Places To Go, Things To Do, Thinking Out Loud

Urdd Eisteddfod 2019 and Welshness issues

I’m Welsh but I’m not a confident Welsh speaker. On the daily, this doesn’t make me ponder on Welshness, on national identity and bilingualism but last week I took my boys to Cardiff Bay for this year’s Urdd Eisteddfod where it felt like a bigger deal on the Maes.

We were non Welsh speakers at a Welsh speaking event in Wales. We had a lovely day and we did feel welcome but also at a remove. I felt like a visitor, an outsider, somehow other.

The Urdd Eisteddfod is one of Europe’s largest touring youth festivals. As well as all of the stalls and activities on the Maes, there are loads of competitions for children and young people in things like singing and dancing following regional rounds. About 15,000 competitors take part through the week. The Urdd was set up to give children and young people the chance to learn and socialise in Welsh.

A sign post in Welsh language with the Pierhead building and Wales Millennium Centre in the background
Ble mae’r bar?

We toyed with sending the boys to Welsh school back in 2012 but our closest English primary school is behind our house. We cross no roads to get there, I can hear the playground from home and garden and it’s a cracking school.

The seven year old was in his absolute element in the Senedd display of the 2D and 3D art and design competitions. He’s a model making fiend and a puppet fan boy. He was so genuinely impressed with the paintings and drawings “wow, I can’t believe this one only came second, it’s a winner for me”, it was unsurprising when he looked up at me, his eyes glowing with creative crafting ideas and asked “how can I join in Mum?” like it’s Blue Peter and anyone can enter. Sorry babes, you can’t because you don’t go to a Welsh medium school. *insert sad child’s face* That’s where it feels excluding and exclusive. Which is understandable knowing that the Urdd exists for Welsh speaking children.

When I posted about this on Instagram I had a reply from a teacher at an English medium high school who told me that they had pupils compete so it turns out they don’t have to go to Iaith Cymraeg schools to participate. I did not know this. I thought the Urdd Eisteddfodau were a cultural rite of passage that my kids would have no part of in the same way that the opportunity wasn’t there for me as a child who grew up in Wales at English language schools. And that’s as a pupil who did extra Welsh (true story) and chose to do Welsh GCSE and A Level.

My Welsh is OK, I can get by to a limit. If you did A level French, that’s the kind of language vibe. Except it’s not. I’ve got an A Level in it but I don’t only encounter it at the boulangerie on my holidays. I work all over Wales so Welsh is at meetings, seminars, conferences, it’s in the lunch time chats and evening meals out, it’s sprinkled through emails, it’s on print, websites, in theatre productions, social media strategies. And that’s just work.

At the Urdd Eisteddfod we made an effort to use as much Welsh as we could all day. The 10 year old ordered his hot chocolate all by himself and enjoyed his “un siocled poeth”, the 7 year old  said “diolch” to pretty much everyone in Cardiff Bay.

They were in awe at how much Welsh I used (my children are very easily impressed) “how did we not know you can speak another language?!” I can’t, I’m really not that confident with it but I do try when I can. I felt guilty and lazy for not using it more at home when I do make the effort in work emails and events. I want to use Welsh with them more at home, beyond our current “nos da cariad” (good night love) and “pwy sy’n barod?” (who’s ready?).

Inside the roof of a teepee style tent with bunting and garland lights.
Inside the Children’s Commissioner for Wales tent

It was a lush day out though, one of those exhausting days where you walk for miles, while away time soaking up live music, have a nosey in every trade stall, race cars in virtual reality, golf, join a band, colour in, trampoline, make a bead bracelet, toast mshmallows and bump into a couple of people you know. As it was free entry this year I treated us to drinks and a fairground ride without the inward panic about spending all of the money.

It felt right to expose the boys to a world where people assume you can speak Welsh, it opens their mind up to realising it’s the first language for some people and it’s alive in Wales, not just something to learn in the classroom.

School Days, Thinking Out Loud

Babies Starting School

My social media is abuzz with school admissions posts and wails about “my baby” going to school. Excuse me while my lack of sympathy and I snicker darkly yet sagely into our milky tea.

I hear you, I do, but I also raise you this: MY BABY IS GOING TO HIGH SCHOOL. They will eat him alive. He is tiny and geeky and high school is not the nurturing, learn-through-play haven of Reception. He will be spat out at the other end as a legal adult.

Ok, he’s not a baby. He’s 10. Double figures and all that. And yes, I may well be projecting my own fears about moving from Primary to Comp. I blame Grange Hill. My comprehensive school looked like the fictional hell hole, it was populated with the same permed, mean eyed, all-knowing teenagers. I was definitely going to get my head flushed down the toilet or be tricked into taking an acid tab. One of the boys in my year 6 class who had an older sister there assured us that it was a rite of passage. The toilet thing, not the drugs.

I’m still yet to ever have my head flushed down the loo or trip on acid (in the words of Zammo “just say no”) and if I’m honest, I’m sure my son will be fine. He’s friendly, he’s sensible, he’s a good guy and he’s feeling cautiously confident after plenty of visits to the school and transition days.

I’ve written about it before, this ever marching time of childhood, not standing in the way of them moving on and developing, of celebrating change and not infantilising them when they’re not babies anymore.

Don’t let your 4 year old see you cry when you drop them off that first week. Please. It’s not about you. Letting them see you panicked, upset or overwhelmed is unhelpful. The same goes for all those future residential school trips. Imagine starting a new job with your partner, parent or friend crying at the entrance. I’ll be doing just that very soon (the job not the weeping) and I’d prefer a thumbs up and a snazzy new lunch box.

My step daughter’s been in high school for two years now and is having a grand old time of it. We see her so much less than we used to but that’s a whole other blog post. I’m sure my son with throw himself into a new school, make new friends, have great experiences but it’s still the great unknown. Think of all those positive things if your child’s starting primary school too.

Of course, I’m writing all of this before his Hogwarts letter arrives this summer and there’ll be a whole other level of worry going on.

Two children's books on batman bedding. The larger book on the left is 100 Things to Know About Space and the other book is Grandpa Was an Astronaut by Jonathan Meres.
School Days, Thinking Out Loud

World Book Day

Before I launch into a rant of sorts, please know that this isn’t anti World Book Day. What they stand for and what they aim to do is brilliant. World Book Day is the world’s biggest campaign to provide every child and young person in the country with a book of their own. Their twitter biography sums it up:

The biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK & Ireland. Share a Story with us on 7 March 2019. A charity, sponsored by National Book Tokens. @WorldBookDayUK

Our school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day this year and I’m cool with that. Instead, the children have been asked to take their favourite book into school. It’s perfectly in keeping with the whole ethos of sharing a story, building a love of reading, getting kids excited about books and seeing what a huge range of stories and factual books there are.

Yet some parents still moan. If they’d had to dress up there’d be other parents moaning. I think it comes from the everyone-else-is-dressing-up-why-can’t-we zone while completely missing the point that every child in the school will still have a free book token and a chance to share their favourite book with their class.

World Book Day’s current campaign is #ShareAStory. It’s not #SendYourKidToSchoolInARandomCostumeThatsNotNecessarilyInABook or #BuyABookCharacterCostumeFromTheSupermarketEvenThoughYourChildsNeverReadThatBook or #WearYourFavouriteFancyDressOutfitRegardlessOfWhetherOrNotItsInABook

It isn’t about dressing up. That’s just one of many ways in which schools can mark and celebrate the day. Write a story, find a fact in a book, design a book mark. My kids have dressed up some years but other years they’ve had a pyjama day at school for a day of bedtime stories. The years we’ve dressed up, we’ve talked about their favourite books and did what we could with clothes and props we already had. Think Iggy Peck the Architect (patterned knitted jumper, skinny trousers, daps and a pencil behind the ear) or Jesse Aarons from Bridge to Terabithia (jeans, raglan top and a crown made out of twigs).

I know that my children and I are coming at this from a place of literary privilege. I grew up in a home of books, we had regular tips to the library, I saw my parents read for pleasure, my best friends enjoyed the same boks as me, I had books as gifts, we had day trips to Hay on Wye, I ended up studying books at university (English Lit) and there are books in every room of our home. I read to my children and they read because they want to. When the new Health Visitor first visited after my youngest was born she glanced around the living room and said “you’ll be fine, you’ve got books”, to which I said “none of them are about parenting”. “It doesn’t matter,” she replied “it makes a difference.” The sad thing was, most of the houses she visited didn’t have books.

Not everyone lives a life immersed in books. I know mothers who taught themselves to read as adults. At Christmas in a toy shop I was browsing the children’s books when I overheard a woman say to her friend “no, she wouldn’t want a book as a present, that’s boring” and my heart broke a little. 4 in 10 boys and 3 in 10 girls aged 11-13 who took part in a 2010 National Literary Trust survey did not own any books.

Spending just 10 minutes a day reading with children of all ages can make a crucial difference to their future. Literacy matters. The National Literacy Trust research showed that children who don’t own books were two and a half times more likely to read below their expected level than children who have their own books* (19% compared to 7.6%). It helps to put important campaigns like World Book Day into perspective.

Schools have enough to deal with and your misplaced outrage about fancy dress or late notice about taking in a book isn’t going to be their top priority. Remember it’s also the season for belated St David’s Day Eisteddfodau, British Science Week and bloody Red Nose Day.

Of course, all the Matildas and Boys in a Dress, the Tigers Who Came to Tea and the Highway Rats are delightful. A gaggle of primary aged children in fancy dress is a wonderful thing. There’s joy and creativity in making outfits. But if your school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day, don’t be a dick about it. Dress them up on the weekend or this evening if you’re really gagging to take that photo for Instagram. Even better, just read a book with them, find out what their favourite book is and why.

My boys both chose books that are space themed, which isn’t surprising as they both want to be astronauts (the youngest wants to be the first ventriloquist in space, please tell me no one’s beat him to it). Both books are signed by the authors because they’re both from different literary festivals. They’re not the books they’re in the middle of reading but they’re important to them. One’s a book of facts and the other’s a story.

This quote hit the nail on the head more succinctly than my waffling diatribe:

If your child’s World Book Day costume costs more than a book, STOP RIGHT THERE! Make something from a cereal box, and BUY A BOOK instead.**

If you found yourself cursing World Book Day as you stressed over a costume last night, take a moment to be grateful that your child has access to books. If you fumed about your school not letting you show off via your offspring’s costume today, take a moment to be grateful you had one less thing to stress about and that your child has access to books. And if you don’t give a shit about books or which children have access to them, I’ll take a moment to be grateful for World Book Day doing what they do.

*National Literacy Trust online survey, took pace in November and December 2010

**from an instagram post by @brightbuttonschildminding spotted on @childcare_adventures

A poorly drunk lady is comforted by another lady in a Christmas jumper
Thinking Out Loud

Black Friday

Remember when Black Friday wasn’t about greedy people grabbing giant tellies in Tesco or incessant emails from every company you’ve ever bought anything from ever? Black Friday was about swarms of drunken office parties, boozy mates and students home from uni who descended upon Cardiff and Swansea for the last Friday piss up before Christmas with a pocketful of payday pounds.

Sandra from accounts pukes her Malibu and coke into a city centre shrub while Linda holds her sequinned Santa hat and wishes she’d got that taxi home with Boring Barbara. In the queue for Walkabout Kelly finally gets to snog Steve who lovingly buys her WKD blues for the rest of the night. Gareth regrettably punches Dave in the smoking area for something they’ll both forget. Sian and Louise giggle while they piss behind the Christmas market sheds. Matt goes the full show off with his street performance of the Macarena and Anna gorges herself on chicken curry half ‘n’ half as she sits on the curb of Chippy Lane bedecked in tinsel.

What are your Black Friday tales? I’m talking festive binge drinking yarns not that 25% you had off an electric drill in 2016.

 

Christmas revellers on the streets, Christmas lights in the background, a man dancing in the road and a woman sits on the curb.
photo from Wales Online
Thinking Out Loud

Baps. World Breastfeeding Week 2018.

Baps, boobs, breasts. Whatever you call them, in case you missed the memo, it’s World Breastfeeding Week 1st – 7th August. First up, I’m not a card holding member of the Breastapo. I am not a lactivist. I’m pro breastfeeding but not in an anti-formula feeding way.

I breastfed my two sons. Feels an age ago now because it was an actual decade ago the first time and 2012 the next. I had two different experiences but more about that later.

Why did I chose to give it a go in the first place?

  • Less expensive! When you’re on Statutory Maternity Pay this matters. Big time. Boob milk is free.
  • Less washing up! We’ve never had a dishwasher (except for that table top one that never got plumbed in so was just a glorified cupboard) so I saved myself hours of hand washing bottles and teats.
  • Less faff! Getting out of the house with a baby is challenging enough. I’m a disorganised mess and the massive changing bag I lugged everywhere was already fit to burst, was there even any room left for bottles? And all that measuring and warming up and cooling down. Yeesh.

So basically, I’m lazy and poor so breastfeeding seemed like the way to go. I didn’t read all the baby rearing books in the world, I didn’t go to any birthing classes (“they’re how much?!”) and I was the first of any groups of friends to have a baby. I didn’t feel any pressure to do it and I’d done jack all research. I was clueless.

First time was bloody challenging. It hurt, I bled, I got mastitis that was thankfully caught and treated very early on, my baby wasn’t gaining weight at the rate the charts said he should. He was borderline failing to thrive and I was having nightmares about him fading away into nothing. The breastfeeding support at St David’s hospital was vital, the lady running it reminded me of my Grandma with her Yorkshire accent and no-nonsense approach. I talked through what my health visitor had suggested (a bottle of formula at every breast feed) and she helped me work out something that helped my first born to beef up but also built up my supply. I topped up him with a bottle of formula each day, breastfed every two hours and pumped after each feed. It was awkward, it was the worst of both worlds but it worked. My baby was finally growing at a rate the health visitor approved of; I was able to slowly decrease the formula and we got back to feeding on demand with just breast milk.

The bonus was that he would take a bottle so when I first left him overnight (at 6 months on a hen do with regular breast pumping breaks) he would take expressed milk but if needs be he would take formula. I’m grateful to the formula milk for helping to give my tiny baby a much needed boost and for helping me to carry on breastfeeding as long as we wanted to.

I had no pressure from my husband to breastfeed, the opposite in fact as he could see me struggling and in pain. My mum was brilliant. Practical, supportive and again, no pressure. She breastfed me because we lived overseas when I was born and her friend advised she try it because she’d not and her baby struggled with the brands of milk in the shops changing so often depending on what got delivered to the island.

Second time was a dream. He latched well, fed on demand, he grew, I was comfortable. Happy days.

I know it’s not always easy. I know it’s not always possible. I know all the focus on the otehr benefits of breastfeeding make it hugely emotive and stir up those toxic responses to the topic like guilt and defensiveness. I just wanted to focus on the practical side of it: less expensive, less washing up, less faff.

I’ve never been an official breastfeeding mentor but I’ve been there for support and advice if real life friends have needed it. I’ve breastfed in all sorts of public and private spaces and I hope anyone who saw me or sat with me felt even just a tiny bit more confident about doing it themselves.