A blog recording the thoughts of a mum of one who does a lot of voluntary work because it's more fun than resuming her career and is a bit worried about the state of the nation.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

How only the Con-Dems are making me feel young again

Last night I sat next to a teenage girl on the bus. She was wearing a mini skirt with bare legs and talking to her friends on the phone about "Oceans"- the club she was on the way to. I was wearing an anorak and texting my friends - one about her chemotherapy and the other about how she is coping since she threw her partner out for sleeping with another woman.

Usually my reaction to teenage girls with bare legs in January who are on their way to a club on a Wednesday night, is to be jolly glad that I am snuggly dressed and heading home for a camomile tea (and to wonder if I should send my daughter to boarding school in Tehran before she works out where "Oceans" is). Yesterday I just envied this girl and wanted to turn the clock back as all the stuff that goes on when you are middle-aged is getting to me at the moment - from getting a builder out to look at my mum's crumbling roof to seeing how flabby I look in the mirror during the yoga class.

I have thought hard and the only exciting thing that has happened this week is that I looked after a West Highland Terrier for the day for a friend of a friend who apparently used to be on Blue Peter. Last time I watched Blue Peter Lesley Judd was wearing a smock and John Noakes and Shep were taking a Christmas food parcel to a lighthouse keeper so I can't say I recognised him (and he didn't give me a Blue Peter badge for washing muddy paws). I enjoyed the walk anyway but it's hardly going to qualify me for getting my phone tapped by News of the World.

The only thing making me feel young at present is the behaviour of the Con-Dems. The sale of publicly owned woodlands and the closure of local CABs and day centres certainly gets my adrenalin flowing. My Big Soc. skills are being tested to the limit at present as I dispense advice on how voluntary organisations should tell their staff that temporary contracts are being ended early and demand to be consulted because the Council is proposing to sell their premises. I suppose it's a bit like going back to the early Eighties when I was against Maggie and "the cuts" - can I recapture any of the energy that also found me in discos most nights of the week? I feel a bit more cheerful when I remember how I was once interviewed by the Daily Mail whilst wearing fluorescent pink trousers during a student occupation of Sussex University. I didn't have a phone at that time of course...

Monday, 17 January 2011

Chinese Tiger Mums

I have been enjoying the discussion of the parenting style of Amy Chua, Yale Professor and author of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" published today - see the Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html

There's been a lot of focus on the fact that Ms Chua called her daughter "garbage" (in the Hokkien dialect), but in the context of a massive row because the daughter had been very rude perhaps that wasn't quite as undermining of self-esteem as it would appear to be. The biggest turn-off for me is the way that Ms Chua seems to feel that it was OK for her to decide for her daughters in advance that they would concentrate only on certain narrow aspects of education to the total exclusion of the whole package of things children need to learn as part of growing up. Her daughters were allowed to spend time only on academic work and music (but only the piano and violin were allowed) to the exclusion of sport, drama and any socialising with friends. So they were never given the option of excelling as actors or hockey players, and it is not clear what the long term effect on their ability to relate to other humans has been.

My parenting style is uber-slack compared to Ms Chua. I am so relieved if homework is done without endless nagging that I make no attempt to doublecheck it for A-plusness before it goes in the rucksack. Indeed, when I tried to help with maths at the beginning of Year 5, I completely misunderstood the whole point of the exercise and every answer was wrong. Luckily there was no grading just the slightly chilling comment "Your work in class has been very good so far (ie. when you are away from the interference of your dismal sloth-like mother) and you have obviously tried hard with this really quite complicated homework" (thanks for the careful attempt not to undermine self-esteem Mrs F!).

However, as the mother of an only child I have always been far more anxious about whether she is able to form friendships and get on with other people than almost anything else. My experience of the world of work and life has been that only people who get on with other people and are able to form good relationships with them are ultimately successful at anything. If you can't cope with people you can only excel in the sort of jobs that you can do in isolation, usually in front of a computer, and sooner or later management will axe you anyway because they don't know you or don't like you. At the age of 10 friendships are always shifting and some children are already exhibiting adolescent tendencies to attack and exclude others. If children don't learn to cope now through spending unsupervised time with their peers how will they deal with it when they are grown-up?

But if I'm honest I do have some Tiger tendencies so here is a list of three Tiger-Mum things I have done since 1st January:

1. I have asked whether there are any plans to start trumpet lessons at my daughter's school as she has expressed slight interest in learning it and I haven't yet got round to forcing her to learn the piano or violin;

2. I have made her carry on doing ballet for another term because she hasn't shown any interest in any other form of physical activity;

3. I sneakily read the education bit of my mum's Sunday Telegraph Weekend supplement to see what private school parents are up to, and cut out a list of books recommended for a bright 12-year-old, even though my daughter is only 10.

So when she writes and choreographs her own jazz ballet adaptation of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials Trilogy" and has lots of pals I shall say "ya boo sucks to you Ms Chua"!