My Simon Cowell Moment

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I’m not going to win any friends with this post, but sometimes, some things need to be said.

There was a piece in yesterday’s Irish Times. I’m deliberately not going to link to it because if you really want to read it, you’ll go and find it yourself.

The piece I’m talking about was written by a very young person. The headline did its job and drew me in – excited to read what followed. The headline was, at best, slightly mis-leading. It suggested that the young author of the piece had written a novel. She hasn’t. Which is fine. No one would think she was a slacker for not writing a novel at such a young age. The young girl in question likes to read and she likes to write. She has started to write a book, which she hopes to finish and is wishful of getting a publisher for. A section of her book is reproduced at the end of the article and (here’s my Simon Cowell moment) it’s not very good. In fact, it’s pretty awful. I’d expect more of any 13 year old and I’d expect a lot more of a 13 year old who was published in a national newspaper.

I am delighted this child likes to read. She should be encouraged to read every spare moment she has. She should be given a torch to facilitate reading under the covers when she’s supposed to  be asleep. She should be given lovely stationery and taken to the pen shop to buy herself a fabulous writing instrument. She should be encouraged to read books about writing. She should be encouraged to love language and love manipulating it. She should be told to keep at it, that writing is a craft and benefits from daily practice. She should be sent on writing courses and workshops for children her age. She should be encouraged in her endeavours. She absolutely should.

I don’t think, however, her parents or the editor of the newspaper should have allowed her to publish a few hundred words of a book she has started writing, hopes to finish and hopes to publish. Especially when it’s not very good. I think it’s an awful thing to do to a child. She’s 13 and she has started to write a book. Newsflash! That’s not unusual. I’d say in an average class of 30 average 13 year olds in Ireland today, you’ll have at least five who harbour a desire to write a book. Most of them are probably scribbling away in journals and copybooks and on laptops. And they are quite right. But most of those books will be abandoned long before they are finished. New projects will be started and (perhaps) not finished either. If they are finished, they will be re-read and the writer will realise that they have better in them. They may start to write another book. Or they may not. This is all perfectly normal.

The difference is that all these children have the safety and security of writing away in their own homes until they have finished something they can be proud of, and are ready to show to the world. If they don’t end up, at 13, with something they are proud of and want to share with the world, that’s perfectly fine. The world is not waiting for them to.

Unlike the girl in yesterday’s paper. What kind of pressure – internal or external – will she be under now to produce a novel worthy of publication in five months’ time? What if she can’t? What if she changes her mind? Every school has bullies. Has this girl been encouraged to give the bullies in her school a stick to beat with her with? I hope not. I hope she finishes her book and that, as she edits and re-writes, it improves. I hope she finds herself a publisher and gets her book published and has a fabulous book launch and some famous people say lovely things and she’s fit to burst with pride. But I worry about what will happen to her and her self-esteem and sense of self if things don’t work out for her.

I am reminded of something a tutor told us when I was studying Theatre 110 years ago.

‘Never tell anyone what you’re doing until you’ve done it’.

There’s wisdom in that, and I just wish this enthusiastic girl with her love of reading and writing had been protected a bit better by her parents and the editor of the paper who published her.

On Selfies

My daughter, who will be 13 in March, has been taking photographs of her own face and using them as her profile pictures on her Gmail account, her Viber account and her Skype account – changing them on a nearly daily basis. Some days, they might change several times a day. I am treated to many of these pictures via email and they always make me smile. Well, apart from the duck face ones. (Who told teenagers and young women that making their lips appear as much like a duck’s bill as possible is attractive?).

I often tell her that, were I as gorgeous as she is, I’d never stop taking pictures of myself. The selfie is much criticised at the moment. It is seen as the epitome of all that is wrong with ‘young people’; self-centred, self-absorbed, self-obsessed. But I disagree. For a start, we as parents and carers encourage our babies and toddlers to fasten their gaze upon every mirror they pass: We hand them books with mirrored pages in them, safety mirrors to play with and delight when they realise that the person in the mirror is them.

I think that looking at themselves in the mirror is a healthy thing for children to do – and have always had mirrors in the house at child-height. I think it fosters self-acceptance and bolsters self-confidence: Children get used to appreciating what they see, I think.

As parents and carers, we are constantly taking pictures of our babies and children. We love them so much and want to capture every mood, every expression, every change and many, many moments on camera. Why should we be aghast when they learn to do that for themselves? We clap with delight when they learn to put on their own shoes, dress themselves, wash their hands and a thousand other things (up to and including using the washing machine and cleaning the bathroom) that mean we have one less job to do.  So why are we not equally delighted when they learn to take photographs of themselves?

Selfie

After all, it’s not as if this generation has invented the ‘selfie’. There are pictures taken by their subjects from decades ago. In fact, if you think about it, artists have been creating self-portraits for centuries. Possibly even millennia. Who is to say that some of the cave drawings that incite such wonder and awe in us aren’t, in fact, selfies?

Lock up Your Daughters (And Your Sons)

The Irish and international media has been reporting, in the past few days, on two cases this week where children were removed from their families and put into the ‘care’ of the Health Services Executive. Thousands of children are taken from their families in Ireland every year and put into care – and there is very little outcry from either the media or the general public.

These two cases, however, were different because the families were Roma and they children were blonde. Because of their colouring, it was assumed that their dark-haired parents could not possibly be their ‘biological’ parents. The Gardai became involved after a member of the public posted the following message on the Facebook page of a TV3 journalist:

According to reports, up to 20 Gardai arrived at the house to take the child into the ‘care’ of the HSE.

In an attempt to prove their child was, in fact, theirs, the parents of the  little girl in Tallaght offered her passport and her birth certificate. The Gardai weren’t satisfied with these documents: It is unclear why they doubted the veracity of the birth certificate, but the passport was on old one and the photograph was of a baby. We are told a member of An Garda  Siochana rang the Coombe Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where the couple claimed the baby had been born, but the hospital was unable to confirm holding any record of the birth. So the child was removed from the family home until DNA tests could prove whether she was, indeed, where she belonged (i.e. with her parents and siblings).

Every time I hear a story of a parent losing a child – whether through death, abduction or any other way – my imagination inserts me and my kids into the narrative. This story was no different. I wondered what would do if the Gardai arrived to take one, or both, of my kids from me.  It could happen.

Imagine if one of my neighbours or someone who knows me and knows where I live, decided to get the hump with me and reported me to the Gardai on similar grounds as the Roma family was reported: That I have children who are not of the same colouring as I.  This is a fact. My girls have Indian dads. In the event that the Gardai ‘acting on a tip-off’ arrived at my house (a house I haven’t been living in for as long as this Roma family has been living in theirs), I  could produce passports for my children:  But the passport I have for my eldest is 10 years old (she got one of the last ten-year passports issued to a child in 2003), and she’s not quite two years old in the photograph. My other daughter has a more recent passport, but you could debate whether or not it is she in the picture.

As for birth certificates – I have both of them in the house, but they are laminated (one was handed to me that way in Singapore when I registered the birth, the other, I was advised to have laminated ‘for safety’).  Now, it’s a little-known fact, but a laminated document is not, legally speaking, an original document in Ireland. So, on a technicality, a Garda could refuse to accept the veracity of the birth certificates I have for my children.

I suppose they could call the hospitals where the girls were born – except my girls weren’t born in hospitals. There is no dad for the authorities to call and check my version of events with, either. I don’t have contact details to provide and India is very big place if you’re looking for someone. Also, checking with the authorities where my girls were born (India and Singapore, respectively) could be time-consuming. There is a five-and-a-half-hour time difference between here and India, and an eight-hour time difference between here and Singapore. This means that in this nightmare scenario, if my children were taken after 9am, we’d be apart for at least 24 hours. By which stage, I’d be driven mad with grief and fear and worry. And I’m sure my kids wouldn’t be far behind me in the traumatised stakes.

If the word of a member of the public and the fact that your child has different colouring to you is enough to have your child taken from you by several members of the police force, then maybe I have every reason to be worried. Unless, of course, the lessons that Alan Shatter says ‘might’  be learnt from this frightful episode, are actually learnt.

Encouraging Your Children To Read

This piece first appeared in the May, 2012 issue of  Easy Parenting 

Reading is the greatest gift you can give your child. Not only is it fun, it is vital. Reading opens up whole universes to children – and can help them make sense of the one they’re already living in.

Some children love reading and take to it like the proverbial duck to water, but others need coaxing.

Of course, some children do have difficulties with reading that have nothing to do with motivation or desire. If you are concerned, get your child tested for dyslexia, dyspraxia, myopia or other optical difficulties.

If you sense your child is just reluctant to read, however, there are a few things you can do:

Confidence

Books can be intimidating. Maybe your child isn’t progressing with their reading because they worry about getting it wrong. I know this was true for my eldest daughter. I despaired over her reading until I realised that it was a confidence issue. Rather than try to read something that might be difficult – and fail – she decided it was better for her not to even try.

Once I figured that out, I invested in a few workbooks that started at the very beginning and progressed. Ishthara knew she could read the alphabet and she knew she could do the simple exercises in the workbook. So she took great pride in zipping through them. Very quickly, she built on what she already knew and it wasn’t long before her confidence soared – along with her reading fluency.

Routine

For some families, bed-time is not conducive to story-time. If that’s true for you, is there a time that might work better? First thing in the morning, perhaps? Or – if you work at home – the middle of the afternoon? When dinner’s cooking? Immediately after dinner?

Reading isn’t just about books, though, and can be incorporated into every day – when you’re driving, ask your child to spot signs with the name of your destination on them. In a restaurant, offer your child a menu and ask them to select their own meal. Have them read the instructions to a board game you’re about to play. Hand them your shopping list and ask them to help when you’re in the supermarket.

Or imitate the Finnish, who have the highest literacy rates in the world. Part of this is because all television programmes are subtitled (in Finnish). This encourages children to read along when they’re watching T.V. Our government hasn’t adopted this practice yet, but there’s nothing to stop you putting on the subtitles every time you switch the telly on.

Genres

Finding the genre your child enjoys most is a great way to find the door into reading for them. One happy day, my eldest chanced upon a book by Karen McCombie and fell in love. Since then, she has read many of Karen’s books and joined her fan club online (more reading!).

We’ve also discovered that Ishthara devours books based on fact, and books that are more ‘real’ (like the Breadwinner trilogy); while Kashmira loves books about animals as well as books with elements of time travel and the odd ghost.

Don’t dismiss comics either. In other countries they are referred to as ‘graphic novels’ and are for all ages and reading levels. As the recently-deceased Maurice Sendak (author of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’) said: ‘Kids don’t know about bestsellers. They go for what they enjoy.’

Resources

Use your local library. Ask the children’s librarian for recommendations. Libraries often have writers visit them – and some have workshops for children. Getting your child involved can add a new dimension to reading.

Rather than feud with your child over screen time, incorporate reading into it. For instance, one hundred classics – including ‘A Little Princess’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Treasure Island’ – are all available on a single cartridge for Nintendo DS®. The Internet, too, can be used to your advantage in your quest to instil a love of reading in your child. Check out http://www.bookadventure.com to start with.

Finally, remember that you are your child’s biggest resource. Lead by example – discuss books, share facts you’ve discovered through reading, and let your child/ren see you reading whenever you get the chance. 

Ishthara &Kashmira Reading

Addiction and Children in Care

Irish people are addicts. Every Irish person I know (and, living in Ireland, I know quite a few!) is addicted to something: whether that’s coffee, sex, alcohol, nicotine, heroin, or something else entirely, practically every one of them has an addiction.

 

For years now, I have asked myself what is wrong with us – as a people – that we are all addicted to something. If I may be simplistic for a moment, addiction is a substitute for a lack of love.  Addicts pursue their addictions because they feel unloved and are trying to fill the internal crater that a lack of love leaves inside a person.

 

In Ireland, we don’t care about, or look after, our children. I’ve written about this before.  Am I the only one who sees a link between how we treat our children – as is evidenced by the recent report on the deaths of children in care – and the level of addiction in this country?

 

The Attitude of Gratitude

During the week, I was listening to an interview on the radio. The interviewee was talking about motherhood. She spoke about how women ‘lose their identity’ when they have children –  my response to that is an entirely different post – and she also spoke about how children ‘aren’t grateful’.

 

This pronouncement stopped me in my tracks. Are children really not grateful? Why, if they’re not, do you think that might be? Children, after all, learn by example: If they see and hear gratitude around them, they can’t help but be grateful themselves.

 

It’s like complaining that children ‘have no manners’. Some children don’t say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – but perhaps that’s because the people bringing them up don’t say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the children?

 

‘Children have no gratitude,’ opined the woman on the radio. I beg to differ. In support of my argument,  I give you Exhibit A – a note my girls wrote for me when they were aged 5 and 7, respectively:

 

It reads: “To Mum thank you for the lovely food your such a good mum. Lots of love from I xxx Kashmira “.  I keep it taped to the inside of one of the food cupboards.

 

On the inside of another cupbaord, this is taped:

“I love you and Ishthara. Thank you so much mum for making me cum to life” is the message Kashmira painted for me in April of this year. (My heart does not see their grammar and spelling mistakes!)

 

These are not the only notes expressing gratitude that  my girls have given me over the years. Apart from the notes, they constantly tell me that they are grateful for our home, for each other, for Love, for hugs, for books, for food, for shoes, for clothes – for all sorts of things.

 

My children are grateful because they have been taught to be grateful. I cannot remember a time when I did not thank my children for coming into my life; for choosing me to be their mother. I thank them for being kind to each other, for being kind to me, for clearing up after themselves, for getting up in time for school (so I don’t get stressed).

 

I thank them for being well-behaved when we’re out – which means I can bring them to (certain) conferences and meetings and museums and art galleries and other places where people don’t always assume they can bring their kids.  I thank them for amusing themselves without ruining the house when I’m sick. I thank them for the lessons they teach me, for their patience with me when I get things wrong, for being on this journey with me. I thank them for the joy they bring to my life.

 

My children are grateful because they have seen and heard me express my gratitude. They have seen that I keep a Gratitude Journal, so they keep one each, as well.

 

It really is that simple; if you want your children to behave in a certain way, model that behaviour for them. If you want your children to be grateful, adopt an attitude of gratitude and parade it in front of them.