You Hold Your Own Key

Although it is many moons ago, Mammy remembers getting her Leaving Cert Results.

Mammy was certain that the contents of the little brown envelope were going to change her life. Had Mammy’s life REALLY depended on the contents of that little brown envelope, quite frankly, I’d be living an utterly dreadful, mediocre and half-arsed attempt at one. 😂

Because the results printed on my little scrap of yellow paper were quite awful, if I’m very honest.

The only mark I remember (or tell anyone about!) was my A1 in Honours English. Go figure.

As for the rest of them? I’d say the examiners only passed me so that they wouldn’t have to read my verbal diahorrea again the following year. 😂I’m not exaggerating either.

But the other grades didn’t matter. The A in English was all that mattered to me, both then AND today. Yes, I got into college, but not until I had spent a week back in the brown uniform 😣😣 convincing myself that I needed to repeat the Leaving Cert.

It wasn’t until the second round offers and a trip to meet (attack😛) the Dean of the English Department in Coleraine, that I finally got my place on the degree course. (I might have only been 17, but I was a stroppy one!😂)

English was all I loved. It was all that I wanted to study and, as the little brown envelope told me, it was apparently all that I was good at… All that I was good at THEN.

At 17.

As it turns out, I’m good at a whole load of things.

It just so happened that I didn’t get to take Leaving Cert exams in singing, dancing, shopping or eating.

The Big LC recognised my ability to understand Shakespeare and write stories off the top of my head, but it didn’t (and couldn’t) know how strong I was at things like organisation, being a friend, laughing or leading.

So I was crap at French. Biology for me ended after the section on photosynthesis. But although my maths grade was dismal, I challenge you to find ANYONE who can work out a % as quickly as me when I see the word “SALE”. 😂😂

So there.

Now, over 20 years on, I’m an English teacher.  I’m a writer and I’m a businesswoman.  I’m a whole lot of things that that little piece of paper could NEVER have predicted me to be.

Of COURSE, as a teacher, I value the Leaving Cert.

I love teaching the course and I try my best to encourage my Babbies to give it their best shot.

But I also know that they are young adults. That they have a LOT going on. That some of them have things going on in their lives that are a WHOLE lot more important that exams. 😢

That while some of them will have given it their ALL for 2 years, on the day of the exam, it might just not happen. That some of them are dealing with trying to live up to expectations that might be unrealistic.  That some of them just haven’t yet realised their strengths or abilities in certain areas.

And sometimes, that at 18, they’re just not quite ready for the ridiculous pressure of the state exam.

For a whole load of reasons, Tuesday is a huge day for our young adults. But that little brown envelope is only that.

An envelope.

Despite what it is inflated to be, it is NOT the most important piece of paper in the world.

Yes, the letters and numbers inside it will have an immediate effect.

Yes, some doors will open and yes, some doors will close, but what is written on the page does not define them.

The Leaving Cert does NOT know our children. It doesn’t see the kindness. It doesn’t measure their ability to change things. It can’t recognise their skills as motivators, or thinkers, or makers, or doers. It does not define them, nor should it.

And as parents, yes, some of us might be disappointed for our kids on Tuesday.

But mostly we should be proud, because regardless of what is on that page, they are OUR children and they have done their best and we must remind them that they CAN do whatever they want.

Because WE know what they can be.

Untitled design (1)

There are ALWAYS options and sometimes, the path that they are so determined to be the ONLY one for them right now, was never the right one for them…it usually takes a few years for them to realise that however.

But they will. 💕

So in the meantime, tell them how brilliant they are. And leave them under NO illusion that no matter what words and letters are on that piece of paper, that you are and will always be proud of them and that you will help them to get to where they want to go, may it be straight through the college door or in a longer, roundabout way.

But all roads lead ahead. And before they know it, they won’t even remember what was printed on the page!

It might be over 20 years since I opened my little brown envelope and had my heart broken in a million pieces, but trust me, everything happens for a reason. 😇

Todayt, I send love to all of the young people (especially my own Babbies😘😘) and to all you exam parents whose minions face the brown envelope this Tuesday.

And remember, that little brown envelope does NOT hold the key to their future. They hold that key already.

It’s right inside them.

And no piece of paper can change that.

Mammy  XXX

Mammy in Training…

My journey through the jungle of Mammyhood so far has many things. I am always learning and yet it feels like I never learn! 😅

Regardless of how you become a Mamma: pregnancy, IVF, adoption, fostering, marriage… if you are responsible for loving a child, you’re a Mammy.

And it’s quite a job.  A career.  A vocation even!

Let’s face it.  If I want to embark on any career, I generally need to spend 3-5 years being educated to qualify me properly to attempt it.  Being a Mammy (and indeed a Daddy!) doesn’t require a degree, and yet it is the most challenging career in the world.

As parents, we become educated in life and often hilariously terrifying ways of the world that no university could ever teach…
but if they did…IF there was a degree in parenting, here is what I imagine it would look like:

“Bachelor of the art of Perfect Parenting”

* Pregnancy and Parenting: A beginner’s guide

* Preparing for your new arrival – Required equipment

* Food preparation for the healthy family
* Techniques for sleep and Behaviour

* Planning your child’s play and Sensory Scenarios

 * First aid for Mummies

*Relationships; maintaining healthy romantic and familial relationships

*Positivity, Mindfulness and Sleep Deprivation – How to deal with it.

*Language and Speech Development.

And at the end, you would be a QUALIFIED parent.  You would have folders of notes, and a brain bursting with facts and figures, and lesson plans and medical references.
You’d be sorted. 😉

But as a Real Mammy, who knows that most of the above is utter crap, and that these headings only SCRATCH the surface of parenting, let ME suggest what a parenting degree outline should look like!
“Bachelorette of Thoroughly Modern Mammyness.”

Module 101 – Pregnancy and Parenting: A beginner’s guide – Life as you know it, ends here.  You only think you know what pain, fear and exhaustion are now.  Pregnancy is like a “One size” bra.  It fits some women better than others. Mine fit like a 4 man tent.  You may glow, or you may puke.  It’s great fun.  But at the end of it, there’s a wonderful thing.  And there’s  also the Love. I won’t even try to prepare you for that. I can’t. 💗💙💗💙💗💙💗

Module 102 – Change everything – The house, the layout of your rooms, the car.  Everything.  And enjoy your magazine perfect showhouse with your fancy candles and FengShui… That shit ends once your minion is able to move about on your once-but-never-again-clean rug.  All ornaments and valuables should be put up on a high shelf, or locked away for approximately 15 years.  Actually, just sell them.  You’re going to need the cash for the Stuff. 👇

Module 103 – All the Stuff.  Get your list of Baby Essentials.  Got it? Now, rip it up.  You do not need 250 steriswabs, or 5 pairs of scratch mittens.  The only thing on those lists that isn’t exaggerated, is the quantity of industrial sized sanitary nappies, sorry, towels.  Buy ALL of those bad boys.  And then buy extra.

And as for the list of furniture, equipment and travel accessories?  Get your basics.  Car seat, cot, baby bath, changing mat.  Depending on YOUR own house and YOUR own situation, you’ll know what you need as you need it.  Do not buy all the everything!  Trust  me, you’ll end up with a house that looks like a Baby shop has puked on it and, in approximately 8 months time, as you put the only-used-once-stuff in the attic, you’ll wonder why the hell you bought it in the first place.

Oh! And those lovely nursing chairs that we all want for our idealistic moments of feeding baby in the nursery?  They are the most glorified clothes storage devices in the world.  Your baby will more than likely be in your room for the first 6 years…sorry months… anyway, and when you ARE doing night feeds, you’re more than likely going to want to do them in the heat of your bed,  rather than in an empty room.  Yes, they’re lovely and I’m sure someone will disagree here, but that’s how I see them… A clothes horse.

Module 201 – Techniques for Sleep and Behaviour  –  Pray, wing it and go with your gut.  You can’t control your baby’s sleep.  You can’t control your baby’s behaviour.  You can only go with what you get on a daily basis and trust me, often, as cliched as it is, it IS just a phase.  And if you do find yourself genuinely struggling with either of these issue, ask for help.  There are brilliant (and actually qualified with real degrees) professionals in our community and there are SO MANY brilliant resources that Mums and Dads can access easily.

Google Parent Hub. Parent Hub, Donegal

You’ll be amazed at what they offer. Or talk to your PHN or GP.

Module 202 – Planning your child’s play   – Buy toys.  Watch child play with boxes, lunchboxes, remote controls and ANYTHING they shouldn’t have that could pose danger to them.  Shake head at the amount of educational crap in the toy corner and get out the saucepans and wooden spoons.  Oh and get down on your knees and play! 😅

Module 203 – First aid for Mummies – Have a meltdown everytime they cut themselves, bump their head, break a sweat, have a strange poo or get a temperature.  Slowly learn to recognise your own baby’s physical reactions and signs.  Google symptoms, freak out…ask on a Mammy forum…freak out…

But seriously, we’re mums.  Unless you ARE a Doctor, if you’re concerned about Baby, GO TO A DOCTOR!  And follow your gut.  While it may be sick with worry, Mamma’s gut is always right.

Optional Modules 

Relationships – learning how NOT to murder your partner at 3am

Sex – You will want to think about it again some day… 😈😉😈

Alcohol – It shall be frowned upon, but some days, even the most Sanctimonious of Sanctimommies thinks about gin at 11am.  They just won’t admit it.

Swearing control – Any parent who has never sworn behind the back of their child, or at least mouthed a profanity when they hear “Mammy” for the 387th time that day, is either sedated or a liar…

Disney lyrics – because you will need to know them.
And so there you go. I hereby declare the Bachelorette of the Thoroughly Modern Mammyness open for application.

**No previous experience or qualifications required. 

It’s a tight course, but the end result is something that no amount of paper or letters after your name can measure.  But if you really want to show off your qualifications, just start signing off like this…
S-Mum (Mum.Mum.Mum.Mum.Mum.Mum.Mum.Mum.Mum…)
Suggestions for extra optional modules on a postcard please. 😙😙😙

How do you measure up? 😂😂😂

Some Advice for Exam Parents

Exam season is upon us again.
 
It seems to come around faster and faster each year, doesn’t it?
 
If your little darlings are about to do their Junior or Leaving Certificate Examinations, here are some ideas on how you can help them.
 
1. Sleep: Seems obvious and it’s easier said than done to get teenagers to go to bed at the best of times, and yet sleep is the one thing that we need in order to function properly. Talk to your child and agree a consistent bedtime for the next 3 weeks. Agree on a cut off time for studying, no matter how much they insist that they need to do more. Agree on a cut off time for screens and insist that until the exams are over, screens should not be in bedrooms. Even the simple absence of the phone from the bedroom can do wonders for the sleep that we get.
 
2. Hydrate: Yeah yeah Yadda yadda… but again, vital. Challenge them to drink 2 litres a day. There are loads of cool bottles that help to motivate water intake now. And they all have apps on phones that can help remind them to drink water too. Dehydration leads to headaches and sluggishness; all of the things that they DON’T need at the minute.
 
3.Nutrition: The State Exams can last for up to 2 weeks for some students. If an athlete were going into a 2 week event, they’d be fuelling up their bodies in preparation for months. If your child has a balanced and varied diet already, great. Keep it up. If not, try to introduce more whole foods and more fruit and veg. Convenience snacking is a massive issue when stress and tiredness kick in. Try to have dinners pre-cooked and healthier snacks in the fridge for when they appear from their pit “staaaaaarving”. In fairness to them, the last thing they are thinking about is their food right now. But don’t make a big deal about it. Remember when they were toddlers and you conveniently had lots of healthy snacks and precooked meals in the kitchen? For the next 3 weeks, go back to that! Just maybe ease up on the purees! (AND BREAKFAST is a must. They might not be hungry, but they can’t sit a 2-3 hour exam on an empty tummy. Bananas are great for calming butterflies in the tummy.) 
 
4. Exercise: If your child has a hobby, or goes to a class each week, let them continue with it. As a teacher, I hear parents saying “Oh they’ve stopped that until after the exams”. And while yes, many need to cut back on some activities in order to study, cutting out EVERYTHING is a bad idea. Try to encourage them to do something every day, even if it is simply going for a ten minute walk. Send them to the shop. Throw them a basketball. Dust off the punchbag in the garage. Anything to get them moving for even a few minutes. Times of high stress are the times when we NEED to be able to release, may it be dancing, kicking, running or a gym class. It helps keep energy levels up.
 
5. Keep the stress levels down: And I’m not just talking about THEIRS. State Exams have a way of reducing Mums and Dads to tears. Yes, this is a big deal. Yes, the exams are important, but what is more important is that your child is alive and well and able to do the exams. Don’t dismiss the significance of these exams, but equally, don’t paint them to be the be all and end all. Their best is all that they can do and regardless of what is in the little brown envelopes at the end of the summer, life will go on and they will be ABSOLUTELY FINE!
 
6. Positivity : Rather than constantly “annoying” or “torturing” them, let them hear praise. (Because no matter what we say, they only hear nagging don’t they?) Let them hear you believe in them. Let them hear “You will be fine” or “Do your best” or “I’m proud of you.” Seems silly maybe, but trust me, so many of our teenagers are so skilled at feeling useless and crap all by themselves. Sometimes all it takes is for them to hear someone tell them they can do it.
 
7. Last minute pages: SO this is the teacher talking now. Get them to take an A4 page and for each subject, on which they write down all of the key phrases and ideas and names and keywords, dates etc., all over it, on both sides. If their teacher has things that he or she CONSTANTLY repeated in class, write those down too.
Use different coloured pens and make it bright. Laminate it when they’re done if you like. But have it that THAT PAGE is the ONLY thing they look at on the morning of the exam. I also advise that when they walk into the English paper, before they even read the questions, to jot down as many of the important terms and titles on one of the roughwork boxes or blank pages. That way, they have a go-to wordbank if they get a blank brain AND they won’t forget character names or poem titles in the heat of the exam. (Happens to the best!)
 
8. Ditch the Drama: Warn your kids of the dangers of the Drama Llama on the morning (or afternoon) of the exam. While they’ll want with their friends, so often it is the worst place they can be. Hearing “Oh I only glanced at Chapter 23 last night” or “I haven’t LOOKED at that book!” or “I am so screwed”can cause panic in an anxious child’s mind. They’re already dealing with their own anxiety and nerves. They don’t need JohnJoe or Nancy’s stresses on top of their own. Tell them to politely stay away from groups until after the exam. They are much better served by reading over their last-minute page on their own. They can chat about it as much as they want when it’s over, but being focused and quiet before the exam really does work wonders.
 
9. SPACE it out: If space allows, tell them to skip 2-3 lines between each paragraph. This allows them space to jot down anything that might come to mind as the revise over what they’ve written at the end. (And it makes life easier for the examiner if sentences aren’t written sideways up a margin. With a few subjects being corrected digitally this year, anything written outside the allocated area won’t be scanned. Remind them of this.)
 
10. Believe: While the state exams are possibly THE biggest thing in your whole family’s life right now, it is important to remind the kids that every single person who is older than them, has been through and sat through these exams. They can only do their best. Yes, they’re a huge deal, but they’re also just a bump in the road that you have to drive over to get to summer. They’re well ready and well able.
stumble
 
Life is a big long dance. We all stumble, sometimes we fall. We have parts of the routine that we’d rather skip, but it’s OUR dance. And each and every one of us has to dance our own steps.
 
I hope that exam season passes with as little stress as possible in your house. And remember that if your kids see you stressed, they stress. So even if you want to scream and tear your hair out, don’t.
 
Or at least wait until they’re in bed and then pour yourself a gin and scream in a pillow.
 
And the very best of luck to your minions.

So Mathematagically Challenged Mum

Once upon a time, in a damp and draughty classroom, Mammy here remembers asking the loveliful and unfortunate lady charged with the torture of teaching her Mathematicalisms, a question.

“Why and Where on the Great Jebus’s flat Earth, will I ever need to know this Sin, Cos and Tan crap like?” I asked poor Miss Jacinta.

Because Mammy knew that unless she wanted to train as a fecking astronaut, or be the woman who waved the fricken Ping Pong bats at landing aeroplanes, “Sin, Cos and Tan” would only be at best the name of a band she’d never listen to and at worst, a cocktail she’d never order.

And Miss Jacinta, in her genuine loveliness, somehow managed to keep her shit together with the mathematically challenged Mammy. 🙄
… even on the day when I answered get gentle “What is a+b?” with “Ab” – Duh.

(The difference in a literary and mathematagical brain I guess?)🤣

Miss Jacinta either had the patience of a saint, gin in her flask, or she felt absolute PITY for the Half-wit in front of her for those five long years.

Don’t get me wrong now, I could and can (usually) do the basics.

Like figuring out what 27.3% off a pair of shoes will save me in 0.3 seconds? No problem.

And for some reason, I “GOT” triangle angles which have come in handy for, well… walking around corners and loading chilli on my nachos.

And as for the theorems? I learned those bad boys like bad poems and yet I never understood a single fecking digit. Not even 1…(boom…)😉😉

I have indeed never used “Sin, cos or tan” in the sense of the words she taught. Obviously, I have never sinned, being the saintly legendary Ladybelke that I am… I use “cos” only to describe the foot that goes into those discounted shoes, and my tan is where it should be. In the bottle.

So imagine my annoyance, when 20 years after waving at the lovely Miss Jacinta as I left her classroom for the last time, I suddenly find my mathematilda being challenged again…

Because my 7 year old needs help with her fecking HOMEWORK!🙄🙄

I am however, quite contented and optimistic about the future of person-kind, because let me tell you, by the time our 7 year olds are in 5th class, they will have the mathematical intelligence to decipher NASA’s most secretful codes and be bringing fecking mermaids into existence with their imagination, a calculator and a spatula, just for fun.

This was one of tonight’s questions.👇👇👇

Of course, the child (eventually) saw logical mathe-magical patterns and formulae. (which of course have some pedagogical purpose known only to math whizzes!)

Mammy here, I wondered why the tiger had pink blocks on her back.

I saw a KNACKERED Mammy Tiger, with 57 tabs open on her brain, only a part of her former self, shellshocked and wavering under the weight of a big pile of blocks fecked on top of her.

I wanted to write a short story explaining how the blocks might be metaphoric of the invisible pressures a Mum has to deal with in order to NOT LOOK LIKE A BLOODY NUMPTY in front of her child because of homework that is clever-er than Mammy, or any other adult born before project Math…

So much for singing “Toodalloooooo Jacinta” and smugly thinking I’d never have to feel stupid because of Maths again.
I got THAT wrong too.

Somethings never change eh?

How was your evening?

#FML

So Hands Up Who’s Done Their Homework?

Homework…

As a teacher, I can never discredit the importance of homework. It compliments learning and encourages independent study and learning.

I do however have a strange attitude to homework, it seems.

The teacher in me says that it is necessary…essential even. It allows students to check that they understand what was covered in class. It promotes responsibility for learning and pride in their own work, and it allows the teacher to evaluate who, and how well, their students have been learning. It also lets parents see what their kids are doing and how they are getting on.

But all of these advantages ONLY work when children do their homework for themselves. And it seems to becoming more and more ‘normal’ that the homework being sent home is becoming the homework of the parents.

When we were at school 359 years ago, we did our homework and went to school, where the teacher commented on it. If it was incorrect or insufficient, she or he told us; marked where we went wrong and showed how to fix it. If we made mistakes, we realised them.

If we couldn’t do it, we asked our parents to help and show us. They didn’t have Google, so if they couldn’t help us, they told us to ‘ask your teacher’. We learned to ask for help if we needed. And we learned that needing something explained again was normal.

IF a child doesn’t get the little x or the comment or the example of how to improve from the teacher, how are they ever supposed to learn?

Homework can be viewed as an essential part of learning, but with the increase in pace of life and the massive timetables and routines in most homes nowadays, it can also be seen as a torture.

Me? Now, as a Mum to a dizzy seven year old, I am absolutely aware of the royal pain in the bum that homework is.

I would like to see less written work some evenings, especially for little ones. I like the idea of set homework days. So many of us spend evenings taking them to other classes or activities, all of which are important for their development and confidence too.

And in some houses, there is very limited time between home-time and bedtime, and family time is limited because it’s spent trying to get through hills of homework, never mind cooking and feeding them and trying to fit your whole day into a few hours.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine is knackered after a full day at school. She wants to play with her toys, or read her books, or go bounce on the trampoline, or sometimes just watch TV … and by Thursday, she’s as done in as I am.

I see more and more parents online and in groups stressing about their kids’ homework. I had this conversation with a few friends recently. One stated that she feels like the homework is testing HER, rather than her daughter. Another commented that he feels useless as he’s unable to understand the homework his 8 year old gets.

And another said that the homework was taking nearly 90 minutes in the evening. Her children are 4 and 5. I stood pretty quietly if I’m honest, the Mammy guilt creeping in, because I am one of those BAD parents it seems. Because Mini-Me’s homework is HER homework, not mine.

You see, in our house, SHE does the homework.

I check it and I sign the diary. If I see letters back to front or a very silly mistake, I’ll point it out in a question. ‘Do you think that’s long enough?’ ‘Is that 3 written right?’ and ‘Will teacher be happy with that?’ work.

If she thinks it’s fine, I won’t correct her, even if I know that it’s not good enough. I’m very aware of how she is getting on and what she is struggling with, but I don’t fight with her. Because to be honest, she won’t listen to me anyway. Me telling her something is wrong goes over her head. Teacher telling her something is wrong however, is GOSPEL. And I won’t have my children growing up thinking that their school work is my problem. It’s theirs.

Why? Am I cruel? Am I lazy? Should I not be sitting down and guiding her through the work every night so she can present perfect homework to Teacher every day? Because that is what many parents do. And the kids go to school with perfect work and get no red marks and every one is happy… until they do a test and it becomes apparent that actually, Nancy doesn’t get long division, or Jimmy doesn’t know his vowel sounds.

How she learns and grows is not going to be dependent on how well I understand her multiplication or Irish verbs. And when she gets to secondary school, she needs to be able to manage her time and to take criticism. (And trust me here, that is a skill that our kids need. Because the number of teenagers who are genuinely unable to take criticism of ANY kind is unbelievable.)

The New Junior Cycle is so full of home-based projects and self-evaluation, that if we don’t allow our young children to do their own work, take the comments on it, apply them and understand, we are simply setting OURSELVES up for a lot of work when they get to secondary school.

I asked my followers what they thought about homework during the week. Here are some of the replies:

71% feel that their kids get too much homework.

“I feel I am putting more pressure on my child after school is over.”

“Yes. My son is 7 and his concentration is gone by the time he gets home”

“Yes. It’s a struggle everyday, especially if they have activities or classes to go to too.”

“I stopped checking their homework in senior infants. 100% result not true. They need to see the x marks.”

“Not every night, but my 9 year old is overwhelmed sometimes.”

“Life is too precious for homework, get out and explore!”

Then I had a few primary teachers reply:

One said that as a Mum, she hates it, but that as a teacher, she has to give it.

Two said that they hate to think they are putting pressure on parents but that it is a necessity for learning.

Another said “Under pressure to give it!”

One said that if she didn’t give homework “there are so many kids who would spend the whole evening in front of a screen,” and this of course is also true.

And a few reminded me that there are time guidelines that should be adhered to.

So it’s very much a double edged sword and I am the perfect example of the sword bearer.

The teacher in me gives it (although I limit it. I feel that if they’re engaged and attentive in my classroom, they don’t need daily home activities from me.) The parent in me hates it, but agrees that it is important too…

But ONLY if they are doing it themselves and it is functional and meaningful.

It’s her homework not mine. She needs to be able to take comments and criticism if necessary. She needs to learn the process of what she’s doing. If I do it for her, she’s learning that I’ll do it for her and that she can opt out.

But am I going to stand up in her exams and give a talk on how I created something? Am I going to sit her exams for her? Am I going to be there to explain to the teacher how I got an answer that she couldn’t do?

No.

But I will be there to smile at her when SHE gets 8/10 or to let her rant about being scolded. I will be there to cheer her on when SHE gets the best mark SHE can get. And I will be there to praise her when she finally figures out that maths thingy that she couldn’t do.

Because I’ve been to school. (I’m still there!) I’ve done my homework. I learned what I learned and I failed if I didn’t work. But NEVER, did my parents do any of it for me. And NEVER did they make excuses for me if I didn’t do it right or didn’t do it at all. And as much as I grumbled and complained about that as a teenager, I am now grateful for it.

There is no right or wrong here. Each house is different and every child has different strengths and abilities, and every parent knows what works for their kids.

But I’d love to know your general thoughts on homework.