November 23rd 2017
Any parent who sometimes has to work with their children in the same room will understand my plight. Any parent who has had to have their children tag along to their place of work for some unavoidable reason will feel my pain. And any parent who has to actually integrate their children into the work they are doing is more or less my BFF. At least, I like to think I'm not alone on this.
When I was asked to start a Creative Challenge after-school club at the Lads' school I was in full-on bring-it-on mode. I thought my Lads would think it was cool or rad or sic or whatever word they are using these days to mean 'TOTALLY AWESOME MOTHER'. And I have to admit they did seem a little bit excited when I mentioned the prospect to them over dinner one night. "Can we do it mummy? Can we do it too?" They begged over another thoroughly rejected dish of vegetable casserole. "Of course you can," I smiled not at all smugly, "You can be my little assistants."
So off I went into a blissful creative planning stupor, gathering together paints and glue and pastels and crayons and sequins and lots of other lovely stuff, all the while imagining what a bonding experience this was going to be for me and the Lads. Surely this would help them see me in a different light. A light other than perpetually exhausted Toy-Picker-Upper and Match-Attax-Card-Finder. Now I would be the abundantly creative mum with endless ideas, patience and inspiration. They would talk about me with their friends in a strong, proud way and the friends would gasp in wonder at the ripples of excitement moving through the school about this new and wonderful after-school club.
And I too, would see the Lads in a different light. All of the things I don't have much time for at home would now be offered to them on a plate. Painting, collage, drawing, imagining, creating, would help them to thrive, flourish and express themselves freely. This was going to be so cool . . . (or rad or sic or whatever).
The first session pretty much crapped on that parade.
So all of the other kids attending were fine. A couple of live wires but nothing I couldn't handle. But my Lads were not enraptured by my every word in the way that I needed them to be. They were not interested when I explained we were going to be opening a box of mystery art materials, or that we'd been challenged by the school to create a collaborative artwork to display at the school carol service. They were more interested in knowing when they were going to get a snack / if it was take-away night or not / whether they were allowed to watch Stranger Things on Netflix.
And as you can probably imagine, during a short after-school session with lots to get through and ten other lovely young people vying for my attention, there were not that many opportunities to take deep, mindful breaths. Or even shallow mindful breaths. I had to ride this wave moment by moment, whether I liked it or not.
And that's why, in my great wisdom, by session number three, I decided to introduce my trusty mindfulness bells. Ok, so the kids had not signed up for mindfulness, but I'm always up for sneaky ways to shoehorn it in there for the benefit of all. I decided to use a cunning trick I've used many times before during all kinds of sessions with young people, and didn't see any reason why it wouldn't work here. So, after a particularly lively session, where I had to divide my attention equally between teaching painting techniques and giving absolute refusals on the Stranger Things front, I asked the group to come and sit in a circle on the floor.
I explained that from now on, whenever I chimed the bells it meant that we needed a quiet moment, that I would have something to say to the group and I needed their attention. As a slightly more grown-up version of 'hands-in-the-air' which they probably experienced in reception class, this seemed to go down fine. Then I suggested that we test them out by each person having a go at ringing the bells, making sure they had the attention of the group, then say a word to describe the session that day. Everybody nodded agreeably, including my two tearaways, so we got started.
The first little girl took the bells and chimed them together nervously, then breathed the word "imaginative". So far so good, the next word was 'fun', then 'spontaneous', then 'experimenting' then a beautiful string of words like 'friendly', 'sparkling' and 'artistic'. Inevitably, the bells were passed to Big Lad who clashed them together like they were a gigantic pair of cymbals giving a resounding clunk rather than a peaceful chime and bellowed the words "Deranged and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious".
You can always rely on Big Lad to be different.
I smiled in what I like to think was a serene way whilst everybody fell about laughing. I'd let Big Lad have his moment, but by god, was I going to be having words with him later on. Then we carried on passing the bells round the circle and hearing the words chime softly around us . . . free . . . messy . . . creative . . . interesting . . . then, last but not least, it was the turn of Little Lad, who was nestled firmly in my lap, despite being repeatedly asked NOT to climb on me during the session. He held the bells up above his head in a most dramatic fashion and bashed them together regally. Then he blurted out "MY MUM'S GOT A STINKY BUM! HA HA HA HA HA HA! . . . ."
I had. no. words.
Yet again Little Lad had used his uncanny ability to put me in my place but this time in front of a group of ten other gorgeous young souls who were supposed to look to me for strength, stability and security goddamit! I think I muttered something about my bum actually smelling of roses (which may have been entirely inappropriate come to think of it) and started ushering the kids out to the door to meet their parents. Leaving, of course a huge mess of splattered paint, gloopy glue and scattered sequins as well as my two ridiculous children rolling about on the school hall floor, clutching their bellies and tears of laughter streaming down their cheeks.
This, my good people, is what I have to put up with.
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