Foremark Reservoir, Foremark

Happiness is a child-friendly walk in autumn. It was wet today, soggy and grey, but still autumn is beautiful. 

We headed to a local reservoir, which was blissfully deserted. The car park held one other car and we never bumped into them on our travels. 

The boys wanted to go for a wander so we chose one of the circular walks, which for some reason was incredibly exciting for small boys – hunting for fence posts with coloured arrows on showing the way. It made a nice change for a walk to be well signposted. 

The boys collect leaves in every colour and snap off dead plant stems – some of them are hollow and they use them as pretend telescopes to look out over the water. I make a mental note to learn the names of these plants as the boys stuff their pockets with prickly sweet chestnuts. 

Looping back around towards the car park, we slip down to the ‘beach’, a tiny patch of sand that still delights the boys. They collect sticks, throwing them into the water and watching the waves bring them back. I sit watching them write their names in the wet sand, squealing as the water washes over their work.

Finishing our walk, the boys ask to go to the play area. We spend the rest of the afternoon here, until the heavens open and the rain descends. It’s a beautiful play area, moreso when we get the place to ourselves. 

The wind is ferocious and I make myself a promise not to leave the house without a coat and scarf from here on until next year. My hair is windswept and I bring a new meaning to the word dishevelled. 

The day never brightens up, but the boys don’t mind. I promise them that next time we can take their bikes and attempt the longer circular walk. In the meantime, they’ve filled the car with sticks and feathers; which at the very least will add to our collection of wood for our bonfire party in a couple of weeks. 

Week in the Life: Home Ed.

After a busy few weeks we thought we’d ease ourselves back into work slowly so we started with the simplest of experiments showing how warm water dissolves sugar. 

From there, still in pyjamas, we tested out other items from the kitchen to see whether they dissolved in warm water. We chose coffee, flour, a stock cube, oregano, cocoa powder, salt and pepper. 

I asked the boys to think about whether or not they would dissolve before trying them, as it’s nice sometimes to hear their thought processes. 

When we visited Kidwelly Castle last week we picked up a book explaining what all the rooms were used for and about the history surrounding it. A long time ago I found a book on castles in a charity shop which shows what life would have been like. The boys and I sit in the sunshine, wedged on a sofa that seems to be getting smaller by the day, looking at both books and imagining what it would have been like to have lived in a castle. 

My eldest catalogues our trip to Wales in his notebook. He writes about everywhere we went, the picnics we took and about the cable train. He writes about Grandad’s dogs and playing hide and seek in the garden. 

Later in the week we sit together, with microwave pizzas and popcorn to watch Charlotte’s Web, a story I don’t remember from my own childhood, but one I was enchanted by as an adult. We listened to it in the car on the way to Wales and my goodness, it’s good. It’s so beautifully heart wrenching that it took my breath away.

“Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days…”

My middle boy sobs his heart out when Charlotte dies. He’s devastated that she never got to see her children. He remembers his friend that died 18 months ago. He talks about him all the time, but to see his grief spill over almost broke me. 

We sat, him and I, under the covers on my bed. I want to tell him that it’s okay, these things don’t happen, but even at the age of 6 he knows what it’s like to lose a friend and to see some of our favourite people be ripped apart by grief and pain. I want to tell him he doesn’t have to feel this way, but he does and he will again. Grief will tear him to pieces time and time again over the years and there’s nothing I can do, as a mother, to protect him from it. But I don’t tell him those things. We sit there together, locking horns with these massive, overwhelming feelings that physically hurt sometimes. And we work through them together. 

The boys’ friend would have been turning 5 next week and I wonder where 18 months without him have gone. 

Saturday brought a trip to Legoland and for once, I took not one single picture. I just enjoyed the day out with my family. 

Scrolling through my phone with the boys, watching videos they’ve taken lately, I find photos of the Portuguese Man o’ War we found washed up in Wales. There were 4 or 5 nestled amongst the seaweed. We spent a little time looking them up and were surprised to learn that they’re not actually jellyfish, but a species of siphonophore – so we’ll probably carry on calling them jellyfish! 

Snippets: 

Looking at how climate change can have such a massive impact on sea creatures as well as land animals, Reading Eggs, learning how to count in 2s and 5s, cake making, swimming with home ed friends, learning about our skeletons, making paper mache bowls for the boys to paint, planning the recipes for our bonfire party, talking about how x-ray machines work, discussing what causes tyres to wear – sometimes unevenly and why it can be dangerous. 

On Wales and my Father 

Our trip to Wales blew away the cobwebs, and then some. 

I stood there one morning, watching my father plant a tree that was bought for me when I was born. The location he chose for it was the spot where he sits to have dinner on a warm evening to watch the sunset. I choked back the tears. I had no idea he still had the tree, certain it was long forgotten after my mother died. It’s moved house time and time again, and it’s made the final trip with him to Wales.

Standing there, watching my own children help him plant the Gingko Biloba, bought 30 years ago to celebrate my birth, it almost broke me. 

Because that simple thing – it spoke volumes. It told me that, irrespective of how distant we’ve become over the years since my mum’s death, and through all the decisions we’ve made that upset the other – he still loves me. I’ve questioned so often whether or not I’m a disappointment to him, as a daughter. The fact he made space on the removals van, while having to leave numerous other things that had emotional attachment, told me that I’m not. 

Knowing he will sit there, with his new wife, in a new home that no longer houses my childhood years or fading memories of my mother, he will think of me – I like that. I appreciate that. 

And maybe now, the tree can thrive and flourish, finally settled for the first and last time. Which is exactly what I hope for my thirties – a new decade to grow and put down some strong roots. 

He says to me, as we stand there in the morning sunshine, ‘maybe you’ll be standing here in 50 years time, looking at this tree towering over you.’ And I thought how nice that would be – until I realised that in 50 years I’ll be frail and old, and my father long gone. 

Perhaps one day I will sit there, where he sits now, watching the sun go down over this tree, and I can say to myself how glad I am that I restored our relationship. This fragile relationship that’s barely managed to survive – a weak heartbeat, gently pulsing.

The time is now. I look at him, greyer than he ever was, with liver spots on hands I remember were once so strong. I see how he delights in his grandchildren. I see the hurt in his eyes as he asks how my sister has been since she cut him out of her life, for no other reason than she didn’t like the truth he was speaking. I see how quickly the time is passing and I remember how many things I wanted to say to my mother before she died, but never did.

This trip has been the longest time I’ve spent in his company since I lived at home with him. Before my mum died. Before children. Before he remarried. But I loved it. I needed it. 

I need to stay connected. I need to spend time strengthening this fragile heartbeat that has become our relationship. 

The tears flow, but they’re cathartic. I’m home, in my own space, and I miss him already. 

Day in the Life: Home Ed.

It’s 19.24 and I’m nestled into the sofa. The patio doors are open and it’s dark outside already. I love these darker evenings. I sit with the cool air caressing me from the open door, and the warmth from the radiator behind me slipping over my shoulders. 

It’s wasteful, and it drives my husband nutty, but it’s a feeling I love – doors wide open and the heating on. Best of both worlds.

But back to home education, which is what this post is meant to be about…

Does rock collecting count? Not the usual fossil hunting in disused quarries sprawled across the White Peak, but the painted, lacquered variety hidden by small children in a bid to bring joy to people’s lives. That kind. We love it. 

Um… Reading Eggs. The boys are still meticulously working their way through the levels. I frequently come down in the morning to find a trail of cereal leading from the kitchen to the table to the computer desk; where the boys chivvy each other along, three sets of knobbly elbows jostling for space and their owners sounding out unfamiliar words. 

The boys help me to cook, which is always a blessing. It’s rare that I have to make lunch these days. I’ve been promoted from dinnerlady to lunch supervisor and it’s blissful. All I have to do is supervise the liberal spreading of peanut butter and the precarious slicing of kiwis and we’re good to go. My youngest helps me to peel vegetables for dinner and if nothing else, these boys of mine will be able to cook by the time they leave home. 

We begin working our way through the latest issue of Whizz, Pop, Bang magazine, learning all about seeds. My middle boy writes a list of everything we need for the experiments, and in turn, I make vague promises about when I’ll actually get around to picking the items up at the shop. 

I’m promising myself we’ll crack on once October is over, reminding myself that the reason we worked so diligently over the summer holidays was so that we could relax over September and October. 

And in other news, forest school is restarting next week, which is our Wednesday’s fully booked for the foreseeable future. We’ll be by the bonfire, roasting marshmallows, identifying creatures with more legs than I feel it’s necessary to have, and you know, other educational things. Honest. 

Week in the Life: Home Ed.

Most weeks we’re a whirl of activity. It often feels as if we’re either getting ready to go out or clearing up from being out. My hallway is usually home to haphazard piles of muddy shoes and half emptied rucksacks. The water bottles and coffee flasks are used so much they live in the kitchen window. 

But this week, we’ve relaxed. Aside from swimming and a brief trip to pick up some vegetables, we’ve not left the house.

Which, I’ll admit, is not a great advert for that age old debate on whether home educated children are socialised enough. 

Instead we’ve done maths, though I can’t say the kids were overly inspired. We’ve worked our way through some craft kits that have been gathering dust since 2010 or thereabouts. The boys look online to plan our trip to Wales. We paint rocks to join the craze of Derbyshire Rocks. We’ve cooked a new recipe every day in a bid to bring something new to the mundanity of the routine: prepare, cook, clean. Prepare, cook, clean. 

I swear, when these boys leave home, I am boarding up this kitchen, like a beach café in winter, and declaring it CLOSED. 

My eldest has catalogued our trip to the Isle of Wight in his Avengers notepad. Endless pages of words, capitals and lowercase all mixed together in crazily wonky lines. I smile with the kind of joy only a mother can muster as I realise he can spell ‘shipwreck’ but struggles with ‘out’. And as for ‘museum’…..’m-you-zee-um’. Nice try, kid. But I smile and encourage and try not to worry what our friends think as he so proudly shows off his work at a friend’s birthday party. 

His smile when he realises people can read what he’s written – that, right there, makes his struggle with writing so worthwhile. It’s finally sinking in and my heart is soaring with pride. 

The days have been slow, unravelling gently like a ball of twine. The rain never really goes away and every time we look outside it’s still dark and grey. But it’s needed, this slower pace, from time to time. 

I’ve finally swept the sand up from the floors that we brought home in our shoes and clothes. There’s still a dead crab on my kitchen counter and bags of shells I have no home for. I want to hold on to them, as if they might magically transport me back to the beach. I trace the shells of oysters with my fingertips, inhaling an imaginary scent of the ocean that’s faded from memory already.

I live about as far away from the sea as it’s possible to get in this country. And I wonder how I managed that.