Invisible

How often have you heard that a girl has been called bossy and a boy, displaying the same types of behaviour, being congratulated on ‘being a leader’?  I find it irksome.  Society wants males and females to behave in a certain way.  Girls should be meek, obedient, humble, invisible.  Boys should be loud, brash, confident, decisive, controlling.  And if either boys or girls break ‘type’ – then all hell breaks loose.

If a man defers to his female partner before making a decision, he is mocked for being ‘whipped’.  If a woman makes a decision without referring to her male partner (either at home or at work), then she is a ‘ball breaker’.  So how is that fair?  And how can equality ever be achieved if we have preconceived standards that each sex must adhere to?

In my early days of senior leadership, when I would analyse and study patterns in end of Key Stage 2 data, I’d always be focusing on those children who didn’t meet their end of year targets.  Who were they?  What had happened?  Had something happened in their home lives that affected their learning?  Who were the children who had made accelerated progress?  This is when I discovered a section of children, who I termed the ‘invisible’ children.  These were the well-behaved, quiet, meek children – often girls, who were always just under the radar.  They were missed because they never caused any problems, always got on with what they had to do – didn’t always get things right, but tried their best.  People pleasers.  Non-confrontational.  Heads down, getting on with things.  Invisible.

We teach our girls to be invisible but pleasing to the eye.  How often are girls praised for their behaviour and their presentation – be that handwriting, or what they are wearing?  They get attention by pleasing people.  So what happens?  Girls turn into women who need to please others.  You must please your prospective partners; please your employers; please your friends and families – even if that means that you are put under incredible stress, or pressure, or even in extreme circumstances, danger.

I can’t bear it.  We have not been put on this earth ‘to do the right thing’, which largely entails pleasing and serving others.  We always have to be mindful of other peoples’ feelings.  Being assertive comes at a cost – someone’s feelings might get hurt.  Well, so what?  What about your feelings getting hurt?  Who cares about that?

The other day, I was despairing at the state of my children’s bedrooms.  I’m not sure where the myth comes from about girls being tidier than boys, I can assure you it’s not true.  I finally resorted to a good, old fashioned bribery – a star chart!  The deal was, fill up your sticker chart for keeping your room tidy, and you earn £1 for your money box for completing the challenge.  My girls loved the idea of getting stickers, the money was just an added bonus, I was delighted that I wouldn’t need to nag them about tidying up.

I’d been explicitly clear about the rules.  Keep your bedroom and the back room tidy at the end of the day – you earn one star.  I would do my inspections at the end of each day.  Any mess – no stars.  A completed chart equals £1.

But my eldest’s mind was ticking over.  How could she earn more stars and more money?  So a barrage of questions began:

If we do something kind or nice can we get another sticker?

Yes.

Can we get a sticker if I help my sister tidy her room?

Maybe?

Instead of £1, can I get £1.50?

This was the last straw for my husband, ‘Can you stop asking questions, Mum’s told you the rules and that’s that!’

I totally understood his frustrations.  He just wanted a tidy house for a change.  He wanted the girls to help create a tidy house.

But later on, I spoke to him privately and said, that I was extremely pleased that our eldest was asking those questions.  I was delighted that she was trying to get herself a better deal.  Negotiating with me – how can I get more stars?  How can I get better pay?  These are the qualities that we need to nurture and foster in them now, so that in the real world, she isn’t hesitant or worried about how to ask for a pay rise, how to get the most of where she is – how to negotiate to get what she wants, even if it seems that the barriers are well defined.

I’m not saying that I want to live in a world where people have no manners, no form of etiquette, no sense of how to speak to others and how to treat people.  Definitely not.  What I’m saying is that I don’t want leadership, assertiveness, negotiation skills squashed out of our girls because it suits society for them to be little dollies who are there to simply please others.

Let’s not encourage children to be ‘seen and not heard’, to be invisible.  Let’s encourage them to be leaders, decision makers, negotiators, confident – surely our society can only benefit from this?

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Sunday nights…

If there’s one evening that is the worst of all – it’s Sunday evening.  It doesn’t matter how young or old you are.  Sunday evening remains that zone when you feel the blues – school or work tomorrow.  Funnily enough, a few years ago, I worked part time, but only the latter end of the week – Wednesday to Friday.  So my actual ‘Sunday evening’, was Tuesday evening – but it didn’t feel as bad.

Sunday evening is when all those anxieties creep back in – ‘Am I prepared for the week ahead?’ ‘Have I done everything that I need to do?’  If you’re in a particularly bad situation, then it’s ‘How the hell am I going to get through this week?’ And you find yourself wishing away the week, and hoping that the most precious evening of all (unless you’re in retail, of course),  Friday evening, can’t come soon enough.

So – instead of standing on the precipice of the immense dive-board that is Sunday night, and looking down precariously at the deep pool that denotes the week ahead – plan something to look forward to during the week, AND THEN DO IT.

Plan going to an exercise class, or go to the gym – honestly, when you’re feeling like this, exercise is the best form of relief.  For that half hour, 45 minutes, or hour – all you can concentrate on, is you.  Your breathing, your stamina, your physique.  You can’t think about anything else.  There is no negativity. All you can concentrate on is your breathing, pushing yourself to your limits, sweating and earning that treat that you’ve saved for yourself and now feel that you deserve.

Don’t cancel and think that you’re too busy to exercise.  Or it’s too hot.  Or you’re too tired.  You’re body and health – mental as well as physical – is of utmost importance.  For some reason, we all have that devil in us, that inner voice that tells us – don’t worry about exercise, you don’t need to do it; you don’t have the time; you need to relax; you’re way too tired….that’s the very voice that we need to drown out. That’s the voice that we need to stamp out and strangle, to within an inch of its life.

Listen, I’m no saint.  I’m not in peak physical condition by any stretch of the imagination.  The reason why I’m talking about that inner-voice is because I battle with it daily.  But I’ve fallen back in love with exercise again.  Selfishly, I’ve realised that the time I spend exercising, is the time purely dedicated to me.  Where I work on my goals and self-improvement for my life – not for anyone else.  It’s not about meeting targets, or making more profit, or making someone else money – it’s about being stronger and fitter than I was yesterday.  It’s about being tired and sweaty – but feeling satisfied.  It’s about being able to walk further, lift more, stand taller than I could yesterday.  And mentally – I can cope with more.

Even simply writing about this has made my Sunday night blues disappear.  I’m now thinking about the next exercise class that I’m going to go to, the next gym session that I will attend, about being faster, stronger, more determined to do better.

As always, my blogs are just my ramblings, a stream of consciousness that remind of what to do, if nothing else.  But I hope that I’ve made your Sunday night better, given you something else to focus on, and shifted your focus onto positive thoughts of self-development, instead of dread.

Must do better!

It’s report writing season for teachers at the moment.  A time where you dedicate hours and hours writing about the children that have become members of your family and have taken over your entire life.  I used to love writing the personal statements.  I loved writing about each and every child in my class, thinking about their little quirks, their achievements and how I wished them so very well for the next year.

Reports were not always like that though.  Particularly at secondary school.  Some of you may remember when you were graded either by a number or letter in each subjects, and the teacher would simply write a word or phrase next to each subject. ‘Excellent’; ‘Satisfactory’; ‘Good’…or ‘Must do better!’  It was ok though.  The grades and simple words or phrases told you all you needed to know.  Not like the epic writings of Tolstoy that the modern reports are.  In the old reports, everyone knew where they stood.

I’ve been thinking lots this morning though – why is it that only teachers are held accountable about the children that they teach?  Why are parents never accountable?  Why aren’t parents invited to termly reviews to assess how this parenting lark is going?  I am a parent myself – and just to put my hands up in advance, I absolutely hate the idea of this suggestion – but actually – would it make me think about how I parent my children more carefully?

I have two daughters, and as soon as they were born, a part of my brain also changed and an area called ‘FEAR’, grew to at least ten times its normal size.  Being a female, I’ve always been trained to be alert, fearful and slightly mistrusting – especially of men.  Hence, I never walk with headphones or earbuds in my ears; if I can, I avoid subways, short cuts, alleyways; I park in well-lit, busier areas.  I am so paranoid, I will never park next to a van if I can help it…just in case.

When my daughters were born, this necessity to protect and keep them safe became more important than protecting myself.  This is why I haven’t signed them up to dance or gymnastic classes – even though I know they would love that.  Instead, they do Martial Arts – which thank heavens they love too.  I want them to be tough, confident and assertive.

If I went to a parent review, I’d be talking about how I try to empower the girls by not only being proud of being strong, smart females, but also being proud of their Indian heritage.  So I read stories from India to them, and they delight in the rich mythology, the wisdom, the spirituality, the mysticism that these tales have to offer.

I’d bloody well expect at least a ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ grading.

But I’m a mother of girls.  And I want them to fiercely independent, strong, powerful women of the future.

On the flipside – what about men?

A friend of mine was telling about how her boyfriend dumped her because she insulted him and made him feel emasculated.  How has she insulted him and made him feel like less of a man?  She told his son to put his dishes in the kitchen when he had finished eating.  What???  There were other equally ridiculous examples of ‘insulting’ actions she had taken – which in the regular world, no one would bat an eyelid at.  But when your mother has brought you up as a prince, I suppose it would seem demeaning to do what is expected from others.

At the moment, in England, there is a huge uproar because there was a vote in the House of Commons about making the act of ‘upskirting’ (for those of you who don’t know, it’s taking pictures of someone’s underwear/genitals, without their knowledge/consent), illegal.  A no brainer right?  Surely every decent human being on this planet would find this act abhorrent?  Yes?  But one man objected and voted no.  So the process of making ‘upskirting’ illegal has been delayed.   I will tell you that upskirting is illegal in Scotland.  Huge round of applause for Scotland.  But let’s not forget – MEN wear kilts in Scotland….

This week in Australia, a young female comedian was found dead in the night.  This prompted the police to remind women of keeping safe!  The anger and rage that this statement produced was incredible.  Why does no one ever remind murderers and rapist men to behave?  Why is the onus always on the women?

I read somewhere about a curfew to keep women and girls safe, was presented to Golda Meir, first female Israeli Prime Minister.  She thought it was a great idea to place a curfew on men in order to keep women and girls safe at night.  Needless to say, that curfew idea was dropped faster than a hot potato baked in the ovens of hell.

The baton is always passed back to women.  Keep yourselves safe.  Don’t wear provocative clothes.  Be careful of how you sit.  Make sure you do this, this, that and the other….Where are the rules for men?  Where are the sanctions for men?

I have seen so many women and men, in so many cultures around the world, celebrate the birth of sons, with more pomp and ceremony than is ever given to the birth of a daughter.  How the mother of sons’ status is regarded higher than the mother of daughters.  Well then these parents have to be accountable, and society has to be accountable for the actions of these sons.  If I was to hold a review for the parents of sons, I would ask – does your son put his, and everybody else’s dishes away after eating?  Does he make his own bed?  Does he know how to cook?  Can he do the laundry?  Does he show respect to women that are not related to him?

No??? Then you all MUST DO BETTER!

I, and mothers like me will continue to bring up strong, powerful daughters who will rule this world.  Parents of sons need to question how they are bringing up their sons – if he’s a delicate prince, he’s no good to man nor beast.  We as a society need to think about how sons are brought up – the message that I leave you with, is that we must do better!!!!

All you need is love.

It’s the start of summer and we’ve been lucky.  May was beautiful.  Warm.  Not much rain.  Threats of terrible thunderstorms that haven’t yet transpired.  It’s been wonderful.  It was also my birthday.  I was supposed to be a June baby.  June 6th was my due date.  ‘Stuff that!’ I must have thought to myself in the womb, ‘Whitsun week and bank holiday Monday is where it’s at!’  So I arrived early, timed it perfectly, which means that only on one occasion in my life have I spent my birthday at work.

My birthday was wonderful.  Spending time being spoilt by loved ones.  Marvelling constantly at how my actual age does not match how old I think I am inside my head.  Am I really that many years old?  How did that happen?  Having young children helps too.  Being around little ones keeps you youthful.  You see life from their point of view, you see what makes them squeal with delight, you see what makes their hearts break, and you remember going through those things when you were young, and being there for them, takes years off you.

When I woke up this morning, I was relieved.  I’d just had a terrible, vivid nightmare where I was protecting my children from a monstrous man; the rage, the anger, the fear – all too real.  The comfort of the noises of the girls playing downstairs, already awake and ready to start the weekend, reassured me, I had woken up, the nightmare was just that – nothing more.

Walking around the house, whilst brushing my teeth, having breakfast, putting clothes outside on the washing line to dry, a song was going around and around in my head.  ‘All you need is love – dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, – All you need is love – dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, – All you need is love, love; love is all you need!’  Even as I write, the song is still going round my head, stuck, unwilling to give me some sort of a reprieve.

It’s not that I don’t like the song; I most definitely do.  It’s the simplicity of the song that I both love and also find irksome.  How can it be?  All you need is love.  But I’ve been thinking about this all day.  And I’ve been debating – is that do you need love?  Or do you need to give love?  If love is all you need, then why do people who are loved, still slip away?

What do I mean by slip away?  Well, this week in the news, there have been two cases of high profile people, who have sadly committed suicide.  What people have said about them, have brought me to tears.  So many lovely, touching words.  So many people describing what an effect and impact those people had had on other people’s lives.  And I wished, I just wished, that those people could have read or known how important they were to others.  How valued they were.  If they could have just talked to someone about what they were struggling with.  Perhaps; just perhaps – suicide might not have been the answer.

Whilst briefly reading about these people, what struck me was that they appeared, to the general public, to be so successful!  Talented, wealthy, famous, popular.  And yet….  They weren’t immune from the incredible, desperate sadness that drove them to the decision that they simply could not go on anymore.

Everyone’s life seems so glossy like a shiny brand new magazine, doesn’t it?  Particularly on social media, where people filter, edit and crop out the parts that they don’t want people to know and see, and present the aspects that are palatable.  But my advice is, don’t assume that your friends and family, who post their beautiful profile pictures, who celebrate successes on social media – are OK.  Don’t assume that anyone you love and care about are ok.  Check in on people.

Make the time, make the time – make the time – to make real contact with people, meet them, see them, make sure all is ok with them.  Forget texting.  Texting doesn’t have a shaky voice; lines under the eyes; tone of voice that betrays how someone is really feeling.  Meet people.  Hug your loved one.  Scientists have claimed that hugging releases serotonin into people’s bodies.  So meet, hug, talk, laugh, care.

I know it’s not that simple – love is all you need – life isn’t that simple.  We don’t have the time to care, we don’t have the time for anything.  But we need to make time.  Because once those loved ones are gone – that shit is permanent, and no heartfelt tributes are going to bring them back.  So reach out.

And finally – you.  Yes, you.  Talk to someone that you love and trust.  Go to a GP.  The medical profession contains angels.  They will help you.

Everything in life is temporary.  This desperate sadness that you might be feeling – it doesn’t have to last forever.  Your troubles won’t last forever.  Please reach out.  Talk to someone.  You have no idea how important you are.

Chasing dreams

So when does ribbing and making fun of people in jest, turn into you being a hindrance and a god damned destroyer of dreams?

In the past, a prerequisite for being famous was that you had to be truly talented at something.  Be that singing, or acting, sports or art – you had to be good – only then would you reap riches and rewards.  Nowadays, anyone, who has the personality that can withstand positive or negative attention, who is willing to stoop to any depths, travel to any lengths – can be famous.

In programmes such as X-Factor and whichever country you belong to – Has Talent – the audition stages are full of talentless people, who simply want their 5 seconds of fame, and humiliate themselves on television for the sake of entertainment of others.  What astonishes me is the bravado of these people!  If I know that I am rubbish at something, for example singing, (a skill which I desperately wish I had), then you can bet your last penny that I would never go onto television to sing in front of industry experts.  I simply wouldn’t be able to bear it.

Another reason for not wanting to risk that humiliation, is that when I was younger, even if I had delusions of being a good singer, those dreams were soon torn apart by others that heard me.  I was under no false impressions about my singing abilities.

But the question remains – when is criticism constructive and helpful…and when is actually quite debilitating?  The problem is, that once people get into the habit of making fun of people, and pulling them down – when do these people stop?  What if that particular habit means that they crush the other person so much, that they never try and make any of their dreams come true?  Where is the fine line between being realistic, and actually sucking the enjoyment out of everything and crushing dreams?

Which dreams do we tend to crush?  It’s the path that may not lead to financial stability.  Primarily – sports and arts.  How many children want to be footballers?  As adults we know that many won’t make it – do we crush or nurture?  Is explaining the reality how many people don’t make it to the top, crushing – or being realistic? Dancing, singing, artistry?  These are the dreams that we try to squash aren’t they?  I’ve not known many people to say, I want to grow up and work in an office – and if they did, would that be stamped out of them? I think not.

I remember when I was 17 years old, I really wanted to study journalism at university.  I wanted to write, being a writer was my dream.  Like a candle, that particular dream was snuffed out by people who were well-meaning at the time – but that dream simply never went away.  It has refused to disappear.  Which is why I blog.  I’m lucky that there is an outlet for me, that is allowing my dream to come true, even though it’s on a very small scale.

As I type, I look at my daughters, and hope that I never stop them from doing anything that they want or need to do in this life.  Hopefully, I will give them good advice, and be able to help them to assess the pros and cons of choices that they make.  Perhaps this world would be a happier place, if we let more people simply chase their dreams?

 

Unpredictable

On my wedding day, an uncle of mine made a speech.  He spoke about how at times, I could be so impulsive and unpredictable, that my actions would take people by surprise.  I remember sitting there with a fixed smile painted on my face, but internally I was raising my eyebrows thinking, ‘Really?  That doesn’t sound like me!’

But the older I’m getting, I’m realising that he was correct.  That is how I am.

Faith.  Instinct.  Courage.  Confidence.  Self respect.

These are the 5 pillars that I live by.  Self-respect was a gift given to me by my mum.  Knowing my own self-worth.  Popularity was never an attribute that I thought was important or sought after. There is no point in having many, many people in your life if knowing them still makes you feel lonely.  Better to be alone, than lonely in a crowd.  So, that’s how I am.  If people are not respectful, or, just not my ‘type’, or being around them makes me feel uneasy, I don’t want to know them.  I’m not interested in keeping toxic beings around me.

Courage.  Life gave me that gift.  There have been plenty of times in my life, when I’ve been scared, worried, unsure.  But you carry on, and see things through, regardless.  When I made the decision to move to London, it was one of the most frightening things that I had ever done.  At first, London was the most horrendous place, filled with people full of their own self-importance – no time for new people who didn’t appear to belong.  So many times, I wanted to turn my tail and run back home to be in the shelter of my family, safe and secure.  I didn’t though.  Thank God, I didn’t.  Because the challenge of being in that huge city, and making a mark of my own, new friends, new experiences – that growth – I wouldn’t have had, living safe and sound at home.

Confidence.  I suppose that this is linked to self-belief.  Throughout life, I’ve met many human dementors.  JK Rowling wrote about dementors in the Harry Potter series.  These beings, suck the happiness, joy, the very soul out of people – leaving them as shells of who they once were.  I’ve met these people – and emerged victorious.  No, I haven’t ever been able to do anything heroic and defeat them somehow.  But the very fact that they tried to do to me, what they had done to others – and failed…I feel quite victorious, and this gives me the confidence to know that I will always be ok.

Instinct.  What hasn’t been written about instincts?  I haven’t ever read or heard anything in my life, where somebody followed their instincts and failed terribly or a disaster of some sort struck.  Interestingly, a few months ago, I was teaching a group of children about how to stay safe online.  A part of the lesson involved showing them a really brilliant animation about how people you might talk to online, might not be who they say they are.  It was a video warning children about online predators, without scaring them half to death.  What really impressed me about this video, was that it told the children to rely on their instincts – even though it didn’t use those words.  The characters on the video explained, that if you felt that you were getting butterflies in your tummy, and you felt that something was wrong – listen to that feeling!  Tell a grown up that you trust, what you’re worried about.  Gut instinct.  Never wrong.

Faith.  My faith in God is what has helped during the most bleakest sections of my life.  When we had nothing else, we had faith in God.  Believing in something that you cannot see and cannot prove their existence does not sit well with some – and I respect that.  Live a good life, treat people with kindness and respect  – you don’t have to believe in God to do those things.  But faith is what helped – and continues to help me and give me strength when I need it the most.  Going through the extremely tough parts of life, made me appreciate all the incredible blessings that I have – and the understanding that life isn’t linear.  There might be ups and there might be downs – faith in God just makes the ‘downs’ a tiny bit easier to bear.

So based on those 5 pillars, I made some life choices recently.  If you do what you have always done, you will always yield the same results – so then when you want a change, you have to be brave and do things that are different.  Change is scary and can be quite frightening – but if you don’t change – things will never have the opportunity to get better.  And every time I make a change that orthodox people might view as risky – I think about my Uncle and think – ‘you were right.’  What were the changes that I made?   Quite frankly, who cares?  But the point is, I was brave enough, had faith enough and felt that those changes were the right things to do.  And that’s what matters.

My mum always told us when we were little, study.  Make you sure you study and become educated.  People with money can be robbed – a thief in the night can come and take all your wealth away – but knowledge – that can never be stolen.

I want to add too my mother’s wise words – develop these things too: faith; instinct; courage; confidence and self respect. Trust me – no one will ever be able to steal those from you either. 

They may try.  But they won’t be able to.  

Count your rainbows…

Sometimes things happen in life that you just never want to forget.  In my blog, I often write about things that have happened  in my life.  Normally, it’s about overcoming adversity, or giving examples of events that happened in my life that helped to shape who I have become.  Most of the time, the events that were by and large, negative when they happened, and through hindsight I am able to see, how much stronger they made me as a person.

Today’s blog is going to be a celebration of the sheer joy that I have also experienced over the past few years.  I don’t ever read my blogs back once I’ve written them.  Once they’re written, they’re written – and I sincerely hope that when I write again, it’s not an endless regurgitation of what’s been said before.  What I hope, is that in 50 years time, I might be able to read my blogs back and remind myself of events that I may have forgotten…reminisce and smile – life wasn’t always about learning tough lessons.  Sometimes, being alive was just about living in the moment, enjoying the ride and appreciating everything that you have.

Before I’d met my husband, there were several things that I had never experienced before.  For example, I’d never been to a music concert before; I’d never seen a stand-up comic live before; I’d never stayed in apartments overlooking the sea; I’d never been brave enough to write and think that other people would even consider reading anything that I had to say.

But then I met him, and everything changed.

I can now see that it’s not easy being with someone who is guarded, mistrustful of people’s intentions, fiercely independent, frightened of being hurt – so pushes people away.  Someone who always had a protective force field around them at all times.  Obviously, that was me.  Not having experienced the goodness and kindness of people whilst growing up, there was no reason for me to believe that people were good and kind, now that I had become an adult.  People had to prove their worth to me before my shields would be lowered.

When I first met my husband, there was an aura about him that allowed me to instantly trust him.  He was what he was.  Open.  Not-judgemental.  A good listener.  Good at putting people at their ease.  Genuine kindness.

It was so refreshing to meet someone like that.  As we got to know each other more and more, all he ever wanted to do, was make me happy.  Appreciating what I had been through earlier on in my life, he simply wanted me leave things to him, and relax.  Everything was going to be alright.

For years, a bit like Gollum/Smeagal from Lord of the Rings, I struggled internally, like a yo-yo, bouncing between – I can’t rely on anyone apart from myself – people always let you down, what if you lose your identity and forget what you have achieved and how far you have come?  To thinking – surely, if I rely on him a little bit, it will be ok?

Slowly, but surely, he did his best to make every small dream of mine, come true.  Holidays; concerts; shows – they are the massive things.  But on a daily basis, the little things that he does – the things are not grand gestures, that no one will see, but I do – that makes life easier for me…I will never forget.

I will always be grateful – is that the right word – I’m not sure…but I will use for now.  I will always be grateful that he took the time and had the patience, for my shields to be lowered.  It was easy to love him.  He was happy, and joyful and saw what was good in life.  I’m not sure that I was always easy to be with.  Together though, we have both grown.

There is always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  And if you don’t have the rain, along with the sun – then a rainbow isn’t possible in the first place.

You know that you can get through the rubbish that life sometimes throws at you.  Savour the delightful gifts that life brings you too – hold onto these moments with both hands – remember how those incredible moments felt.  Because when things get trickier again, like they inevitably do – you know what happiness felt like – it will return to you sooner, rather than later.

Count your rainbows…not your thunderstorms….