The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Remember, Newton’s 3rd Law Relates To Emotions, Not Just Actions …

OK, so now we have got over the fun and frolics of yesterdays April Fool post, I want to bring it back to something serious.

Recently we decided we would have a day where Otis could make all the decisions.

He immediately went for it big time by asking to go to a local builders cafe for breakfast, where he ordered chips, drank a Coke Zero and watched Paw Patrol on his iPad.

You can see him in the photo at the top of this post.

Living the dream.

Anyway, I mentioned this on Facebook when someone I’ve not met but vaguely know wrote:

“We practice ‘good choices’ day, you should try it”.

Now while I was sure it had come out more condescending than intended – this person does have form in being judgemental from their self-appointed pedestal – and Jill decided to inform him of this.

She replied:

“You don’t know me or my son.

Your comment comes across as judgmental and condescending and makes me uncomfortable because it implies my son was making ‘bad’ decisions.

Perhaps if you did know us you would understand our parenting style more and that we aim not to use words like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because of their unfortunate side effect of creating shame.

Decisions are just decisions, and I believe that kids need space to make a whole variety… nobody makes ‘good’ decisions all the time and I want him to grow up knowing that that’s ok, normal and part of life.

Perhaps your comment really was just about sharing what you see as a fun idea, but your way of expressing it missed the mark…”

As I am sure you will all agree, that was a pretty awesome response.

But more importantly, it highlights how we are attempting to bring up Otis.

Coming back to England has been wonderful, but the one thing that has surprised us is the pretty draconian approach to instilling certain qualities into our kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it’s being done for good reason, but the overt shame/reward approach bothers us. A lot.

There are many reasons for it – and of course, each to their own – but this poster sums up the one we fear the most.

This situation applies to all.

Not just kids … but family members, friends and colleagues.

What’s worse is this tends to stick with people.

It is one of the elements that has driven so many of the Corporate Gaslighting stories.

I get situations can make us angry.

I get people can do stupid things.

But when your approach to correction is shame, you’re trying to improve the outcome of one thing through the destruction of another.

You might not mean it.

You might not want it.

But you are doing it.



In Our Quest To Want The Best For Our Family, We Sometimes Forget The Most Important Things We Are Doing For Them …
February 6, 2020, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Childhood, Daddyhood, Family, Love

A few weeks ago, I got a black cab from Camden Market back to work in Shoreditch. As usual, I struck up a conversation with the cabbie and somehow we got on to the subject of our kids.

Out of nowhere, he said he felt he was a huge disappointment to his children. He wouldn’t be able to leave them much when he died and he believed he had totally wasted his life.

I was slightly taken aback but he obviously needed to talk so I asked him why he said that.

He replied he regretted so many decisions he had made through his life. Opportunities he had let go because he was too scared to grab them and now he has nothing because his whole life is spent putting food on the table rather than building something more valuable for his family.

I told him that I thought putting food on the table of your family instead of running off to follow selfish pursuits was one of the most honourable things you could do. I also reminded him that if he didn’t take an opportunity when it was there, he must have had good reason for it and shouldn’t be hard on himself.

Lastly I reminded him that nothing is written in stone and good things can always happen when you least expect it to which he burst into tears and repeated he had wasted his life.

We chatted some more until he came to my drop off point. He had calmed down a bit by then but was obviously still very emotional.

He didn’t want to charge me because he said he’d been a “silly bugger” to which I told him he would only be that if he didn’t charge me.

After paying the bill, I said something I didn’t expect to say myself.

I asked him if he wanted a hug.

He paused for a moment and said he would.

So at 4pm on a Friday afternoon, we both got out the cab and we hugged for a good 30 seconds on the corner of Clifton Street.

I told him his kids loved him and valued what he did for them far more than anything he could leave them and maybe he needs to talk to them about it rather than hold it in and blame himself for things he hasn’t done wrong.

He looked at me, wiped his eyes, told me he needed that and said thank you – to which we shook hands and off he went.

The whole journey probably was no more than 20 minutes but it has deeply affected me. Maybe it’s because I don’t want anyone to feel that way about themselves. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of a very personal and sad time in my life. Or maybe it’s because I thought that could have been me if I’d not had a bunch of luck along the way.

I wish I got his name.
I wish I could check up on him.
But most of all, I wish Mr Cab Driver feels better about who he is and what he’s done because a man who works to take care of his family is worth so much more than a man who gives his kids everything except love, encouragement and time.

This parenting thing is hard work.
Worth every second, but hard work.
So if you are one or want to be, don’t be hard on yourself. What you do is amazing already.

____________________________________________________________________________

Just to be clear, the point of this post isn’t for me to talk about my [occasional] acts of decency – which is why I’ve removed the ability to leave comments – but to remind everyone its good to be open and talk, so if you’re carrying a weight of worry on your shoulders – or know someone who is – try and open up about it. I know there will be lots of people who will do what I hopefully did for Mr Cab Driver. Ta.

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Thinking Of You Dad …

Today is the 21st anniversary of Dad dying.

That blows my mind as I remember how that day unfolded so clearly, it could have been yesterday.

The only good thing about all the years that have passed is that I can now remember the good times with him – when he was healthy – rather than just focus on the 3 years he was deeply affected by his stroke.

And because of that, I want to talk about a time I remember vividly with him.

I had done well at school and Mum and Dad said that I could have a toy for all my hard work.

I was pretty good at school but at exam time, I would freak out and basically become paralyzed with fear.

Anyway, Dad took me to Broadmarsh Centre in Nottingham.

Broadmarsh was – and still is – the inferior shopping centre in Nottingham, but it had a dedicated toyshop so off we went.

I was so excited.

I loved going on trips with Dad and to get a gift as well was mind-blowing.

I remember him telling me to look around and see if there was something I liked.

The problem was I liked EVERYTHING, but I knew we didn’t have a lot of money so I tried to choose wisely.

I remember there was a Dinky Toy, Bell Helicopter I liked.

It was orange but the cabin was blue and it looked cool.

I showed it Dad.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

I nodded in wild agreement.

“Well we can get that then …”

And just as we were about to go to the till, my eyes spotted a die-cast Rolls Royce.

This was not a Matchbox car, this was something else.

A ‘to scale’ model of a Roller with doors that opened, a boot and bonnet that opened and a steering wheel that actually turned the wheels.

It was AMAZING.

It was also expensive … I think about £5, which back in the late seventies, was a big amount.

Dad saw me playing with it and asked, “Do you like that more?”

I nodded but felt guilty as I knew it was expensive and didn’t want Dad to spend so much money on me.

I remember him looking at me with his beautiful blue eyes and warm face.

He smiled.

“Well …,” he said, “… you’re looking at me with those moo-cow eyes, and you have done so well at school that maybe we can do it just this once”.

I was flabbergasted.

I was going to get the coolest car I’d ever seen.

I remember being so happy and showing Mum when we got home.

I remember hearing Dad explain to her I’d looked at him with these big ‘moo-cow’ eyes and he couldn’t resist.

I remember how happy they were for making me so happy.

And while it would be easy for them to think getting me a new toy was the reason for my joy – and it certainly contributed to it – the reality is I was happy because my parents were always caring, loving, supporting and encouraging.

The things they sacrificed for me is unbelievable.

Of course I didn’t realize it at the time, but what they did without so I could live with is amazing.

I hope they know that I worked this out.

I hope I told them when they were around.

My childhood was a blueprint for great childhoods.

I never wanted for their love or support.

I never felt they didn’t care or weren’t engaged.

My Mum and Dad were amazing to me … as teachers, carers, providers and inspirers.

Sure we had our moments – often caused by me being a cheeky or mischievous little shit – but even then, I never doubted they cared.

Never doubted they wanted the best for me.

And while Mum and Dad would have preferred it if I’d followed a career in law or medicine or a formal music education … they believed it was more important I lived a life of fulfillment rather than contentment.

It is a lesson I hope to pass on to my son one day.

Their grandson.

Oh how I wish they could have met him.

I don’t have many regrets but that is one of them.

So what I do instead is instill their lessons and love into his life.

So that while he may never meet them, he will always feel their presence.

Dad, I miss you.

I miss you so much.

I would love to tell you and show you so many things.

To see your reaction. To hear your questions.

You may have been gone from my physical life for 21 years, but you are still so deeply entrenched in my life.

It gives me strength when I face challenges.

Support when I feel alone.

Perspective when I get consumed by small things pretending to be big.

I love you.

Give Mum a kiss from me as you hold her hand.

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Happy Birthday Mum …

Yesterday would have been my Mum’s birthday.

My Mum’s 87th birthday.

That means she has been gone 4 years and frankly, that seems incredible.

So much has happened in that time …

From moving countries twice.

To changing jobs twice.

To selling our family home to buy a new one.

And while I am in a much better place than I was after the tragic days that she died, I still am prone to being hit by moments where her loss is almost overwhelming for me.

I wish she could have met Otis for real.

I still remember her words when I called her minutes after he was born.

I was incredibly emotional and she was so tender towards me.

Making sure I was OK, Jill was OK and Otis.

Asking if the baby crying in the background was her grandson.

Telling me how happy she was and how happy she was for us.

How she loved the name Otis.

And while she was alone in her home in Nottingham – wishing madly that she was with us – she still told me to go and be with Jill and my son because she was the most compassionate, thoughtful person I have ever known.

While Mum saw Otis on video chat, sent me countless emails/SMS’s about him and – for a brief while – was in the same room together [though sadly it was after she had passed away] … the fact is they never were together in the flesh and I would have loved to have seen that happen.

To see her face as he called her Nona.

To watch her smile he wrapped his arms around you and gave her a big hug and kiss.

To look at my Mum reading her first grandchild a story or walking him through the gardens and explaining the flowers or just watching him run around like a tsunami and then look at me with that look in her eye that tells me everything.

How he’s perfect.

How she loves him so much.

How she is so proud of me and Jill.

How happy she is right at that very moment.

That would be the best present for her – not to mention for me – and while none of those things will be able to happen for real, I will think about them tonight when I’m home and giving Otis a big hug and kiss, because while there are many things I can do a whole lot better at, my Mum [and Dad] taught me one thing I am very good at.

How to love.

Happy birthday Mum, I miss you so much.

Hope you and Dad are laughing and holding hands.

Rx



School Should Never Be A Place For Fear For Anyone …

So this is the last post until next Thursday as I’m traveling for work.

I know you all think this means I’m going on a ‘free holiday’, but I am going to take the high road.Ahem.

Yesterday I wrote a post about media helping kids grow up too fast in ways that drives complicity and pressure not independence and individuality.

It’s a subject close to my heart now I have Otis.

Protecting your child is a weird thing.

You know you want to, but you know there’s only so much you can do.

That’s part of the reason I never felt comfortable living in America.

Despite having our house in an incredibly privileged area – the reality that gun crime is everywhere there – never made me comfortable. I would feel uncomfortable going to the cinema. I would look for exists every time I went to the shopping malls. And while you may think I was being over-the-top, the reality is these things happen … in fact, the week after we left LA, there was a shooting at the mall we used to go.

Anywhere where you get a leaflet through the door warning you about violence and guns in schools needs to take a long hard look at itself in terms of what it values more than a life … which is why this video from the Sandy Hook Promise organization makes sure everyone knows that the best way yo protect your child in America is teaching them how to deal with the environment that surrounds them.



Society Is Growing Kids Faster Than Battery Hens …

One of the things that is a beautiful nightmare for parents is watching the speed of their children grow up.

At each stage of their development, you think they have reached ‘peak perfect’ and you want them to stay that way forever … but you can deal with their growth because they bring an even more delightful element into their behaviour and, as a byproduct, your relationship.

It’s utterly, utterly magical.

That said, it still doesn’t stop the fact it all happens in the blink of an eye, so while you want to always encourage their development, you just wish it would slow down a little.

The reason I say this is that I recently read about a graphic designer was so appalled at the cover of a young girls magazine, that they decided to release what they thought it should be.

Now I must admit, my first impression to this story was that the graphic designer was probably a self-righteous individual who wanted kids to grow up in the same conditions as they did.

That was until I saw this …

The original cover of the magazine is on the left, their version is on the right.

I’m going to ignore their cover – because you can read how it came about and the story behind their idea, here – however the magazine they redesigned is a real magazine and, according to their own website, supposedly stands for:

Girls’ Life (GL) magazine was founded in August 1994 (yes, we’re ancient, we know) by Karen Bokram. Since then, GL has grown from a 23-year-old’s pipe dream project to a best-selling and award-winning platform for tween and teen girls.

Tweens and teens.

An incredibly impressionable age.

Now look at that cover.

Look at those story headlines.

Now I appreciate I am an old, white male … but they seem to place huge subliminal pressure and expectations on young women.

Wake Up Pretty.

Dream Hair.

Fashion you need to own.

Boyfriends.

If young women want to explore any of those things, then that is wonderful, but I wonder how much of it is because they are being made to feel that way rather than being something they are naturally interested in. Of course, there is something wonderful about learning to develop and grow … but this seems less about personal growth and more about playing to stereotypes – and advertising dollars – so that they can then be judged by broader society.

Of course parents have a big role to play in managing the environment their children play in, but at a time where the World is finally waking up to fighting the prejudice, oppression and stereotypes women have had to face for centuries, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve this when the World they are surrounded by continues to push an agenda of compliance … especially when they’re titles supposedly designed for the betterment of young women.

Of course this is not limited to content for young women, young boys also have stereotypes of behaviour and aspiration shoved down their throats that are unrealistic and add incredible pressure to their development.

I get children will always grow up too fast for parents, but it is scary how even that isn’t fast enough for media outlets.

What makes it worse is so many of them say their ‘purpose‘ is to inspire brilliance in their readership.

Girls Life specifically say their role is ‘dedicated to informing, inspiring and entertaining girls around the globe—and that includes everything from starting your business (we LOVE spotlighting smart, successful teens) to putting up with periods to styling a personal look you’ll love’.

Which is why I look at the Graphic Designer who screwed with their cover and say ‘well done’ … because I now realise what they did was not act like a judgmental parent, but simply show Girls Life how their cover should look if they are serious about what they claim they represent.



And So It Begins …

It seems literally a few months ago, since I wrote this post announcing Otis had come into the World, but this week, my little man starts school.

I’m not talking kindergarten – that he did in China, America and London – I mean proper school.

Reading … Writing … Arithmetic …

A journey that, in many ways, shapes and defines the future he is going to have.

I can’t believe it …

How did that happen so fast?

I’ve written it before, but seeing your kid grow up is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a curse because they’re moments in their development where you just want them to stay exactly as they are.

When they are totally reliant on your love.

When they start using sounds to express how they’re feeling.

When you see them experience proper food for the first time.

When they start crawling and edge their way towards you.

Those first few words.

The first conversation.

The first steps.

At every stage, you want that moment to last forever but let it go because as they enter a new phase, there are even more new wonderful things you encounter.

It’s a fast moving train you both want to stop and to keep going exactly as it is.

And this week, the train finds another gear as Otis enters formal education.

I’ve written a lot about my views on this and how I am vehemently opposed to private education.

I don’t believe it should be a profit centre.

I do believe governments should be funding it because ultimately, it’s the foundation for the countries strength and health.

And while I know the school Otis starts tomorrow won’t be the school he finishes in – as we have bought our family home in a totally different area – I do know we intend to let him finally have a place he can feel settled in … a place where he can truly belong … because his Mum and I would like nothing more than him to meet friends that will be there throughout his life.

Like his Dad had with Paul, who are the kids in the picture at the top of this post.

So all that leaves me to say is this …

Enjoy your new adventure Otis.

Your Mum and Dad are so proud for the little boy you are.

And so excited for who you will become.

Love you.