How Many?

When I found out I was expecting Jessica, it was a big shock. We already had three children. We weren’t trying to conceive, in fact we were actively taking measures against conceiving! I hadn’t been feeling well for a few weeks. My cycle had been so irregular for about a year previous to this, that I didn’t take a pregnancy test. I’d done eight the month before, so it seemed pointless buying any more. I’d been getting sharp twinges in my abdomen and felt tired all the time. Kevin made me go to the doctor, where I explained how I’d been feeling. I stated quite firmly that there was no way I could be pregnant…

The very next day, whilst ironing our holiday clothes, I felt a sudden wave of nausea swoop over me. I couldn’t fathom where it had come from. I wasn’t hungry, nor had I eaten too much for lunch. As I sat down to alleviate the dizziness that had accompanied the queasy feeling, my mind wandered back to the previous weekend. My mother-in-law had been round for dinner, and we’d had a glass of wine each. I thought about how, although it was a nice wine, I really hadn’t enjoyed it much. I then thought about how my boobs had been tingly-sore, and how (had it been following a regular four week cycle) my period was late. Everything added up, but I just couldn’t be…could I?

I switched off the iron and bundled my kids into the car. We drove to the nearest pharmacy, where I bought yet another home pregnancy test. Ten minutes later we were back home, the kids were busy munching on biscuits, and I was sitting on the loo, staring in disbelief at the two pink lines that indicated the beginnings of Jessica.

It took about a week for it to sink in, although I think it only took a few days for Kevin. We were never anything but delighted, but it had just taken us by complete surprise. One of the biggest reasons it took me longer to get to grips with it was the thought of people’s reactions. When I was pregnant with Keira someone actually asked me “Do you two not own a TV?” People had been badgering me since she’d arrived with “How long until the next one?” and “Not thinking about number four yet?” Like I was nothing more than a baby machine, squeezing out as many as possible. Like it was anyone’s business but mine and Kevin’s! I steeled myself for the smug ” I knew you’d have another one!” and “So much for stopping at three!” comments that would undoubtedly be made. Then I exhaled and let it wash over me. If it made people feel better about themselves to make such comments, then that was up to them. Nobody was going to dull our joy.

Thankfully, most people seemed excited for us, although I still felt like we had to explain ourselves to some, as though we’d done something wrong! Since we’d given away all our baby things after Keira was finished with them, we had to start from scratch again. Family and friends were very generous though, giving us items that they no longer needed.

We decided not to find out the sex of the baby. We’d found out when having both Andrew and Keira, but didn’t when having Julia. We thought it would be lovely to have a surprise again, seeing as she really was a surprise! Of course we had the usual “What are you hoping for?” to which my answer was always “a baby.” It really didn’t matter to us either way. Why would it? We knew Andrew wanted a brother, so that it would even things up a bit. The girls wanted a sister…because it meant they would get bunk beds!

We had a boy’s name picked out quite early on, which made me wonder if we were indeed having a boy. We’d struggled with boys names for all three previous pregnancies, but had loads of girls names. This time round we couldn’t settle on any one girl’s name though. We didn’t tell anyone the names we had picked out, simply because we didn’t want anyone potentially ruining them for us, as had happened when we were expecting Keira.

It was exciting not knowing the sex of our baby. As we didn’t have space for a nursery, we didn’t need to bother with girly/boyish/gender neutral colour schemes. When it was time to go to the hospital we were both looking forward to the moment when we would find out whether we had a son or a daughter. When Julia was born, Kevin was first to see that she was a girl. He squeezed my arm and said excitedly “We have a daughter, we have a daughter!” It was such a beautiful moment. Not just it’s a girl but a daughter. He was the one to tell me when Jessica arrived too. As she was placed gently in my arms, I just looked at her and thought “Of course! Of course you’re a daughter! You couldn’t have been anyone else!” Although I’d been convinced for so long that we were having a boy, those thoughts just melted away. She was Jessica. We looked at her and knew that was her name.

We’ve agreed that Jessica is our last baby. Our four children are wonderful little human beings, but we’re pretty much at our limit. There’s no way we could squeeze any more in our house without doing some extension work! Plus I’m not sure my body could handle carrying another baby around for nine months! It was harder near the end of the fourth pregnancy. If money and space weren’t an issue, and if my body could stand the strain, it’s possible we may have decided to have another. You never know – what’s for you won’t go by you. After the shock of finding out about Jessica, nothing would surprise me now. If anyone else did come along, he/she would be as loved and as wanted as the rest.

And in case you’re wondering – the girls did indeed get their bunk beds!

Conversations Regarding Your Kids: Home Education

A while back I spoke of an important decision that Kevin and I were in the process of making. We’ve now made our decision and I’m free to share all.

Our three oldest children are currently in mainstream education, but a few months back we seriously considered removing them from school and home educating instead. We weighed up all the pros and cons, and in the end decided against it. I want to talk through our thought process, in order to show that it may not be for our family at this moment, but it’s certainly an option that people should be aware of.

I first thought of home educating our children when I read an article on it. I hadn’t realised how widespread it had become in the UK, and the more I read, the more I wondered if it would be something that would benefit our children. I broached the subject with Kevin, and was surprised when he readily agreed that we should investigate it further. I began trawling the internet, seeking out home educators and contacting our local authority for advice. We also bought Learning Without School: Home Education by Ross Mountney, which we both found really helpful. This wasn’t a decision that we were going to take lightly – this was our children’s future!

There are so many positives to home educating, the biggest one being that you can take whichever approach works best for your family. For a few this will mean recreating a school setup, having formal lessons for each subject and sticking to a rigid timetable. For most families, however, the only limits will be their imaginations. The idea of my children learning about subjects that they would choose really appealed to me, as did the thought of making use of museums/parks/theatres as classrooms. There would be a much smaller pupil:teacher ratio, plus their individual learning styles would be more easily catered for. They would be able to learn in a positive, comfortable environment, with no scope for bullying or peer pressure.

Being a qualified teacher, I had no doubts that I would be able to educate my children at home. Formal training isn’t required for home educating, but I felt glad that I wasn’t going into it blind; that I knew what I was doing. I knew that I would be confident in assessing their learning at all stages – formal or otherwise. Kevin and I have between us a wide range of skills/knowledge, so our children would have a wide range of subjects to explore. Anything which needed a specialist teacher (such as music) could be outsourced, just as children who attend school will have extracurricular activities.

One of the first things people ask when home education is mentioned is “how will they learn to socialise?” Most children will make friends wherever they go. The advantage of home educating is that instead of being grouped with people of the same age, they will meet and interact with people from different age groups and from all walks of life. There are local home education groups, where families can get together for support and for socialising. These groups are just as important for the parents as they are for the children.

People also ask how the children will sit exams and gain qualifications. These can be studied for in the same way as they would be at school, but in a more tailored learning environment. The downside is that we would need to pay for any exams, as well as find an exam centre where they could sit them. The upside is that they would only need to sit exams in subjects of their choosing, rather than because they are compulsory.

The future for each of our children is what we had in mind the whole time we were weighing up our decision. Although the pros far outweigh the cons, there were two particular points which we couldn’t ignore and which eventually swung it.

The first was when I went to see Andrew perform as part of the school choir. Watching him on stage with his peers I saw just how much he contributed to the school community, and how happy he looked at being a part of that community. I thought of how well Julia and Keira have settled at school too and how much they enjoy going to school. I thought back to everything they have experienced thanks to mainstream education, as well as how much they potentially have to look forward to.

Many parents decide to home educate because their children have been bullied, or because they haven’t had a good experience with the school. The school our children attend is excellent: the teachers are supportive and innovative; the pupils all know and look out for each other; there are a variety of extracurricular activities on offer. Parents are kept informed about the day-to-day running of the school and are frequently invited in to talk to pupils or take part in schoolwide activities. In short, there was no urgent reason for removing them from school.

The second reason is a more practical one. We are currently fortunate enough to only be reliant on one income, so there would be no need for one of us to have to give up a position of employment. However, there are things we want to do for our family and experiences we want our children to have. These will all cost more than one income will allow for, so we need to think about what we would be sacrificing as a family in order to go ahead with home educating. Having things is not so important to us, but we are set on building our own house one day, as well as seeing a bit more of the world. We would also like to be able to help our children get a good start on their futures, whatever they decide to do. For these dreams to be realised, I’ll need to go back to work once Jessica starts school, so it wouldn’t be fair to remove the children for a couple of years, only for them to have to reintegrate themselves back into mainstream education.

We were open and honest with our children throughout the whole decision-making process. It’s their education, so of course they were entitled to a say in it. They were all really enthusiastic about being home educated, but understood the reasons for not going ahead with it.

Making this decision was slightly bittersweet, as it had so much potential for being a wonderful thing for our family. However, we know we’ve made the right call and it’s made us more aware of what we can do to supplement our children’s education at home. I’m currently putting together some literary projects for the children, which I can later adapt for teaching when I go back to work. Kevin tends to do the science and technology activities with them, the latest being making their own animations using Lego and other toys!

If you think that home education could be for you and your family, I’d definitely recommend looking into it more. If it’s not for you, then have a look at what you can do to enhance your children’s learning. I’m aiming to write some more posts on education in the very near future. Please let me know in the comments section if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about.

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.