Ahhh, literacy, my old friend. Here we go again.
It’s safe to say the literacy journey is not an easy one for the Smalls-on-the-netheredge, especially at the start.
This is probably my fault. I didn’t learn to read until I was 7. I still can’t really spell.
My mother swears she sat on the sofa with Roger Red Hat open on her lap, me on one side, the dog on the other – and that the dog learned to read before I did.
(She gave up on trying to teach me how to tell the time, which is why to this day I can only have digital watches. I CAN read an analogical clock, now, but it takes several minutes, a lot of counting round in 5s, and I’d never bet on someone’s life I’d got the right answer).
It is now the smallest Small’s turn to struggle with her reading, writing, and spelling – and something is just not CLICKING.
It’s my second time round in the Mum-role of the literacy-rodeo. I’m sure it WILL click, in time, possibly with a bit of extra help from school, just as it did with the Big Small (sort of – there’s still some interesting flipped characters and spellings are a struggle) and me (sort of – I doubt I’d be employable without word processing and spellcheck).
But it IS something of a worry, which is why I was particularly delighted to get my very first note from her this week.
OK, it’s not perfect. Mummy is spelt entirely with Ws instead of Ms, which is an understandable mistake, and frankly, a rather alarmingly accurate one.
It made me laugh. Because I am a WUWWY.
I am a Mummy who worries… Sometimes a lot.
I AM worried that she can’t hold a pencil properly and can’t seem to recall the shapes of letters or process phonic sounds, and what does that mean, and is it just a starting blip or is it going to be a bigger problem, and what can I do to help, and should I back off when she gets frustrated, and how DO you actually make getting things wrong FUN?
I worry about her cough, every time she coughs, and how bad is it this time, and when to go to the Dr, and how many antibiotics she’s having, and about the operation she has to have, and the general anaesthetic and how she didn’t go out well last time, and how awful that was to watch, and what will they find this time, and will she be okay, and what if it’s serious?
I worry about how much the Big Small worries, also inherited from me, and ranging from what’s going to happen at school today to failing the spelling test, to who said what about whom in girlville, where she’ll get changed or what if there aren’t any toilets – and her hysteria over anything new or unusual, from me dying my hair to a change of pick-up routine or not having the right bloody tights.
I worry that she won’t do clubs where she won’t know anyone. and she doesn’t get to go to the ones she WILL go to every week, and what’s she missing out on, and how it will impact her opportunities and friendships when they all do stuff without her, and how to help with the friend issues, and when to intervene and when to stay out of it.
I worry about the school and club trips and what if something goes wrong, and what if mine is the one in the headlines standing up on the ride, falling through the gap, not strapped in the coach properly, messing around, in the wrong place at the wrong time – and what that phone call will sound like.
I worry who I would be if I wasn’t their mother, and if I define myself too much by them, and if that’s fair, on them or me.
I worry I’m not doing enough to support either of them, and there just seems to be no time, and certainly no way to carve out one-on-one time, and am I listening to them enough, or too much? and is it better for them to feel heard and accommodated or to just have things decreed for their best interests and maybe that makes them feel safer? and do I negotiate too much and have I set the right boundaries, and am I showing weakness or modelling humanity – and what if I’m getting it totally wrong and mucking them up?
I worry I’ve passed on my crappy worrying and spelling genes.
I worry we’re not having enough fun together, that we’re just plain routine and chores, and the time is short and I won’t have them for long and am I wringing enough out of it all, and am I enjoying it enough, and are they, and am I making enough effort and enough memories, and what WILL they remember, as they grow?
I worry they don’t know I love them, or that I love them too much, and what if that’s stifling, and CAN you spoil kids with too much affection, and am I spoiling them in other ways because I’m making up for the broken home, and how do I stop?
I worry how much my strained co-parenting relationship is affecting them, and how to make it better without just agreeing to things I don’t agree with, and how to talk to them about those disagreements – which they see and ask about – and if I’m answering the questions right, and if they know we both love them to the moon and back, and if they know that actually makes them lucky?
I worry if they will still love me back every time they come back from his.
I worry about the state of the world they’ll grow up in, and global warming burning the planet, and the rise of nationalism and the far-right past threatening to repeat itself, and War, and local violence in The Star, and homeless, hopeless families right on our doorstep, and Ebola, and acts of terror, and my inability to protect them or do anything at all to make any of it any better.
I worry I’m failing them, in big ways and little ways, all of the time.
I worry I worry too much.
That last one is something I’ve been accused of, recently.
That my anxiety impacts my ability to make ‘sensible’ decisions for the children.
I thought about it long and hard. The Wuwwying. And then I realised that the reason I thought about it long and hard is because actually, THAT’S WHAT MY ANXIETY DOES.
Look, there is clearly a downside to worrying. I know it well. If you let anxiety rule you it CAN impact the decisions you make (possibly stopping you from making any), and even your personality – because worry can come out as anger.
The thing is, when you know about the anxiety, you can watch for it, FEEL for it. And ultimately manage it. (Possibly with medical or theraputic support). But when The Fear comes down on you and stops you breathing, it is possible to both recognise it, and do something about it. You just need to learn what, and how.
I have learned that the way to deal with worry is not to let it bully you.
You can arm yourself with information to combat it, gathering the evidence to undermine it, and put it back into perspective.
You can refuse to listen to it, and think and do other things.
When it does get the better of you you can stop, and breathe, and make amends.
When it is too big, you can break it down, and do the little things that you CAN affect.
My anxiety doesn’t stop me from letting the kids go on school trips, for instance.
If it has led me to shout, I say sorry, and explain why I got angry.
If it is loud, I play louder music and I run to outrun it.
When it gets big, I go small, with recycling, food bank donations, teaching them tolerance.
When I question myself, I weigh up the pros and the cons, I take advice, I look inside myself, I test it out, I sleep on it – and then I make the best decision I can at that moment in time.
Because that’s the flip side of anxiety. Over-thinking involves THINKING, and that’s actually a GOOD thing. Questioning whether you’re doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time – the very fear of getting it wrong – can actually lead you to make GOOD decisions. In fact, I’d rather make decisions with and in spite of anxiety than make them with and because of arrogance.
The stopping and thinking bit is okay, just as long as you START again.
Self-doubt can be harnessed into self-analysis, and that deliberation can translate into careful, powerful, and very deliberate action. Parenting with anxiety doesn’t necessarily make you a bad parent. If you can work through the overwhelm and the paralysis, it could make you a considered and considerate one. It may even make you a BETTER one.
What’s more, being afraid and doing things anyway is actually the very definition of being BRAVE.
So if you recognise any of this, if you are a Wuwwier like me, or just a Worrier, if you are doing it all anyway, remember you are also a Warrior.
As the Small Small reminded me, it’s all in the spelling.
And sometimes turning things upside down isn’t a mistake.