten days in. By then, the banana as you can see, kind of looked horrible and brown spots. (I know some people view this as a matter of opinion but it’s true, black bananas are evil!) More importantly, the banana apple was definitely more wrinkly. I don’t know if it shows on the photos, but it also has more spots on it. For a final, scientific approach, we put stickers on them and gave them to The Wife, so she could independently assess their ripeness. She also agreed, the banana definitely did make the apple ripen faster.

photo 2 With banana The end

Exercise time

I have a weakness – those special offer, limited time only items for sale in Aldi and Lidl. A few months back I picked up a lovely chin up bar, which could be used in a number of ways. But it needed brackets fixing to the wall which took me a while to get round to. Yesterday I managed it, and we tested it on the children, in ascending order of weight, from Youngest to Eldest. Middlest however has been going to gym for more than half his life. With a chin up bar, he flipped over, hung like a bat, went right over and then flipped back. But, there was a problem. When he swung to and fro, and then let go and tried to “regrip” the whole thing banged on the door frame and made a nasty bang! I think that if he had his way, we’d have it up all the time, and argue with Youngest for the use of it.

Summer Holiday Challenge

Well, as I could’ve predicted the boys are really un-keen on doing their best handwriting. But other things have appealed. There is the Lego army, which as you can see has taken on a life of its own. Not satisfied with the conditions that specified all the the people had to have a hat and something to hold, they went further and made wagons, chariots, space-ships and mounted troops on horses and motorbikes. Of course, they wouldn’t do anything like simply make figures the way Lego intended – for example Gandalf’s hat is now on a clown/robot wearing pyjamas and wielding a magnifying glass!

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Anyway, this short update has suddenly got rather long and I ought to sign off and go and be more parenty!

It’s not you it’s me

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This is going to be a tough post to write – a kind of follow on to confessions. Sometimes I seem to get into head-to-head arguments with Youngest. I know it’s something that everyone says, but he really is unbelievably stubborn. Well, maybe not stubborn – let me explain by way of a detour.

I guess I approach parenting like any other skill in life – learn what you can, do what feels right and look at feedback to correct your course. It was becoming obvious last year Youngest wasn’t happy. He was getting into trouble at school and having more tantrums than we expected from a five to six year old. So, I decided to seek help. I wasn’t convinced that a five year old should sit down with a child psychologist or therapist. So instead I went to the doctor, school nurse and health visitor to see if there was any parenting support out there. I found myself in a bit of a gap – babies and toddlers have health visitors, but young school age children seem to be catered for by a mix of charity and council funded operations. Finally we did make contact with a family information service and got was a reading prescription from the doctor. This is a fascinating idea, it’s basically a list of books that have been pre-vetted for certain subjects that are kept separate within the library. It worked for us and we ended up buying the most useful book so we could keep it and keep reading it.

This was a book called Raising Spirited Children. it is a bit American and it involves ‘reframing’ your conversations with your children. And recognising the traits that are difficult in your children are the very same traits that would make them successful in the future when they are adults. So now, instead of describing our boys as stubborn, we acknowledge how focussed they can be and praise them for that level of focus. Then, we gently suggest that maybe, instead of being focussed on how to make the perfect Lego pyramid, they could focus on getting ready for school?

Actually this is another interesting discussion right here – labelling. In short, there is, in a child’s subconscious, a world of difference between “you are being naughty” and “that was naughty thing to do”. In the first, you’re labelling the child, in the second it’s the action. I fell foul of this when I worked in a pre-school – because you’re not supposed to use the word “naughty” even if you’re labelling the action.

So, back to the thread… we got in contact and much to my relief, I managed to avoid being sent to parenting classes but I did get the assistance of a lovely woman called Amanda. Aside from the technical support, which was very valuable the other thing was that it was a chance to talk honestly with another parent, and an expert at that. I’ve written before about competitive parenting and many forms it can take. I always felt that if I talked about my children’s problems with another parent, then there would be a risk that it would turn competitive, either in a positive “my child doesn’t misbehave” or a negative “you think you’ve got problems” way. I know it’s not fair, and I do have friends who are helpful and supportive but having a neutral place to talk really helped.

One result of all this is that we tend to go for (excuse more Americanisms) conflict resolution. I see a large part of the problem between Youngest and me (and anyone else who tries to impose authority) is that it’s very easy to project your own interpretation onto the situation. So, when he kicked off in the petrol station (Occasional Updates 2) I was thinking that it was embarrassing because it looks like my children are spoilt and expecting me to buy them junk food. Also, I knew that we were going on to a shop that was cheaper with a better range than the petrol station. But really, all that was going through Youngest’s mind was that he was hungry and I was going to leave a place with food. Of course, being six he can’t articulate these thoughts, so he blew up! As I said, once we calmed down a bit I asked him what was wrong and we found a way to ensure he got some food, and I got an apology from him for his behaviour. Actually it changed my behaviour because I made sure I bought him enough food to eat, and not just a treat or snack. But I think the initial problem happened because I was stressed and running late, and had other things on my mind.

I spoke to a medical professional about an issue Youngest is having, which I won’t go into here as he does need some privacy! But, I was explaining that it would help if The Wife and I didn’t get into a head-to-head argument with Youngest, but got an agreement with him instead. To my surprise she reminded me that I was the father and he was the child! The very strong implication was that I should just lay down the law and insist he does what we want because we say so. I happen to think there’s a more subtle way forward than having a stand-up row with him. I don’t give in and I don’t excuse his bad behaviour, but I also don’t see that getting him all angry is going to achieve anything. If anything, especially over this issue, it would drive him to a place where he won’t want to explain what’s going on with his parents, and we will have a distance that could be dangerous to him.

This does mean that I make some compromises – for example Youngest is most often late to school, because the 9 year old Middlest tends to walk himself to the bus to avoid being late. The simple fact is that conflict resolution sometimes takes longer than yelling and forcing him to get dressed and out of the door. He isn’t actually that late but we do tend to compromise on him doing things like finishing his Lego, learning to read or playing games which improve his mental arithmetic. The very major upside is that when he does get to school, his mood is better and his behaviour has definitely improved. I think that’s worth a few late notes in his record.

The title of this post is back to the fact that all this book reading, outside help and soul searching led me to a revelation. Often when there are problems, they start with me, or whichever adult is getting involved. Recently I’ve had a stiff shoulder from sleeping awkwardly and this is making me me tired in the mornings. So, if I’m not right on the top of my game, then the morning will go wrong. All that Youngest is thinking is that he would like to wake up, and play with either Lego or the tablet. To be honest, he’s normally not even that bothered about breakfast.

In essence children are quite simple. They want to feel safe and loved, have enough to eat and drink and enough fun things to do to occupy their brains. Pretty much, most of the time, that’s all they want. As I said before, if they don’t get these things then they are unhappy, and depending on age they will express that in any way from “bad” behaviour to complaining or being non-compliant. I’ve observed that often grown-ups tend to embroider these basic needs with their own problems – saying things like “he’s just being defiant” or “she’s just doing that to wind me up”.

So, that’s where I’m at. I do have bad days and yell at the kids, but I’m starting to see that they usually happen when I’m not on top form for some reason or other. I’m being more accepting that some things will not happen or will happen late. Another thing is that, especially towards the end of term, life becomes really pressured. Here’s a shocking thought – I don’t have to do everything. Sometimes I say no. And that takes the pressure off me, which ripples through the family and makes things better.

What do you do? How do you resolve conflicts?

A challenging summer holiday

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But not for me, for the children. When they woke up on Monday morning, this is what they saw.

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Inside the envelopes, one for each boy, was a mathematical puzzle (suited to their ages). When they’d solved all three, the numbers combined together to reveal the code for the lock.

Inside the box is a white book, an exercise book, pens and a digital camera. The white book contains a list of challenges to be completed before the end of the holidays. Each challenge has a monetary value that’s going towards the fund for a new games console – either X-Box 360 or PS3. They’ve had a Wii for years and it’s just starting to show its age – you can’t buy new games any more either.

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Some of the challenges are pure fun. As I type this, the boys are working together to build the Lego Army. Every Lego Minifigure that’s properly assembled earns them 10p. Doesn’t sound much but our house is totally overrun with the little people! Others are more homework like – for example hand writing practice, which is much needed by all three. Others are like super I-spy – collect evidence that you’ve seen things in categories, like mammals or birds. Or that you’ve visited places built in different time periods. There are bonuses for things like not arguing all day as well. Oh, and at some point I’ll drive them to a shop and let them plan, buy and cook us an evening meal. There’s also a calendar for coloured stickers so we can track their progress.

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So, I’ll keep updating this throughout the summer, especially as a lot of the challenges have photographs as part of them.

 

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