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Thriving in Autumn

Trees changing colour, Halloween, Bonfire Night, hearty soups, Strictly, hot chocolates, bobble hats, fungus, muddy walks, onesies at teatime, log burners, candles, fairy lights….

These are all things people tell me they love about autumn and all things I would happily swap to have spring and summer all year round.

The clocks changing in October strikes fear into me. I dread short days and gales. While I can appreciate the colours and light in autumn, I don’t understand why people get so excited about this brief precursor to winter. To me, it feels like everything is dying: the trees lose their leaves, the grass stops growing, the days give up early, the year is running out…

Every year I count down the days from October until spring, but this year I decided I wanted things to be different. I want to be equally happy all year round and so it calls for a mindset overhaul. I need to learn to embrace autumn and even winter, without escaping into Elf and chocolates in November, and a ski resort in January. As that’s not acceptance: it’s escapism and comes at a cost.

Taking on advice from autumn fans, I have found there are ways and means of making a hardened resister, like me, develop an appreciation, and even enjoyment, of this time of year:

-        Accept that autumn and winter needs to happen. We all need to rest, even nature. Trees and flowers die back and prepare for spring and we can emulate them. It’s good to have some down time, which brings me to my next point.

-        Having formerly refused to buy into the hype about hygge, I realised that my contrariness was leading me to miss out. The Danes endure harsh winters and remain one of the happiest nations in the world, so it’s worth taking some tips from the masters. I’ve cosied up the lounge and enjoyed some on trend activities, like colouring and journalling.

-        I’ve really taken note of what’s going on in nature and this has been heartening. Some of the autumn sunrises and sunsets have been truly sensational. Because I’ve made a point of noticing, I’ve seen how the light is beautiful in the late afternoon and marvelled at the colour of the leaves. I’m surprised at how powerful this appreciation has been for my state of mind.

-        Although hygge is all about hunkering down indoors, too much of this leads to cabin fever and it’s much more enjoyable to get cosy after exposing yourself to the elements. I prefer going outside when it’s not raining, but equally I haven’t let inclement weather put me off. I’ve found that if you come home cold, wet and muddy it does make you feel quite gnarly and proud of yourself. Cycling has definitely raised the endorphins and seen me through the last few months.

Autumn is still my third favourite season, but I’ve realised I no longer need to dread it. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to listen to the Strictly theme tune without coming out in a cold sweat. Now we have the respite of the festive season, before seeing what January brings.

Open water debut

I appear to have lost the ability to breathe. My face is freezing cold, my heart is pumping fast and my chest feels restricted in my new and unforgiving wetsuit. Added to this, I can’t help not liking the murky green water.

I’m in a lesson at Shepperton Lake in Surrey, with four others who , like me, have an open water swimming goal this summer. My personal challenge is to swim around St Michael’s Mount on 18th July. If I carry on like this I’ve got no chance.

At around a mile and a half I know I can swim the distance in the pool, but open water swimming is a different sport. This is why I’ve done a 500-mile round trip to meet up with swimming instructor, Salim Ahmed, and dip my toe into Shepperton Lake in Surrey.

Back to the lesson, Salim’s talking, but I’m still in panic mode and not really listening. I can’t hear properly with my ear plugs in, or see him because my goggles have misted up. My hands and feet are cold. Basically my body is whingeing and I just need to man up.

We set off to the next buoy and I force myself to swim properly. I’m veering off course and the cold makes it hard to breathe bilaterally, but I’m finding some rhythm. As I start to relax, I notice the combination of the water and the wetsuit gives an amazing buoyancy and a more of a glide than in the pool. Also, I note with glee, you don’t have to use your legs as much.

Halfway round the 750m circuit and the murky water is no longer so threatening and the glimpse of bright blue sky on each breath is a treat. I feel invigourated to be swimming around a scenic tree-lined lake, among the ducks, when most people I know are still in bed. Salim tells us to lengthen and widen our stroke, slow it down, and make more of the glide and the roll. It’s exhilerating.

We arrive back at the first buoy and I feel like I’ve conquered my initial fears of open water swimming. I’m a convert. The next challenge is to translate this to the chilly sea, with its unpredictable waves and currents.

 

Purely for swimmers, Shepperton Lake offers a friendly and unintimdating initiation in open water swimming. It is open, during selected hours, when the water gets to 12 degrees (May until October). There are toilets, changing rooms and a place to buy a post-swim cuppa and flapjack. http://www.sheppertonopenwaterswim.co.uk

 

SwimLab

Salim Ahmed will take you from whatever swimming standard you are to wherever you want to go. He has the rare ability of a teacher to inspire confidence and self belief, in order to unlock your potential. If you’re thinking about learning to swim, or improving your swimming, just do it. http://www.swimlab.org.uk

It’s 9am on Saturday and I’m lined up at parkrun Lanhydrock, with 98 other people who weren’t put off by the hostile weather conditions.

Just as another wintry shower gets underway, we start the sprint downhill, through the park, towards The National Trust’s Lanhydrock House. This is the best bit. As we head up through the woods it gets slippery and runner after runner overtakes me as I go through my wheezy stage.

Lanhydrock is one of parkrunUK's most hilly courses

Lanhydrock is one of parkrunUK’s most hilly courses

This is my sixth parkrun since I started running last November (at the age of 43). I know that even though I might feel like I’m hyperventilating, the second wind will come and then it’s the exhilarating downhill wood dash, looking out for tree roots.

The last 2k are the worst: a steady uphill climb, penance for all the early downhill bits. I resort to a heavy-footed shuffle, which I suspect is slower than a walk. It’s still raining heavily and I’m soaked through. I’m almost regretting coming, but I remind myself how great I’ll feel when the massive surge of endorphins kick in at the end. I’ll ride that feeling for a couple of days. Better than a booze high.

At long last I get to the top of the hill and it’s a freewheel to the finish. This is the same bit as at the start, but my legs are tired now, so it’s harder. I run as fast as I can to try and keep ahead of the footsteps behind me (which turned out to be a kid: there’s a lot of sporty youngsters on this, as young as six) and do an unintentional, dramatic skid over the finish line.

Parkrun happens at 9am every Saturday, at 305 different locations in the UK. Free to enter, it’s run by volunteers, and they request that you do your fair share of volunteering to pay back. Before the race, register at www.parkrun.org.uk. You get your own bar code, which is scanned at the end of the race, so your results can be emailed to you, as well as some other stats like position overall and in your age group.

For those, like me, who find running hard, it is motivating to know you are being timed. Hearing someone coming up behind you, or seeing someone slow down in front that you think you could take, makes you push yourself that bit harder.

It’s a fantastic way to start the weekend and it has incentivised me to cut down on drinking on Friday nights, to see if I can improve my results the next day.

trainers

Some reasons to run

Potential safeguard against cancer: active people are less likely to develop colon cancer and running can help reduce the risk of breast cancer by up to 30 per cent.

Lose weight: a 160-lb person can burn more than 850 calories an hour. Better than a fasting day.

Healthy heart: running can bring blood pressure down and running for an hour a week can reduce the risk of heart disease by almost half, compared to non-runners.

Other health benefits: running can improve bone density, help with insomnia and reduce symptoms of both stress and dementia.

Mood and depression: runners are more optimistic and positive and those who run outside show improved self-esteem.

Perfecting the front crawl

Swimming used to be a grim battle of counting up lengths before I could get out of the pool, but not since the SwimLab Swim Clinic at Watergate Bay.

I’ve always watched enviously those swimmers who can cut through water like a knife through butter, who power up and down the pool elegantly, but with unhurried, relaxed motions. Whereas with lots of sports you need to have some innate talent, or had to start doing it as a child to be any good, literally anyone can start swimming, at any age, size or level of fitness. It’s also fairly cheap and accessible and you don’t need much kit.

In the past year, swimming has become my sport of choice and through trial and error, Google, and watching good swimmers, I managed to cobble together a front crawl. Although a vast improvement, this was a long way off swimming how I want to, or being up to the challenge I’ve set myself, of completing a long distance open water swim by the end of the summer. Plus I found it so tiring, which suggested that something was wrong.

So when I saw that the Watergate Bay Hotel, in Cornwall, was running a swim clinic, I was in there with swimwear. London-based, Salim Ahmed, founder of SwimLab, was the coach. As well as teaching swimming, he organises open water swims in the UK and sunnier climes.

back hats teaching team shot

 

At breakfast on the first day, Salim ran through the programme, his backstory and swimming in general. Among the interesting points he made, was the fact that we should be enjoying the swim while we’re doing it, not just the endorphins and afterglow which follow.

Then the six of us took to the pool for the first of three one-hour sessions spread over two days. We started by waking the legs up: doing a few lengths using a float and no arms. Since front crawl is 90 per cent about arms, it was an effort to get to the other end of the pool.  Then we introduced one arm at a time. Salim told us to imagine a zip up our body, and to touch our armpit and ear, before re-entry into the water. This makes sure you get high elbows.

Salim quickly identified where my problems lie: my head was too high, making my legs too low. Easily rectified: I just have to look at the bottom of the pool. Also, my hands enter the water too close to my head and crossover. I have to think about stretching out as far as I can before I put my hand in the water and focus on putting them wider. Once in the water, I need to pull diagonally to my core. When I get this right it’s amazing how much more powerful my stroke feels.

On Saturday evening, Salim filmed us all from the side and underwater. The footage is very telling and tremendously useful.

Over the weekend, there were moments when everything came together and I momentarily felt like the knife through butter. Managing to swim a full length without a breath was an unexpected and exhilerating moment.

Previously, I’ve only felt the buzz from sports where the speed is provided by something else – such as a horse, a bike, or snow – so to get a buzz from swimming felt like unwrapping a brilliant present. It’s exciting to know that if I keep practising, I’ll get that buzz more and more often, and when I do buy a wetsuit and fins, and transfer to outdoors – as Salim assures me I’m capable of – the adrenalin will be ramped up again.

 

Fancy swimming here?

Fancy swimming here? Book in for the next swim clinic

The next Swim Clinic, with Salim Ahmed, takes place at Watergate Bay Hotel on 22&23 November. The cost is £285 for the clinic and B&B, based on two people sharing. The weekend also includes a 30 minute massage, and an optional spin class and beach jog. Without accommodation the Swim Clinic costs £150.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying the 5:2 diet

According to the NHS, 6 per cent of the UK adult population now have diabetes and an estimated 850,000 have it without knowing it. It’s growing all the time, but one way to prevent it is fasting.

The 5:2 diet developed by Michael Mosley, so called because you eat normally for five days and then fast (which means 500/600 calories a day) for two, apparently, has loads of health benefits. It can help put off diabetes, as the body goes into starvation mode and starts burning fat, in particular the dangerous visceral fat, stored around organs, which thin people can have without knowing.

Fasting can help the body not respond to a hormone called IGF-1 (Insulin Like Growth Factor 1) which has growth promoting effects on every cell in the body. Higher levels later in life appear to lead to accelerated ageing and cancer. Fasting makes your body reduce the levels of IGF-1.

So, can I push through my body’s rebellion and lose my fear of hunger?

The tiny apple which sustained me from breakfast to dinner

The tiny apple which sustained me all day

Day one, Thursday 27th Februrary

7.30 Was allowed a surprisingly large bowl of porridge and banana. Not a big fan of porridge and would have preferred to eat something I find more tasty, but went for the filling aspect and slow release.

10.45 Without rushing to the kettle all morning I’m getting more work done, so rewarded myself with a cup of liquorice herbal tea. This is quite a novelty and more than a match for a regular cup.

12pm Getting hungry and fantasising about the one apple I’m allowed to have before dinner. I’m not even that keen on apples. The day is passing slowly, but that’s good from a work point of view.

1.05 Hunger has subsided.

2.45pm. Ate a tiny apple as I needed some insurance against the school run (not a good idea on low blood sugar).

Took my blood pressure, which was really high. Wondering if that is part of the process? Stressing the body and then building up “immunity.” The “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” philosophy that Mosley expounds.

4pm. Just had to toast two hot cross buns for the kids, which was tough. Especially as one didn’t get eaten and was left tantalisingly on the table. This is undeniably the hardest part of the day. After feeling really sharp for most of it, I’m now feeling slightly spacey and my arms feel weak. Slight headache too. Encouragingly, the hunger isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

4.50pm My excitement about dinner was quickly extinguished when I realised what 300 calories looks like. The portion of salmon that I’m planning to use will account for more than my allowance.

 

Dinner was tastier than usual

Dinner was tastier than usual

Thankfully dinner was satisfying. Once I cut the skin off the salmon it came within my calorie budget, with enough left over for generous amounts of tomatoes, courgette and broccoli lightly roasted with a tiny bit of coconut oil. It was finished off with a soy sauce, ginger, chilli, lemon and lime sauce which seemed particularly delicious tonight. Rather than scoff the food without noticing, like I usually do, I focussed on savouring every mouthful and chewing lots of times.

One thing I’ve noticed is how dehydrated I am, it goes to show how much water you get from food. Although I’ve been imbibing fluids all day, I still feel dehydrated and headachey.

9.30. The tiredness is worse than the hunger. It’s like the tank is empty. Is this the feeling of my body starting to digest its own fat? Or has it still not quite worked out what to do? I’m in bed. Feels like I have flu. Expect to be asleep within seconds.

The day after

Was indeed asleep immediately and slept well. Woke up a couple of times but went straight back to sleep. Woke up this morning at 6.15, feeling fairly hungry, but not with the growly stomach I expected to have. However, really enjoyed my bowl of cereal at 7am, following by  cup of tea.

This morning I feel good: I think I have more energy than usual, feel pretty sharp and more optimistic than I have felt for a long time, considering that we’re in the midst of a stressful house build and fresh from being bereaved.

Rather excitingly, the scales show that I’ve lost 2lbs, even after breakfast! I’m not naïve enough to assume this will stay off, but at least it shows that it works. The 5:2 takes a long term approach, so the weight stays off.

Butt Bootcamp

Can a massage really reverse the effects of gravity? I headed to Fowey Hall Hotel to sample Mama Mio’s Butt Bootcamp…

Lift your butt in one hour is the claim made by Mama Mio regarding the Bootcamp for Butts. I was intrigued, but sceptical. Could one hour’s worth of non-surgical treatment really have any impact?

According to Leanne, my therapist, the more you have, the better the results. She said that she had seen one lady completely lose the line created by bum overhang.

The theory behind this exciting, but possibly too good to be true idea, is that the mix of products and massage will boost the lymph and stop the body from retaining water.

The front of my legs were cleansed, before Leanne set to work slapping my thighs – in a manner reminiscient of a Turkish hammam – with all kinds of potions and lotions.

Eight products were used altogether: cleansers, exfoliaters, toners, moisturisers, a seaweed wrap and a chemical peel which made me feel like I’d fallen into a patch of stinging nettles without trousers on. Like prickly heat, it was almost unbearably itchy and I had to lie on my hands to resist the temptation to scratch. It was only Leanne’s assurances that it was really effective which stopped me from screaming at her to take it off. Although she did do her best to distract me with a lovely calf massage.

Afterwards my thighs and bum felt smoother than I can ever remember them feeling. And, thanks to the last moisturiser, wonderfully zingy. An inspection the following day proved that the bum line was still in evidence, but there weren’t any dimples. The skin definitely looked smoother and tighter.

I was pleasantly surprised and might even be tempted to go for the boob job next.

http://www.foweyhallhotel.co.uk

http://www.mamamio.com

Explaining death to children

I recently had one of the hardest experiences of my life, when I sat my children down and told them that Grandpa, who we had just made a 500-mile round trip to visit in hospital, was going to die.

It was heart-rending to hear eight-year-old Meribel sob that she wished she had the philosopher’s stone to give him.

We often assume children are too young to handle death, but children pick up on fear of adults and a change in the air. So not levelling with them is a false kind of protection, which can lead to them creating their own demons.

When I was a massage therapist one lady told me that her dad had died in a car crash when she was small. She has never got over the fact that her mother didn’t tell her for weeks, leaving her to wonder where her dad was.

If children are left alone with their fears and misunderstandings, they grow. They need answers before the myths take over.

How to go about it:

1. It’s never too early to talk about death. The death of a pet is a good introduction. Discussing the natural world is also a good lead in to the conversation. It is natural for flowers to wither and die, and for the leaves to fall in the autumn, but everything is reborn in spring.

2. Use books. Waterbugs and Dragonflies, by Doris Stickney, talks about death in a lovely way which children can understand.

3. Avoid euphemisms. “Passed away”, “lost” and “went to sleep” make no sense to children. They might keep expecting them to come back, or think that falling asleep is dangerous.

4. Allow them to show their emotion. You can’t stop them from feeling sad, and you need to be supportive and attentive to them when they are expressing their emotion. Equally, it’s fine to let them see your grief.

5. Be open to questions. Answer their questions as honestly as you can. It’s OK to say that you don’t know. Try not to squirm, or be awkward, as this makes them feel awkward. Tell them they can ask you anything and listen carefully. Be prepared for questions to come at inopportune times. They are likely to catch you on the hop.

6. Let them know the facts. A definition of death, from www.dyingmatters.org is: “Something or somebody that’s dead doesn’t move, or eat, or breathe, or do anything. They cannot feel pain and will never wake up.” Tell them that everyone dies one day, but most people don’t die until they are older, so they mustn’t worry about other loved ones dying.

7. There aren’t many positive aspects of death, except that it’s part of life. If we didn’t die then there wouldn’t be room for babies to come into the world. There is certain sense of accomplishment about a life which has been well lived and people in the family dying in the natural order. It reminds us of how important it is to live.

8. Memory boxes are a good way of honouring a dead person, keeping memories safe and a place to revisit when they think about their loved one.

 

IMG_0059

Hand planing at Watergate Bay

Water is rushing above my head and the last thing I see, before scrunching my eyes shut against the saltwater, is a row of people holding their boogie boards like riot shields. Rather than being on the wave, as I should be, I’m in the wave, swept up like a piece of debris.

Accidentally, I wiggle the tiny surfboard strapped to my right hand and find myself spinning inelegantly in the water. I haven’t tried surfing for a good 10 years, but I remember this washing machine feeling very well. It’s surreal and seems to go on for an interminably long time. I hope that I’m not going to hit anyone on the head with the surfboard. Or that anyone is going to hit me.

Eventually the wave spits me out. I emerge, spluttering, hair plastered over my face, eyes blinded by seawater and feeling completely disorientated. Some teenage girls on boogie boards laugh at me. “Ha,” I think, “you’ll be trying this next year.” As nonchalantly as I can, I head back out to sea again.

Described by The Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay, as turbo-charged bodyboarding, hand planing is hailed as the next craze. It’s not brand new: I can remember people doing it about 15 years ago, fashioning their hand boards out of wood, but apparently it’s getting trendy across all the world’s hottest surf spots now.

When I was growing up we didn’t have surfboards or boogie boards, so body surfing is what we did. I thought it would be like that, but with more oomph, thanks to the board and fins. And it is: I even find myself catching waves unintentionally. Well maybe not catching, but being swept along by them.

“It’s all about timing,” says Josh, my instructor, who duck dives, seal-like, beneath the incoming waves and emerges a few seconds later, somewhere completely different. “When you are at the base of the wave, kick like mad and paddle with your free arm, Or push yourself off from the bottom. You need to stay in front of the wave.”

The surfboard-enhanced arm is stretched out in front and, if you’re any good, you can use it to steer across the wave. Once you’ve caught the wave, you tuck the free arm in next to your body and head for the beach, streamlined. Like a spear being thrown by the wave.

Hand planing feels like a cardio workout, because you’re always swimming around and you are in the mix with the waves, without a board as a barrier. Not to mention having to hold your breath for ages when you get it wrong.

Lots of adrenalin sports seem to require overcoming a few challenges and facing down some fears before you get the buzz. For me, hand planing was no exception. But for all the seawater I swallowed and the discomfort of having waves breaking on my head, the thrill of riding the wave in to the beach was worth it. There were several happy accidents when I managed to get the timing right and felt myself riding majestically atop the wave, the theme tune to Blur’s Song 2 in my head.

If you have some skill, I’m sure that hand planing is even better, but I liked the fact that even if you’re rubbish, it’s good fun and gets the endorphins going. Afterwards, I walked up the beach with smarting eyes and feeling slightly battle weary, but utterly exhilerated and ebullient.

Two hour lessons in hand planing cost £20 per person at the Extreme Academy.

http://www.watergatebay.co.uk/blog/2013/08/01/hand-planing-with-extreme-academy

Lovebombing

RESETTING YOUR CHILD’S EMOTIONAL THERMOSTAT

“Can we go swimming now?” asks Sonny, my five-year-old. We have just left the aquarium.

“Yes,” I say immediately.

Sonny looks at me surprised, it’s not an outright no, or even a hmm maybe, or a snappish only if you eat your lunch.

“Can I choose to do what I like today?” he beams broadly.

By the time we get back from the aquarium, to collect our swimmers, he’s gone off the boil and wants to watch Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, with the sofa bed pulled out in the lounge. I don’t try and persuade him that the exercise would be good for him, or groan about Star Wars, or moan about the hassle of converting the sofa. I break a longstanding habit of sitting down with him, rather than parking him while I get on with some jobs.

Sonny enthralled by sharks

Sonny enthralled by sharks

Sonny can’t believe that his mother is being so accommodating. He gives me a couple of Lego Star Wars figures to play with and keeps up a continual Q&A throughout the film to test my knowledge and my attention. Actually this continues all evening.

A friend told me about Lovebombing a few months ago but I hadn’t taken it any further until the opportunity presented itself for two days, indiluted, at home with Sonny.

A concept created by Oliver James, author of Affluenza and They F*** You Up, it resets your child’s emotional thermostat by showering them with love and attention. Some of the case studies in the book have quite profound problems – insecurity, violent tantrums – but all of the kids seemed to benefit in a short space of time.

Most people would say Sonny is fine: he has lots of friends and is usually confident and chirpy. But sometimes he can’t control his anger and gets unreasonably upset over small things. Recently, Meribel said something which hurt his feelings and he tried to leave home. If you tell him off, he’s prone to slide into self-loathing: “just put me in the bin.” He’s uncomfortable when it comes to performing, awkward about eating and, it pains me to say it, our relationship has its difficulties.

I had a difficult pregnancy with Sonny, a really easy birth, but then he screamed for weeks and I slid into post-natal depression. I found it almost impossible to cope with a baby who cried for 75 per cent of his waking hours, and a two-year-old who was miffed at not getting my undivided attention. There were other reasons why that was a hard period of my life, but basically I think my relationship with Sonny and more specifcally, Sonny, has suffered because of that time.

Five years on, we have fallen into a pattern of me doing things with Meribel (I’m better at ponies) and Mark doing things with Sonny (he’s better at Lego and Wii). This is fine, except I am the main care giver. Especially in the holidays, Meribel, Sonny and me spend a lot of time together and I can see that Meribel is better at getting her items on the agenda and I think Sonny feels like second fiddle.

Witnessing the terrible relationship between my mum and brother, I realise that I need to put things right now. According to James, up until their early teens, kids’ brains are really malleable, so it’s easy to reset their feelings and boost their self esteem. If there is one thing I would like my kids to have, over and above everything else, it’s high self esteem.

Mine and Sonny’s wasn’t a purist Lovebombing as, at that point, I hadn’t read the book and was working from my friend’s summary. Basically, you set some parameters: when and how long it is going to be and then you let them decide how and where the time will be spent. Some fantastical ideas need to be managed, but generally the whole idea is to put them in control and make them feeling bathed in love.

Caimans and mantarays

Caimans and mantarays

As the opportunity came up at last minute – when Meribel decided to accompany Mark to visit his dad who is very sick -  I hadn’t had had the chance to clear the diary or prepare him for it, choose a name or work on the itinerary. And I didn’t know you were supposed to sleep in the same bed.

What I did do was be as focussed on him as possible. I turned down invitations for stuff that was more appealing for me than him, didn’t drag him up to do the pony and although I did direct his choices slightly when his initial ideas were more of the same, it was only to open him up to more choices, which he embraced enthusiastically.

So, what did we do? We went to the cranio osteopath, which had been booked in for ages. Sonny likes the cranio (it’s her that stopped him crying when he was a baby, by getting rid of his headache) and I read to him while he was having it done.

In the afternoon, I had promised to take my mum, who was recovering from a breast cancer op and shingles, shopping. Instead of dragging Sonny around my choice of shops, we bought his school shoes. The ones he wanted (because they have toys in them) even though the lady in the shop said they were the wrong fit and didn’t want to sell them to us.

We also bought ice lolly makers, which he has been asking me for for ages. Then we went for a coffee/babycino before going home to watch Star Wars, with pizza, on the sofa bed. Before bed, we looked up a karate class that he could join, as he’s been asking for a while and I’ve been saying yes without doing anything about it.

The following day was when we did the aquarium and more Star Wars. I had a headache after so much indoor activity and Han Solo and had to go to bed at the same time as Sonny. Which was a bit weird, as Meribel was still out at a gig with Mark (on their way home from the grandparents) and wasn’t expected home for several hours.

So did it work? In so many ways, yes. I think the fact that Sonny clicked that he could make the choices, without me telling him that was the aim, showed he did feel a sense of control. I think he finally felt heard. Spending time with him on his interests was stepping outside of my comfort zone (not good at Lego and just don’t get Star Wars), but gave him some validation.

I have since read the book and it has made me reflect on my parenting. I realise that a lot of the time I parent sub-consciously. I think I’m doing an all right job, because I keep them safe, listen to them read, make them eat fruit, facilitate entertainment and get their friends around to play. But there are a few basics that I’m completely missing.

Lots of times I say no, for no good reason, or turn each request into a negotiation. (You can only go swimming if you eat up your lunch.) I try not to shout, but sometimes it happens and I realise how crushing this is for him. I don’t favour Meribel, but I do favour her interests and I realise now that, to Sonny, that seems like I’m favouring her. I know now that sometimes I just have to make the time for a light sabre fight, rather than sorting out the washing.

Meribel and Mark also had a fantastic time and came back full of enthusiasm for each other. This is great too, as sometimes Meribel was a bit cheeky to him and he was a bit irritable with her.

Going forward, we’re changing things so it’s not always “the girls” and “the boys”. I will read Sonny his Star Wars bed time story (again), while Mark gets to read Harry Potter to Meribel. We’re bigging up his impending karate class and went to the library to find some books on it. This time I didn’t even try to direct him to the stories, but went straight to the factual books, which he prefers. We came home with a few that I find palatable as well.

On a daily basis, I’m going to give him as much control as is practical. I’m not going to do reward/punishment parenting or enter into pointless negotiations. I don’t ever want to shout at him again and I’m hoping that by following these steps I’m never provoked into it.

http://www.lovebombing.info

 

Five months later, I’ve revisited this post and I’ve been struck at how well Sonny has come on in this time. It would be easy to put this down to him having matured a bit, but I like to think that Lovebombing, and some of the awareness it created with our parenting, made a difference as well.

I have one glaring example of how he has benefited. I mentioned in the post that he hated performing. In fact that post was written shortly after his school learning assembly and I was secretly upset that he was the only one in the class who hadn’t been given a speaking part.

Each autumn St Austell has a Speech and Music Festival and children from our school have to audition for it. It’s generally the same old faces: those who will speak loudly and always get picked for speaking roles in the nativity.

Sonny learned the poem, but didn’t get picked by the school. Surprisingly, he asked me to enter him individually, which I did, thinking that he would probably forget about it and we’d end up not going. We practised occasionally, but not that much. Meribel practised hers a lot more.

Even the week of the festival I was unsure about whether Sonny would enter, as he seemed to have gone off the boil. But, after watching Meribel coming second with hers, he knew he would get fuss made of him, he knew where he had to stand and he obviously decided he would give it a go.

I felt extremely nervous the morning of the competition. Sonny is a bit of a loose cannon and I felt his performance could go either way. One little boy got up on stage, looked at the audience, said no and ran off. I thought there was a chance Sonny might do that too: it’s intimidating and they’re only little. Instead, he strode confidently up the steps and marched right to the front of the stage, right in the judges face. In fact, his toes were almost over the edge and he was asked to move back a bit.

He put in a blinding performance: loud and clear, expressive, fluent and no fidgeting. I knew the result would be based on the judges personal preference, but I felt he had done himself proud.

At the end she called about 10 of the children back to the stage and started handing out certificates (lots get second and third), time went on and he hadn’t been given one, Mark and I glanced at each other. He hadn’t won, had he? He bloody had! Seeing him get that trophy was one of the best moments of my life and certainly of 2013.

Walking though town after we bumped into the teacher who hadn’t given him a line in the assembly (I do really like her, by the way), she asked how he got on and he proudly produced his trophy.

What’s great about this is, because he wasn’t chosen he’s been given more fuss and attention by the school. He’s shown them what he can do. Good job, Sonny.

 

 

 

Spa break at the Marriott St Pierre in Chepstow

Perfectly situated to enjoy the delightful scenery of the Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean, I went to Chepstow in Wales to sample the Marriott St Pierre Hotel for the www.spabreaks.com hot tub blog.

Mark tried out the mountain bike track at the Forest of Dean, which he has been itching to get to. I spent most of my time in the spa. Here’s my review: http://hottub.spabreaks.com/?p=8025