Conversations With Your Kids: Puberty and Sex

Last week my nine-and-a-half year old son sparked the conversation every parent anticipates somewhat nervously: the sex talk!

I knew it was coming. Kevin and I had already discussed how we were going to handle it. We’ve always said that we would be honest with our children about it; that it would be an open topic of conversation, free from embarrassment or taboo. We want our children to be able to come to us with any questions or worries about any aspect of their lives, so why should sex be any different?

I’ll admit I wasn’t prepared when he sprung it on me: what does sex mean? I thought I had at least another year, but didn’t let it faze me. I explained briefly about intercourse, and how a baby is made. I told him that a baby isn’t made every time and that people can do it simply for pleasure too. He was very mature about it all – no giggling or avoiding eye contact. Once I’d explained, he said OK and went off to continue playing with his Lego.

Although pleased with how the conversation had gone, I was still left a bit shell-shocked! My baby boy was growing up! I texted Kevin to let him know that we had reached this moment on our parental journey. I then threw myself into tidying the kitchen with wild abandon, my thoughts filled with all the other potential questions Andrew could ask about sex and growing up. I wanted to be more prepared for these questions, so did a quick internet search for any books that could help. I wanted something that was tailored towards children of his age and that would be informative without being overly graphic. I’m all for embracing the subject, but he’s a bit young for anything bordering on pornography! I also wanted something that would explain more about the puberty side of things, as these changes will come before sex is at the forefront of his mind!

Giving him a book wasn’t a cop-out, but a way of giving him the information in bite-sized chunks, in a clear and concise manner. It would also have illustrations that would help further his understanding – I don’t think my basic stick-people drawings would have the same effect! The idea was that we could give him the book to peruse in his own time and be available to answer any questions he had. I wanted us to encourage a dialogue about it too, instead of just waiting for him to approach us.

The Usborne book What Is Happening To Me: Boys by Alex Frith ticked all the boxes. When it arrived I had a quick read, just to make sure it was suitable. It was! It explains all the different changes his body will go through, as well as how hormones will affect his mood. It talks about sex and contraception, relationships, eating healthily and taking care of his body, as well as drugs, safety online and the right to say no! It also talks briefly about the changes a girl goes through, which I think is an important thing for a boy to know. It’s worth noting that there is also a girl’s version of the book, so I’ll be purchasing that in a year or so for my eldest daughter.

We gave him the book and explained what it was for. He seemed quite nonchalant about the whole thing, but then he’s always taken life as he finds it. He took it to his bedroom, appearing every so often to ask a question, which we of course answered. I’ve noticed that he isn’t bothered about which one of us answers his questions, which is a positive thing in my eyes.

I realise that for many parents the sex talk can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. We teach our children in great detail about most things, so why not sex? Talking to them about it doesn’t mean that they are going to go right out and try it for themselves. If anything, it will help them make informed decisions about that part of their lives, as well as give them the confidence to speak up if they are feeling pressured into doing something that they aren’t ready for. Initiating a conversation about sex and puberty also normalises it, which will help them deal with any falsehoods they hear about it from others, as well as be confident in their physical appearance.

We had always intended to have this series of conversations with Andrew before he went to secondary school. Now that it’s out there we can continue to nurture his understanding of the subject bit by bit. We’ve made it clear to him that he can talk to us about it at any time and I’ve been reminding him of this every couple of days. I’ll spread the reminders out soon, but at the moment the most important message I want him to take from it is that no subject is off-limits.

We’ve prepared him for the changes he’ll soon face – changes that are in fact already beginning to take hold. I’ve noticed that when he’s been running around he now has a faint pong wafting around him. We’ve given him some deodorant and told him he needs to start showering more often and change his shirt every day. These subtle changes will gradually become more noticeable, but for the time being my little man can stay nestled within the folds of childhood for a little bit longer, safe in the knowledge that no matter how many questions about growing up he has, his Lego will always waiting for him.

Holiday highlights

Last week we got back from a lovely two-week holiday in the Scottish Highlands. We frequently holiday there, as my husband’s parents live there and often invite us to visit. The children see it as their second home and we always get the “we wish we lived here” exclamations when it’s close to leaving time. I know how they feel – I never want to leave either!

In the middle of nowhere, with the river flowing right outside, we couldn’t ask for a more beautiful location. You’d think it would be silent, with no-one around but the friendly elderly couple next door, but you’d be wrong! The bees buzz, crickets chirp and the river babbles endlessly. One of the loveliest sounds is the constant birdsong – so many different birds chattering, chirping and singing. At night the owl hoots nearby.

During our stay we saw the riverbank, garden and adjoining field teeming with wildlife. Toads, dragonflies, the aforementioned birds, ducks and deer with their babies, as well as buzzards, a weasel and even an elusive red squirrel! Nature was well and truly in its prime.

One of the advantages of having a place to stay, is that it acts as a jumping off point for day trips to the surrounding area.

My favourite place to visit is Ullapool, a port town on the North-Western coast. We’ve visited a few times now and I still gasp at the beauty of it as we drive over the hill and see Loch Broom leading out to the North Atlantic, framed by the stunning mountains.

Whilst there we went to The White Rabbit, a local junk/antique shop. We go in here every time we visit – Julia and I could quite easily spend hours trawling through the Aladdin’s cave of treasures. Last time we were there I came across a beautiful picture of a scene from The Snow Queen, which now hangs proudly on my living room wall. This time around Kevin spotted a basket of Harris Tweed yarn cones going for next-to-nothing, so I bought three to use in my weaving. It would have been rude not to!

A short hike into the hills, a trip to the Ullapool bookshop and an ice-cream cone on the pebbled beach completed our day. It’s what we’ve done every other time we’ve visited and I love that we’ll always have these memories.

One of our other favourite places is Dornoch, on the East coast. It’s a beautiful little town with an amazing beach: grassy sand dunes, seaweed, rocks and huge crashing waves. We took a picnic with us and settled in our spot for the afternoon. The children all had great fun frolicking in the sea and building sandcastles. Jessica kept running off towards the sea with her spade – I wonder if that big briny blue called to my little mermaid as it does to me. Andrew was in up to his waist and then fell in. Luckily I’d packed a change of clothes for them all!

Whilst Kevin and the children played with the frisbee, I took the opportunity to read up on sea magic and cast a spell. Interestingly, Dornoch is the site of the last legal witch-burning in Scotland. In the garden of the last house before you reach the beach there is a stone which marks the site, along with a plaque telling of the events which took place. It’s quite sad and it highlighted how lucky I am to live in a time and part of the world where I’m free to practise magick without being persecuted for it.

Our Highland holiday was the perfect setting for some magick. It was also a great place to practise our campfire-building skills. The children learned how to build and start a fire on our holiday last year. Since we are intending to go camping a lot, Kevin bought a ghillie kettle for us to cook with, so we thought we’d give it a try. It was brilliant! We ended up using it several times. Who knew that hot chocolate made in the middle of a field would taste so good!

We really enjoyed our holiday in the Highlands. Our day trips were great fun, but it was also lovely to slow down and just enjoy being together. We played games, read books, watched films, baked and did a LOT of drawing. I always find that my time up there helps me reevaluate the important things and makes it easier to let go of the trivia that can sometimes weigh us down in our everyday lives. As the river flows ceaselessly past, any worries or stresses are carried away with it, leaving only peace and happiness…and little faces with hot chocolate moustaches.

What is your favourite way to spend your holiday?

We’re going on a Gruffalo hunt!

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson is one of our favourite stories. We also love the sequel – The Gruffalo’s Child – and we have copies of both in Standard English and in Scots.

It tells the story of a mouse having a wee saunter through a wood. He meets (in turn) a fox, an owl, and a snake. They all invite him to dine with them, when really they intend to have him for their dinner! He declines each invitation by saying that he is going to meet a Gruffalo, and then goes on to describe it as a terrifying creature that likes to eat foxes/owls/snakes. He has of course made up the fearsome sounding beast, but then actually meets one! The Gruffalo also wants to eat the mouse, but the mouse has a cunning plan to get out of his sticky situation.

Since Andrew was around eighteen months old, we’ve been going on Gruffalo hunts when we do a particular forest walk in the Highlands. We’ve never come across any Gruffalo…until now!

I bought these two Bajo figures when they were on special offer, as I thought they would go perfectly with our books. The children love to play with the figures as we read the story together, as well as make up new adventures for the Gruffalo and the mouse.

Keira was determined to take them on our next walk through the wood, so that’s just what we did. She took charge of the mouse figure, and recited the story from memory as we walked along.

Andrew, Julia and I ran ahead to hide the animals that the mouse would meet on his journey. The fox was near his underground house, the owl was in his treetop house, and the snake was in his logpile house.

Keira had great fun seeking out the three animals, and acting out the dialogue between them and the mouse. She flitted flawlessly between the Standard English and the Scots version, which was so cute!

Then we got to the “Oh help, oh no, it’s a Gruffalo!” We’d finally met a Gruffalo in our Gruffalo wood!

We continued our walk and acted out the rest of the story. I won’t spoil it for you by saying how the mouse gets out of being eaten, but I will say his clever plan works, and at last he finds a nut “and the nut wis braw.”

When we reached the end of our walk, we sat by the pond and read the story together, whilst being eaten alive by midges! (Welcome to a Scottish Summer!) Jessica was too busy growling at every dog that passed to really pay attention, but she was wearing her Gruffalo puddlesuit, so took part in her own way.

We had great fun reenacting one of our favourite stories as a family, and have plans to do so many times over in the future. My kids have been chattering away excitedly over which story to do next, and how we’re going to do it. They have great imaginations, and often play out their favourite books and films – sometimes with Lego, sometimes with sticks, but most of the time no props are needed at all!

Do you have a favourite family story you could act out? Perhaps you did so as a child. I’d love to hear your ideas and memories in the comments.

Thank You and Hello!

I realised the other day that I now have over 50 followers! I don’t quite know how that happened, but I’m so pleased and thankful that you’ve all taken time out of your lives to have a read at my musings. I’m thinking that if I ever get to 100 followers, I may do a wee giveaway of sorts – possibly something that fits in with my whole eco-warrior self!

A while back I wrote a post called Bright Blogging Days, where I outlined my plans for how my blog was going to look. It started off well, but life got in the way and my writing fell by the wayside. I’m taking back control though, so expect more regular posts from me – on anything and everything!

I also realised that although I talk about my life and family a lot, I haven’t actually said much about us as individuals and how we fit together.

So here goes!

I’m Mags, a SAHM to 4 children, and I’m currently exploring my witchy side. I love to see the beauty in nature, as well as observe how people act towards one another. I’m happiest pottering around at home or in my garden, although I won’t say no to a night at the karaoke, especially if cocktails are involved! My family are everything to me, and although I’m fairly laidback, I’d willingly fight anyone who threatened their happiness!

My husband is Kevin, and he’s the cleverest person I know! He’s a lecturer and researcher in the Aerospace department at a well-established university. He also does a lot of outreach in his role as a STEM ambassador. Patient and mild-mannered, he’s a brilliant role-model for our children, and he does his utmost to make sure we’re all happy. He started us on our eco journey before we were married, and has been the brains behind a lot of the positive changes we’ve made. We’ll be celebrating 12 years of marriage at the end of this month!

Andrew is our oldest child, and our only boy. At 9-and-a-half, he is intent on becoming a marine biologist – a famous one at that! His dream is to swim with sharks, and he’ll happily talk for hours on the subject, his brain soaking up and retaining any fact he reads. He reads anything he comes across, including Shakespeare (the children’s versions) and Dickens (the original versions.) My little man is also a whizz with Lego, and can build anything he thinks up, with only his imagination as his guide. He’s quiet and patient – a virtue needed with 3 sisters raiding his room on a daily basis! When he finds something funny, his infectious giggles can send a ripple of laughter through a room in seconds.

7-and-a-half-year-old Julia is our oldest daughter. I’d describe her as a free spirit with a built-in risk assessment feature! Out of all of my children she’s the most interested in my witchy explorations. She’s started collecting crystals and stones, determined to find out as much as she can about them. She’s extremely tactile, and will generally use her hands to look at something. She has her own ideas about fashion and hobbies, and it’s my aim to encourage her to believe in herself more. She can be quiet, but is very observant about her surroundings – about people in particular. She can be a bit of a worrier, but she also has a knack for calming people down with a simple cuddle, or by slipping her small hand into yours.

Keira is our 5-and-a-half-year-old whirlwind! She literally bounces around from the minute she wakes up until the minute she goes to bed. Her cheeky smile lights up her whole face, and she moves through the day singing, and living in her own little rainbows-and-unicorns world! She is also scarily clever! She could write at the age of 3, and exceeded expectations in all areas on her first school report card. She loves being a big sister, and spends a lot of time teaching her baby sister how to make funny faces.

Jessica is the baby. At 16 months, she’s developing her own wee personality. She’s finding her place in our family, and will quite happily “join in” with the conversation at the dinner table. She loves to play, which usually involves chewing on her toys and then hiding them in my wellies!

Family time is important to Kevin and I, and we make sure that we create time for talking about the serious issues with our children, as well as playing games, reading stories, or simply being available for a cuddle. Our children are great kids – they are loving, empathetic, and understand what fairness looks like. They are often complimented on their behaviour and manners when we’re out, and I have no problem taking part of the credit for that! They also bicker, annoy each other, and somehow manage to smear toothpaste on the loo when brushing their teeth! They make our family what it is though – toothpaste-smeared loo and all!

So there you have it – my beautiful little family. As in previous posts, I’ll be mentioning them a lot, so hopefully I’ve painted a picture of who we are and how we work!

Thanks for reading and sticking with me. Stay tuned for various musings, family antics, and lots more!

Healthy Goals

Since my teens, I have had a precarious relationship with food. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started, but it is undoubtedly linked to my mental health. Comfort eating has always been a big part of my life. At the age of fifteen I was heading down the road to bulimia, but luckily for me my dad found out in the early stages, and was able to help me nip it in the bud before it escalated.

The thing is, I love food. But I don’t like what it does to my body when I overindulge: the full-to-bursting sensation; the heavy feeling in my limbs; the bloated feeling. I especially dislike the pounds that then creep on as a result. These physical reactions are then coupled with negative thoughts about myself, which can send me into a downward spiral. It’s a hard cycle to break, but break it I must!

I was a skinny child, and my shape didn’t really change until I reached the age of twenty. Other than my bust, of course, which suddenly appeared one day. Measuring 34DD, it was disproportionate to my small frame! I then started to go a bit podgy around the belly, my bust got bigger, and at eleven stone I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. For my height, that weight is at the very top of my healthy BMI, so I decided I would do something about it: I was going to join Weight Watchers. I’d heard a lot of good things about it, and when I did my research I found that it centred on making healthy food choices, rather than cutting out certain foods completely. They also fully encourage exercise, in order to create a balanced healthy lifestyle.

Three days before my first meeting I found out I was pregnant with my first child. Morning sickness – coupled with the desire to eat healthily for my growing baby – meant that when I gave birth I was a stone and a half lighter than when I fell pregnant.

Another nine months and I was back up at my heaviest weight. I took myself off to Weight Watchers, just as I’d originally intended, and found a healthy way to control my eating habits, my weight, and my mental health. I loved going to the meeting every week, loved listening to other members’ stories, and loved watching my shape change. I was three pounds away from my goal weight when I found out I was expecting my second child. Unless medically advised, you aren’t allowed to attend Weight Watchers when pregnant, so I had to stop going to my meeting.

I did go back after having my second baby, but I started to help out at the meetings, so it became more like a job than a weight-loss journey for me. I had a different leader this time (who is now one of my best friends), plus my head wasn’t in the right place. Apart from a couple of fluctuating pounds, my weight didn’t really change. When my local meeting closed I didn’t look for another one.

Then two years ago I started afresh at a meeting taken by the first leader I had. Two months in I discovered I was pregnant with my littlest ray, so halted once more. Today I went back to the meeting. I’ve joked that it’s her last chance, as that’s now twice I’ve fallen pregnant within a few months of joining her meeting!

I know that Weight Watchers works for me. Anything that creates a calorie deficit will in fact work, but I know that this plan in particular fits in with my lifestyle. As a family we eat home-cooked food, so meal planning will not be a problem. I’ve also looked out my exercise DVDs, so that I can tone up as the pounds shift. My littlest ray’s morning nap is the ideal time to burn off some fat, as well as boost the endorphins.

My aim is to lose around a stone and a half. Although I have that number in mind, it’s not the final goal. I want to focus on non-scale victories too: inches lost, clothes fitting better, and feeling fitter. My first goal is to fit into a dress for my step-sister’s wedding next month.

My biggest aim is to show my children the importance of making healthy choices – getting them to “do as I do, not as I say.” We are our children’s first role models, so it’s imperative that we step up and demonstrate good choices to them, instead of simply waxing lyrical.

I’ll be posting updates of my getting-healthier journey here. I’ve realised that I need to have accountability for my weight-loss, so this will be my sounding board! Have you set yourself any health goals recently?

Do you believe in faeries? – a Litha celebration

The wheel of the year continues to turn, and we have once again arrived at Litha – the Summer Solstice. The sun at its highest point brings us the longest day, and we can bask in the beauty of the flora and fauna all around us. Bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming, and fruits and vegetables are flourishing. If you are patient and still, you may even catch a glimpse of the faery folk.

This Midsummer’s day we have celebrated by focusing on the magick of the faeries. My little rays have an unwavering belief in the fae, as do I, so it seemed a fitting way for us to honour this Sabbat.

I started by setting up an invitation to play for the two older girls. (My biggest ray opted to do something else; fairy* play is open to all in our house.)

The book is based on the stunning Flower Fairy illustrations by Cecily Mary Barker. It has magical doors which give little glimpses of the fairies and their world. I included little fairy figures and used Grimms and Grapat wooden toys for the scenery. My littlest-middle had a wee play with it, but was desperate to get outside. Ah well, it looked pretty at least!

The next part of our celebration was educational. I read them Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the comic book version! We sat on the grass in the sunshine and the children marvelled at the pictures. They laughed at Bottom and Puck, and cheered when everyone married the one they loved. The book is a great way to introduce young children to the genius of William Shakespeare.

Once we had faeries and magick well and truly on the brain, we cast a summoning spell, inviting the fae to linger in our garden. We gathered flowers, and used leaves and grass to wrap them up into little parcels. We then recited our spell and left the parcels on some rocks.

The children checked on the parcels at least seven times before it was time to come in, and I’ve no doubt it will be the first thing they want to check on tomorrow morning!

We talked about the different flowers that are associated with Litha, and my two middle rays wanted to draw them. They pulled out our Usborne Flower Spotters Cards to look at how the stems, leaves, buds, and petals are formed in each one. They looked at daisies, honeysuckle, lillies, and roses. Out came the felt-tipped pens for some flowery artwork.

Once my wee rays were tucked up and dreaming, I took myself back out to the garden for some quiet reflection time and an oracle reading. Usually I stick to a one/two card spread for my readings, but I came across a specific spread for Litha on ethony.com, so decided to try it out. I found it to be quite uplifting, especially as each randomly-drawn card complimented the next. I ended up with the most detailed reading I’ve ever done. I’m really loving my Earth Magic oracle cards, and the more I use them, the more enlightenment I receive from them.

Just as I’m becoming more acquainted with my oracle deck, the Sabbats are becoming a more permanent fixture in my life. There are so many different ways to celebrate each one, and I’m enjoying exploring those different ways. Most people tend to focus on solar imagery for Litha, but the faeries were calling out to me this year. I also found it a great way to introduce my wee rays to this particular Sabbat.

However you’ve celebrated the longest day, I hope you’ve had as much fun as us!

* I’ve used fairy when talking about the book title and pretend play. I use faery/fae when talking about the spiritual folk – wee, flower, or otherworldly.

Possibilities

I’ve been quiet for the past month, but there’s been a lot going on! I can’t disclose all of it at the moment, but be assured it’s all positive.

First of all – my husband got a new job! It came out of the blue, and all happened very quickly. He’s been working at a university as a research associate for the past four years, playing about with planetary drills and robots! I’m playing it down, but he’s actually a super clever guy, and is always looking for ways to develop new technology. He has a PhD in robotics, although rarely uses his title.

That’s about to change, as recently he was advised to apply for a lecturing post that had suddenly opened up. These posts are few and far between, and usually only become available when someone either retires or relocates. He got the job, as I knew he would. This means that he now has a permanent position at the university, instead of having to apply for funding every year or so to keep his job. He’ll need to get used to people calling him Dr! It also means more stability for us, since I’m still doing the SAHM thing!

That could also change sooner than we expected! After toying with a few ideas, I had sort of made my mind up that I would go back to teaching when my littlest ray starts school. I was initially a bit apprehensive about this, as it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the classroom. The curriculum has changed, policies have changed, plus my referees have now retired, so references will be a problem.

I found a refresher course at a local university though, which helps teachers who have been out of the classroom with new policies, plus gives help and advice when it comes to applying for jobs. This eased my mind a bit, and I began to look forward to the thought of being in the classroom again.

Then I stumbled across something which threw me a bit of a curve ball: Forest School.

Forest School is where children can learn in an outdoor environment, usually woodland. They learn survival skills through different games, plus anything which is covered on a typical curriculum can be incorporated into their surroundings. They get fresh air, will learn about nature in a natural environment, plus have plenty of opportunity to run around and just be kids.

Forest Schools are run by Forest School practitioners, whose training includes outdoor safety and working with children. It sounded right up my street! I did a bit of digging on the entry requirements, and was over the moon to discover that one of them is a teaching qualification. It will be at least a year before I would consider doing the training, so I have plenty of time to make my mind up about whether or not it’s something I’ll pursue. At the moment I’m really excited at the thought of being able to work outdoors, yet still put my diploma to good use. I’ll also be able to take my littlest ray with me to work, as well as my older three during school holidays.

I love that life is full of possibilities. One decision can be the beginning of something wonderful. It can also have the opposite effect, which is why some decisions are very hard to make. You’ll never know whether they’ll pay off if you don’t take a risk once in a while though. My husband and I are currently in the process of making one of these decisions. It could either go horribly wrong, or be the best decision we ever make. I can’t say much else on the matter at the moment, as it’s a very personal consideration. I’ll disclose everything once we’ve reached a decision either way though. (I know you kind of hate me for leaving you hanging right now, but I completely understand. 😉)

Its good to have options, and we count ourselves very lucky, as some are not as fortunate to have choices in life. All we can do is live our lives in a way that makes us happy, without harming others. For us, this means the best possible life for our children, giving them the freedom to live their lives as they choose, and showing them the importance of looking after our planet.

Where will life take you today?