I set out to write something about keeping going through the dreary and seemingly endless days of a wet British winter. I started on one such day, and forty eight hours later am finishing it while sitting under a cloudless blue sky, listening to a chorus of birds with the warmth of a pale winter sun on my cheeks. I love the fact that each season here rolls predictably into the next; maybe a reminder that the seasons in our lives, too, will move on.
Winter days when the skies are grey, there is more than our fair share of rainfall and the evenings draw in early can be a challenge for any parent, and certainly for those with children at home every day.
We recently read about the Antarctic expedition led by Shackleton. Their boat, the Endurance, became frozen into the sea ice, and consequently they had to spend the winter on board ship. I was interested to discover that two of his tactics for supporting his men through such a huge challenge were keeping up a daily routine, and finding ways to celebrate life and punctuate the long, dark days with exercise and fun. These have become my top two strategies, too, though I can’t compare a grey British winter to the immense ordeal of an Antarctic one!
When the boys were young we walked every day, whatever the weather, donning their all in one waterproof suits and wellies. I got to know the local dog owners well, as it was only walkers of dogs or small boys who were out so consistently! We did also play games, do puzzles and of course read lots of stories, but with the amount of time spent outside they were well exercised and happy to invent and explore for themselves, creating amazing constructions out of Lego, train sets, knex etc.
It’s harder to get the girls out, though we do most days. However, our walks are not as long and there’s only one a day! That leaves room for plenty of indoor creativity. We tend to do our basic work in the mornings, and then afternoons are for play, crafting, going out, seeing friends. I’ve found in these days when we get out less, it helps to bring some changes into our normal rhythm. The other day we had fun turning our kitchen into a chemistry lab for the morning, delving into the boys’ left over GCSE chemicals…!
It can be a struggle to keep the routine going when I’m tired, and grey skies do little to help. Going outdoors and walking really is an antidote to even the toughest of days. It requires an input of energy to get small children and babies out in poor weather, but for us it’s always been worth the effort.
The other fix to a tetchy day is to get a story book out and start reading. I then know I’m pouring something good into my kids, and it requires minimal energy. Now Dancing Toes is older I feel duty bound get down to some of her normal learning each day. However, I think it’s helpful to remember that their education takes place over years, and if there are a few weeks when it’s hard to keep up the rhythm, there will be others when the skies are blue, we are less tired and we can fly.
Tiredness is something I have ignored for so many years; expecting myself to keep going regardless. However, we can’t give out on an empty tank, and sometimes a mental health day for Mum, or a “Soul restoring day” is worth its weight in gold. I’m having one right now, as I sit in a beautiful garden much loved by all of us. My perceived pressure of academic work as the children have got older has meant less days when we drop everything and play. However, I did this lots when the boys were little; it doesn’t seem to have impacted their academic learning at all, we have so many wonderful memories and they have a natural enthusiasm for learning and curiosity in the world. I’m sure that is prayer and God’s grace, but also wonder if an unpressurised childhood with an abundance of everyday adventures has contributed.
It’s also fun to find something to celebrate in the low weeks after Christmas. We sometimes have a Burns night (Scottish celebration of poet Robert Burns) complete with haggis, neeps and tatties, addressing said haggis, and Scottish dancing (HWH is pretty good at this!). We’ve had friends round, made “hot chocolate mountains”, and had a trip to see a home ed performance of a “Horrible Histories” show which coincided with the period we are studying.
And we timetabled in a family outing to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Centre, which as usual was both calming and inspiring to my soul.
On a nature walk yesterday we found buds as well as catkins on the trees, and there are an abundance of spring bulbs, glowing gloriously in the sunshine. As I take deep breaths into my lungs, it feels like there is more than a hint of spring in the air.