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I am enlightened, you are laid back, she is a lazy cow

August 1, 2011

So August is here, which means that we are about half way through the summer holidays. It’s around this time that two things happen. The first is, I start thinking about what is still to do before the autumn term rushes creeps up on us. I really ought to get round to organising those haircuts for the boys, for example. I should have checked their school uniforms and shoes by now to see if there is anything at all that will still fit next term and, if not, I should get on with dragging the children into town to find new stuff, along with the forty squillion other mums who’ve left it to the fag-end of the holidays.

I have made a start, in fact. We’ve been to the dentist for our quarterly telling-off, and we stopped at a garden centre on the way back to buy a cheap pair of wellies for my elder son, boots being an essential item of kit to a child in rural Scotland. We found a pair that (a) he liked, (b) fitted him and (c) were good value. Glory! Only, the bill for them and a few other bits and pieces (oh, you should see the red geranium I fell for, it’s on the kitchen windowsill making me happy as we speak) seemed to be awfully steep, and when I checked it back at home I realised that the wellies had been on the wrong shelf and were three times as much as I’d thought. So there’s a good beginning.

Okay, okay, here is my lovely geranium. Please ignore bird-spattered window behind it; or blame the blue-tit you can see on the feeder.

The second thing that happens at about this stage of the holidays is that I am suddenly seized by parenting anxiety. This is not the same as parental anxiety, the fear that my children might be doing something dangerous to themselves or each other. It’s the gnawing worry that I don’t do enough with my children. After our lovely week abroad and a week’s fishing, we have nothing else organised for the rest of the holidays. Not even a trip to the hairdresser, so far. What worries me is, are my children missing out by being left to their own devices most of the day? Is every other mother busy organising playdates (noisome word) and extra French tutoring, and spending hours of each day cutting cookie shapes with her children or painting pictures or devising treasure hunts or singing round the piano…? And if she’s not – if, like me, she loves them dearly but wishes they had an ‘off’ button for a couple of hours each day while she catches up with the ironing/paperwork/blogging/ sleeping – then is she nothing but a lazy cow? Is she – am I – a Neglectful Mother?

Mothering is one of those occupations to which you can apply irregular declensions. (Remember declining verbs in language class, anyone?) The woman we don’t know, the one who slobs about in a tracksuit while her children grow boss-eyed and obese in front of the computer game: she is lazy. My friend, the one who chats to me for hours over coffee while her unheeded children trash the playroom and torment the cat, she is laid back. I, however, I am strong in the knowledge that children need nothing but their imagination to fill their days. I give them this space. I am enlightened.

I wish I could believe it. I suspect that we are mostly as good or bad as each other. Some children are so micro-managed that they probably don’t know what to do with themselves if left to their own devices. Some are left to their own devices almost to Lord of the Flies level, and become positively feral. (I’ve had a few of them in my house.) Most kids in our society, however, probably muddle along just fine with a mixture of benign neglect and the occasional burst of parental activity and (most important of all) regular hugs.

Mine are, I think, exceptionally lucky in that they live in such a rich natural environment. Every time we go outside on our daily walk or bike ride, we find something to discuss. A hedgehog bumbling along through the long grass, perhaps. Two squirrels having an argument on a yew tree, leaping and chittering. A giant puffball gleaming under a sycamore. A roe deer startling us as it bursts out of the bracken across our path. After experiences like that, I’m not going to sweat if the boys want to spend an hour after lunch watching children’s TV or surfing the net for videos of steam engines. And once they get bored and start squabbling over whose bit of Lego is which, I can just boot them outside again. Of course, I could use that moment to make cookie dough with them or practice their scales on the piano. But like I said, I am an enlightened mother. Aren’t I?

encounter with a hedgehog



You might enjoy: Obviously, I’d never do this or  Sports Day: if motherhood is a race, I think I came last.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. hmunro permalink
    August 1, 2011 7:12 pm

    Yes, you are an enlightened mother, DB! Your boys are lucky to have a mum who strives to find a balance between Big Brother and Lord of the Flies — and who graces them with her wonderful wit and keen intellect. I once heard someone say that the only way to be a perfect parent is to not have children. Everyone else just has to muddle through and do their best. (PS: You get extra extra credit for your use of the word “declension.” I haven’t seen that word in print for perhaps 20 years.)

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 1, 2011 10:24 pm

      Oh, the comment about ‘the only way to be a perfect parent is not to have children’ is SO reassuring! Thank you for that! And for your kind interpretation of my weaknesses.

      I’m feeling a bit smug now about using ‘declension’. I’m going to be dropping it casually into conversation for days now. Heh heh.

  2. August 1, 2011 9:01 pm

    Precious holiday time, and most precious of all is a good dose of non-planned activity, including the occasional healthy dose of boredom.

    I wouldn’t have believed that I could get nostalgic (as opposed to panicked) about school uniform buying, but I’ve just bought my last item of school uniform, barring a bizarre growth spurt or loss/destruction of something, and felt distinctly tearful. In fact I pleaded with my daughter to be allowed to go with her to Aitken & Niven and buy her S6 tie. (Why do schools have one design of tie up to S4, one for S5, and a different one again for S6?)

    Love your geranium! It must be summer – your window is open.

    Wellies…if I wasn’t in the school tie business I’d be in the wellies business. We bought a pair of wellies this summer for a French friend of my daughter’s from Bordeaux (a welly-less place if ever there was one) so that she could negotiate our trip to the west coast. Even B&Q had over-priced ones.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 1, 2011 10:29 pm

      Looking at the way some kids’ ties are slung around their sternums, I don’t know why schools bother to make them wear them at all. (Peers disapprovingly over half-moon specs.) I kept my 6th form tie – don’t know why, as school was not a high point in my life.

      The kitchen window is indeed open – hurray! – but just a crack or the blue-tits might come in by mistake. The dogs would enjoy a bird in the kitchen immensely, but the blue-tit, my china and I would not.

  3. Margaret Lambert permalink
    August 1, 2011 11:02 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with allowing some time for kids to just be kids doing what occurs to them. Mine used to wander down the hill to a small, seasonal creek in the summer time, to make dams, catch crawdads and get wet and muddy. I’d have to hose them off in the garden before they could come in the house. Now it’s one of the things they remember fondly, along with all the sports camps and classes they took. Your large property is ideal for imaginative play and exploration- it’s a rare benefit these days.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 2, 2011 12:11 pm

      Thank you for your wise words, Margaret. Your childrens’ summers sound idyllic, and remind me that some of my best summer memories are of days spent in wandering in the fields with a friend, playing, talking and fighting off wasps over our sandwich lunches. I guess that freedom is indeed relatively rare for kids these days, sadly.

  4. Jane Ziemons permalink
    August 2, 2011 2:06 am

    Thanks DB, your post came at a perfect moment of contemplation over how right or indeed how wrong I am getting this motherhood trip. ‘Could do better’ I am sure the report card would say but it would be hastily followed with, ‘I’m trying my best’ and that’s all I, or indeed any mother, can do.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 2, 2011 12:16 pm

      Hi Jane, always happy to contribute to your contemplations! I’m sure we could all do better – and I’m sure we all do our best. My boys are sitting across the table from me on this rainy morning, playing car crashes and auto repairs with their Lego – so all seems to be OK…! Just need to get my head round the uniform thing… xx

  5. Toffeeapple permalink
    August 2, 2011 10:25 am

    Oh, you smartypants with your declensions! I had quite forgotten that word, how nice to see it again.

    You are, most definitely, enlightened. When I was a child, in Wales, my peers and I would roam the mountains from morning until twilight – we never had to be entertained by the adults we made our own entertainment and had such good fun.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 2, 2011 12:18 pm

      Ooh, yes, that’s me [preens annoyingly]. My husband says I remind him of Hermione Granger. Hmm.

      A childhood of running wild in the Welsh mountains sounds heavenly. Thank you for reassuring me that I’m not doing it all wrong!

  6. August 2, 2011 11:40 am

    I can think of nothing I’d have liked better as a kid than to be allowed to roam unsupervised around your wonderful castle! (Or even as an adult… :D)

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 2, 2011 12:21 pm

      Hah, yes, it’s great for the kids and their friends. The parents, meanwhile, sit in the kitchen listening to the distant banging doors and yells, hoping that the castle will still be standing by the time they come back in search of food. The sudden periods of dead silence are the worst. 😉

  7. Jean S permalink
    August 2, 2011 8:29 pm

    are you kidding? your kids are unbelievably fortunate to be able to roam about as they do. The constant (s)mothering comes about when parents either are afraid to let their children out of their sight for even an instant or are worried that someone else’s child will get a leg up on the grade-based rat race. They then invent various quasi-intellectual rationales to cover up the fact that they’re just plain scared.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 5, 2011 8:05 pm

      Aren’t all parents scared? But yes, my children are lucky to have space and freedom, and I am lucky (or maybe just naive) to be not overly-concerned with the ‘grade-based rat race’. I’ll tell you how that works out in, ooh, about a decade!

  8. deb permalink
    August 4, 2011 2:59 pm

    I think that balance is the important word here. As my children are now grown-up (theoretically) at 20 and 23, I still look back and wonder if I did things the “right way”. It depends on the child and his/her needs. Mine loved to just follow their own interets and explore as well as do activities together. Now they are both independent and have many interests and are seldom bored. If we follow our heart and our instincts I think we’ll be fine.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 5, 2011 8:06 pm

      I hope so, Deb. That’s what I tell myself, and it’s nice to get some reassurance from parents who’ve been there before me – thanks.

  9. August 22, 2011 4:38 pm

    We used to spend a week at Loch Monzievaird every Easter (also Perthshire) and my sisters and I were never more delighted than when mum and dad left us to paddle in the burn in our wellies and explore the woods with a flask of juice in our rucksacks. I wouldn’t worry about it!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 22, 2011 7:47 pm

      That does sound like a pretty perfect way to spend childhood holidays. Thanks for the reassurance!

  10. October 23, 2011 6:27 pm

    You sound pretty enlightened to me, DB, and I’m sure your boys benefit by being allowed to experience creative boredom. 🙂 Back in Lancashire my sisters and I used to run wild in the summer holidays and I tried to let our two do the same when they were young. It can’t be good for children to be cabin’d, cribb’d, and confin’d all the time.


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