On venerating your child

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Our youngest child was selected for the Cleveland Schools’ cricket squad in the last week. In addition he is coming to the end of his second close season spell with Yorkshire Pathways Bronze level; that puts him in the top 80-100 children of his age group at cricket in this county. He bowls leg break & googly (if you don’t know what that is, look it up! The picture above, of England’s Adil Rashid, gives some idea of the contortions neccesary) , which is the ‘holy grail’ of bowling; at one time it was as rare as hen’s teeth. It is notoriously difficult to master and when he is on song, it is a beautiful thing to watch as the ball swings one way through the air, pitches and then moves the other way. At times I have watched him in the nets & seen good batsmen frequently flailing at thin air in frustration as they cannot ‘read’ him.

Of course, with sport, it could all end at any time. Teenage years kick in, injuries happen,the selections get tighter and someone doesn’t ‘make’ it, academic pressures become more intense etc etc, but at the moment, both children have a combination of academic ability, opportunity) and sporting gifts that I never had.

I could go on for longer; naturally I am proud, but at the same time something in me doesn’t feel right to talk in this way. In the same way, when our oldest child did better at GCSEs than we expected- in fact did really well- I did not post the full details on social media; it doesn’t feel right to crow in this way.

I’ve had this passage underlined in a book for a long time:-

‘The problem for someone like me who desires that his children lead successful, competent lives, is knowing that the cost of this may at times be insensitivity to others, that in urging them to do well I may be urging them to be inconsiderate, lacking in thoughtfulness about others. In other words the Christian values of community and equality are not the easiest standards to hold up when you’re also interested in perpetuating your privileged situation in society through your children and your own behaviour’. (Robert Coles in Hirsch & Hirsch  (2010) p163)

There is a temptation in those of us who have faith to live lives of ‘practical atheism’; as long as you do your ‘religious duty’ the rest of your life is your own business. I exaggerate of course, but when I hear discussions among middle class believers about finding a ‘good church’ (which is what exactly?) the words of an old Divine Comedy song come back to mind:-

‘The cars in the car park were shiny and German,

Distinctly at odds with the theme of the sermon’

which puts the point rather more succinctly.

No answers at the moment, apart from trying to avoid the ‘competitive dad’ huddles as parents jockey for position, teaching your children to be proud, yet not to crow,  look down on others or be envious of those who have more gifts,being a bit more thankful when you are tempted to whinge at life and realising that all of this is temporary and could grow or cease at any time and lots of good, wholesome things like that. etc etc

Yet at the same time thoughts dog you; is this enough? Have you got it right? Or are you really doing anything differently to anyone else?

…maybe not…

There is always an underlying reason…

Sometimes as a minister, you can fall into the trap of dropping compliments that people have made about you:-

  • ‘Mrs Miggins says she has never seen a minister so cool as me’
  • ‘The youth* really like me’
  • ‘My colonic irrigator says that if all ministers were like me she would come to church’.

Let’s face it: it looks like you have an ego validation problem that is approaching treatable levels if you do that on a frequent basis. In the late 18th century John Wesley offered some sage advice: ‘If thou art constrained to bless the instrument, give God the glory’.

But having said that…..

Last week, my wife was having a chat with the headteacher. She said ‘Graham has done so much for this community’ and then cited what I did in the playground in making connections.

I think she meant something about the web of contacts I made and the other webs that already exist that I was fortunate to be able to tap into.

I think she had a point: not about how much I have done (I have done hardly anything), but about how I used (consciously and unconsciously) the playground. In fact, so central was it was to what I did, that I began to wonder just how I would do my job if we had moved next summer.

I think I found that ‘mission’ was more about finding social spaces like this and making connections than sitting in a whole heap of meetings and talking about it. Maybe it was better than funerals etc- after all in those situations, you still have a degree of power- you are in charge. In the average playground, you are an equal and you can be missed/ignored.

..and yes: I may have an ego validation problem!

 

Part of a series of 4 posts

(* I have never worked out why some revs refer to ‘the youth’ like they are a separate breed of people).

‘You work the playground’

Years ago, someone used this phrase of me as I waited for my children. It was meant in a friendly, and not an accusing way.

The person had a point: as well as being a parent, I was a minister in the village, I helped to lead Beaver Scouts so I knew a lot of people there and it was natural to talk with them.

But I also remembered my experience when my oldest son started- it was not a friendly year & I became  used to the sight of people’s backs as they turned inwardly to resume familiar relationships once the perfunctory ‘hello’ has been said.I know that playgrounds can be forbidding places: I think I did not want to be part of that.

There is a bit in the Good Book that says something like ‘If you are only friends with those who are friends with you: what good is that?’ Albeit imperfectly, this has always motivated me- just talking to those who talk to you seems to ‘waste’ most potential for social interaction. It does not/did not come naturally- I am basically shy, I have had to learn.

Latterly, as we have both worked more and had different patterns (and my son has had the title of ‘OHP operator- yes OHPs still exist in rural North Yorks), I have ‘worked it’ less, although I have hung around on the edge, trying- almost unconsciously- to speak with those who find playgrounds hard or who are shut out by established friendship groups.

I am tempted to say of my son ‘how dare he leave?- this was my life?’ But that would be tongue in cheek (ish). I think I may have to work harder now to ensure that my friendship groups do not become inward facing cliques that others find harder to break into…that would be more time in the village pubs then…

Part of a series of 4 posts

Leaving…

This week is a big for us as well: the same primary school has dominated our lives for 10 years: ever since that day in September 2005, that we first took a barely 4 year old into the playground, let him go and tried not to look back.

Now that 4 year old is the same height as me, can run faster than me, play cricket better than me, do mental arithmetic better than me, etc etc etc.

It became the focus for our lives: the routines of a village primary school provide a framework- drop off at 8.45, pick up at 3 (and later 3.15)- check,packed lunch prepared- check, bag packed- check, right kit packed- check. More often than not there was a 2nd trip (and sometimes a 3rd) to take in items that had been forgotten. As the children are (at least in the early years) more dependent, what they are doing is more ‘known’- although I know roughly what my teenage son does, I don’t have quite the same awareness.

It was also ‘safe’- one class per year and over 75% of kids walk to school and live in the same area, high community involvement etc As a result, it felt like ‘home’.

 

Never mind my youngest son, I may well be in bits as his year group parade out, applauded by the whole school on Friday…

Part of a series of 4 posts

Change

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Change is good, so they say (but you never find out who ‘they’ are do you?).

This week marks a big change for my youngest son: he leaves primary school. I can still remember the day I did that: we were allowed to watch TV in class: Virginia Wade won Wimbledon as I recall.

It is a big week. He is looking forward to what is coming- as is right. He is excited about the future-which is good. But underneath, there is a bit of fear and also sadness.

Someone said to me this week of his year group ‘they are ready to move’. They were right: they are. Sometimes, however, that can be a brittle response; however ready for a move someone might be, I believe there also has to be an acknowledgement of what is passing. As well as happiness, jokes and excitement, there also has to be the openness to tears.

I do not know how this week will pan out for him, but I hope he will feel safe enough to be open about whatever he experiences.

Part of a series of 4 posts

Guest Blog

 

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One night last week we found this writing left out for us (I have kept the spelling and punctuation):-

‘In life sometimes you begin to notice that you are not what you could be. Sometimes you realise that life isn’t all beautiful. Sometimes whites turn into blacks, Yin’s to yang’s, positives to negatives.

A corridor of murthlessness. The human greed reflected in the floor litterd with bullets and bodies. The window was the only source of light. Sometimes you find Jesus in the trash. The walls where grey and denterd in an array of bullet marks. The Feng Shui was as low as it could be.’

My youngest son wrote this. It wasn’t for an assessment, SATs or because we wanted him to. He did it just because he wanted to and he likes it. He has often drew or written things spontaneously.

I am putting this up not to boast- although I am very proud- but I am chuffed that he is finding his own voice. I am trying to teach him not to be proud about the quirky side of his personality and not to hide it to fit in.

He thinks I am very quirky (I am and have got more so. I guess living here has encouraged me more and given me more confidence). I am trying to tell him that at his age I was quite like him except I was embarrassed about that side of my personality.

It is good to find your children unwittingly redeeming your past…

Party

My youngest son had a party on Saturday for his 11th birthday. We hired a room at the local leisure centre, self catered and a friend refereed and 4/5 aside football tournament.

He had thought for ages about who to invite, worked up a list, and then another one, and then another one….and it went on and on and on. In the end we realised that he would end up inviting about 80% of the boys in his class. That would have been fine, but then we thought if we were self catering that inviting everyone wouldn’t be that hard or even much more costly. He and his friends had a fantastic time.

I don’t claim we got it ‘right’ (in fact I am not sure what ‘right’ would look like), but I think we wanted to encourage him to think about inclusion, the idea of throwing parties and inviting everyone and maybe to subvert the ‘you invite me and I’ll invite you’ mentality. I think he gets it and thinks that way anyway; but you don’t get your kids to be open and generous unless you try-albeit imperfectly- to model it.

He will grow out of football parties and as he grows older he will develop a set of friends. But I want him to grow with this openness; that no one is ‘in or ‘out’. It will be hard- watching parents in an average school playground shows that it is easier to remain in cliques- but I remember a story about banquets and inviting not just the favoured few, but everyone….

Ben is 11

I took this picture of my son when he was 6 and messing around.

This seems so long ago- he is 11 today: halfway between deconstructing ‘Hallelujah’ and its complex biblical allusions and at the same time personifying pg tips monkeys. So childlike and yet with a wicked line in double (and even triple) entendres. Dependent and yet growing independent.

Time is marching on, and I am so blessed and so, so proud.

 

End

Today is my youngest son’s last day in year 5. One more year and he will have finished year 6 & 10 years of us being in the playground will be at an end. Whilst they will both still be at school, senior school is very different: no ‘playground gates’ and the conversations that ensue. Some people find playgrounds hard: I have been accused of ‘working the playground’. I am not naturally gregarious but I have become more and more excited by people: their difference and their stories.

But back to my son. With him, it is a restless excitement (and some trepidation of a ‘SATS’ year); holidays begin and only one more year and he can tread the path that his brother has made. Whilst I am excited at his growth and the person he is becoming, there is also a sense of poignancy- another stage of growth and the small child dependent on me recedes further from memory.

It strikes me that any period of growth is like this: things don’t stay the same- there are new beginnings and experiences but also a jettisoning of things that once seemed vital. That is why I distrust the gung ho and triumphalistic stories and songs of growth. Perhaps I also distrust those who utter them; I want to stifle a yell of ‘Be real’.

Growth is good and wholesome; that doesn’t stop it being painful and full of poignancy.

It is as it should be…

Last week I persuaded my adolescent son to go running with me. I am not uber fit, but do run 3 miles, 3 times a week (& occasionally extra if I want a treat…). I am fairly slow, but I am ‘not bad’ up hills: it is the protestant in me that feels nothing is good unless it causes pain.

So I am running and making excuses about being tired. He goes quieter and quieter. I am thinking that it is because he is suffering energy loss: he is growing so fast that he runs out of energy easily. I keep checking ‘Are you alright Matthew’. He keeps saying ‘yes’.

So I begin to up my pace and lengthen my stride down hill and then, Stakhanovite- like charging up hills. At around 2 miles the final killer hill comes and I begin to gather myself for an ascent that will finish him off. His pace changes, he moves to my side & then sprints past me. I have nothing left to give.

Ok: he eventually cuts the course short, but then I would not have caught up with him. I gave him all I had & it was not enough. This will get more pronounced as he gets older.

Thing is: I was relating this to someone and they said ‘This is as it should be’. They then spoke about me giving him a grounding, setting him on his way and then watching him soar. This is the natural order- and yet it is different: before, I had been his dad; the one who had led him & now I watch and see an adult beginning to emerge. It is gratifying, wondrous, yet also poignant.

(There is a better post on this issue by my friend on http://thisfragiletent.com/2014/07/13/fatherhood-compassion-and-competition/)