On Play

2014-04-21 10.17.57

I watch my daughter (aged 3) sitting quietly, playing with her small figures and dolls. She is building communities amongst them. They are kind and co-operative with each other. She is building her own version of a good society and reflects the cultural practices she sees around her. She also thrills in playing superheroes and defending us all from ‘bad guys’. She runs and yells and explores the feelings of fear, excitement, anticipation and victory through imaginative play.

My son (aged 6) constructs more elaborate games with friends that enable them to simulate scary or challenging environments. I watch him with his friends playing amongst trees and bushes on a slippery bank. It is difficult for them to climb and they frequently lose each other amongst the growth. They play a game that involves getting each other to the top of the bank.  They develop teamwork skills helping each other in difficult parts, they shout instructions to each other and they escalate a sense of danger amongst themselves that makes this task thrilling and adventurous. I see in the childrens faces the weight of this endeavour. They experience peril and danger and solve problems together to overcome challenges. They glow with the pride of their achievement as they reach their goal.

As I type my children are playing in our communal garden, with other children from our block of flats. They are creating a restaurant. They are developing their physical skills as they rearrange the space, they are learning about edible foods as they forage from our herb and vegetable beds. They are learning to work together and delegate roles to each other. They are developing communication skills as they discuss how best to do things and learning about relationships with friends. They are playing out an adult situation but entirely under their control.

Play offers children the chance to ‘try out’ adult situations, to transform the world about them into a more understandable form. I believe that most learning happens through play for both younger and older children. I believe that most learning happens through play for all of us.


The value of interdependence


I was up and out of the house at 5am. Sleepy, excited and nervous to venture out alone. I lugged my bag over to the waiting taxi.

‘Where to?’

‘The station, please’

I asked the driver whether he was starting or ending his day. He told me it was the end of a long shift. The dawn light barely cracked the the sky ahead of us as we traveled east towards the station. The shining beacon of lights around a small church caught my attention then faded as we moved onwards. The station was also quiet. A mix of people waiting for the early trains up towards London gathered around the concourse. Commuters, suited and smart with wheeled suitcases looked up at the departure boards. Efficiently waiting for the platform number to flash up on the display. All around them the sleepy, unkempt end-of-the-night and homeward bound laid out across benches and each other.

And off I went, beginning the longest solo venture I had taken since becoming a mother.

So… the whole motherhood thing. It’s hard. At times damn hard. And I reach the times when I feel that I will collapse under the weight, the responsibility, the love and the day to day repetitiveness of it all. And it’s the most amazing and wonderful thing. Following and learning from these beings that teach me what it means to be human and show me the magic of the world and all around us. I adore my children.

But. I had this niggling but… when is it time to do something for me? Is this how it is? The dichotomy of love, wonder and oppressive need.

Then I’m on my way, stretching the time and distance between us to learn permaculture and sustainability on a far and foreign island. For seven days. And I learned so much more. As a home educating parent my children are with me most of the time. We wake, eat, sleep, learn, play and learn some more together. I am aware of how I meet their needs for security, for comfort and for the most basic of needs. And amongst it I try to meet my own needs too.

It was strange being alone in the world. For the first time in so long I only had myself to look after. I reveled in it. I was able to move at my own pace, to stop, to go to change my mind on a pinhead. Amazing! I felt that I had forgotten something. And it was a gift to immerse myself in permaculture for this length of time. To get up and make only one breakfast. Our meals were prepared and, staying in a hostel, I felt pampered to the point of queenliness. And all was well. I worried that my children would be ok without me. That they would cope with this minor upheaval to their steady lives.

Until I got to day four.  I loved my course and delighted in the new friendships with other participants but my heart felt heavy.  I felt like I was walking with a gaping hole. That I was not all that I am. And day four was long enough for my children. As we skyped I could see the struggle for them. How long would I really be away now? The first time we had used skype Maia had thought I was inside the iPhone. “But how did you get IN there mummy!?”. By now she could barely look. And my boy, looked so pale and sad it almost broke my heart. And so we had to stop with skype.

I ground down. I focused on my course. I learned and shared and spent a fabulous week with like-minded souls. But I was missing… my children, my family, a chunk of myself. I could feel the lack in all my senses.

On the way home I half ran through the airport and burst into tears to see my family again. It was really a short trip away. People had said to me ‘it’s good for you, it’s good for the kids, it toughens you up, got to do it sometime’. But it didn’t feel that way to me. Why should I put us all into a misery to toughen us up? How does that make us better people? What do we really learn?  I learned so much during my time away. I learned skills, I gained knowledge and experienced much. And I learned that I need my children and family as much as they need me. That I am sustained by the weight, the responsibility, the love and the day to day repetitiveness of it all.

And I hope that my children learn through all of this that there is strength in love, in attachment and family bonds that stretch and pull and keep us close to each other. That there is value in interdependence.


Tinney’s Firs

We were staying with family on the edge of The New Forest. There’s something about time outdoors together that tightens the family bonds. Just up the road from the family house is Tinney’s Firs. A tucked away woods with meandering streams, plenty of Holly trees and, while we there, a seemingly constant drip drip of leftover raindrops. The earth was a deep muddy brown coated in the black mulch of fallen leaves. brown shades from tan to sienna reached up to the sky darkening into silhouetted branches against the cloudy grey. The odd spray of bright fresh green leaves brought vibrancy to an otherwise earthy palette.

Louie and Jack found large fallen branches which furnished them beautifully with walking sticks. Maia struggled with the deep mud bogs, huge expanses to her little legs. We followed the path up around and over the stream. A slip on a mildewed log left Louiel with a soggy boot but we carried on regardless. Humming songs and discussing the toad we found last time we walked this round, Louie leads us through.

Jack entertains us skipping and hopping, dramatically avoiding the bogs that Louie marches gloriously towards. Family time well spent. The colours anchor into me, warm and reassuring. As we leave the woods onto the neighbouring bridleway a phone call tells us that friends are engaged. We reminisce about getting the buggy stuck along here years before and pass by the fields and smallholding back up to the road.The next day we head out to a wildlife attraction across the forest. After an unplanned detour, or… could say getting lost, we arrive in light rain to out-of-our-budget entrance fees. I use the toilet and much to the disappointment of the small ones we get back in the car and head back across the forest. The rain has slightly abated and we make a stop at Bramble Hill for another walk. Here we are adventuring and exploring somewhere we have not seen before. The orange brown flint of the car park holds pools of silver water reflecting the flat white sky.

We head through an opening following a slightly worn track across an open area through gorse and small trees and shrubs. The mossy ground would be a citrus green in another light. Jack runs ahead with Louie fast behind him. They delight in a dewpond on the edge of a larger clearing. Clouds pass and for a shimmering moment the water reflects a blue that I put on a par with the boy’s eyes. Maia wants to paddle but the water is quite deep. Jack carries her through. On we go up and over and down a steep hill. The ground is striped with white stones, red flint and black squelched leaves. The shades of green here are deeper and fuller than our previous walk. At the bottom we reach the stream and wooden bridge. We navigate a huge boggy patch to reach the other side where the children splash and paddle in the perfectly clear flowing water. Orange flint shines as it is continuously washed and the trickle drip and splashes quiet my senses.

I remember these times in my skin, in my muscles and bones. I feel the colours and sounds shimmer through my nerves. The subtleties of all that surrounds us becomes the raw matter from which I am made. Then in this way I can re-make and make order of feelings that I may otherwise lose. The walks contain my family and this I hold in myself. I re-feel the colours and through my hands attempt to remake them into another tangible form. Maybe I am trying to contain, keep  and store that which passes around and through us.