Writing as resistance and why I love to blog

They do best falling from my brain right into the ink in my pen.

I was about 10 when I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a journalist. It was my destiny. I’d grow up and get paid to write for people. And I’d write books too. Lots of them. So simple. Oh, to be 10 again! As it turned out life wasn’t the smooth path to professional writing that I’d anticipated. Somewhere along the line I lost track of who I was and by the time I needed to make those all important decisions about subjects, exams, and university, my earlier career aspirations seemed painfully unrealistic.

There were a couple of reasons why my plans for international journalistic success *snort* were scuppered. I had a breakdown that spanned my A Levels; I didn’t realise this at the time, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I understand now that the panic attacks and hiding away to cry in the toilets most days weren’t just teenage angst. In being forced to convert to a very strict form of Islam I’d had my identity stripped from me, and I felt like I was suffocating. As well as this I only had a small parameter of choice with regards to subjects – Islam (of course), teaching and medicine were viewed as acceptable options by those pulling the strings in my life, but most other subjects were seen as a dangerous distraction from god. This made the year or so before going to university an emotionally fraught time. I was frightened someone would put their foot down at the last minute and forbid me from going and I knew it was my one opportunity to escape the religious control. So I did what I had to do, I manipulated my patriarchy by studying for a degree I wouldn’t have chosen had I the freedom to make choices. It was a necessary inconvenience to achieve the autonomy I so desperately needed. I did a degree in Islamic Studies, Arabic and English Literature (although I gave up the Arabic in my third year) and then a diploma in International Relations.

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I loved the English and a lot of the political and sociological modules, but the rest I found arduous. If I’d had the clarity and the freedom I would have done gender studies and journalism, or something along that vein. Writing has always given me a giddy high, and analysing gender inequalities was my coping mechanism during the years of religious misogyny. 12 years on from graduating and I’m more passionate than ever about feminism and writing, and I still harbour the rather whimsical dream of being a writer when I ‘grow up’. But at 33, with a career and two young children, I’m bound by responsibilities that make my dream a little impractical. So I blog. It kills 2 birds with one stone – it sates my burning desire to write, if only temporarily, and it allows me to learn more about feminism.

Blogging has triggered so many epiphany moments. Since I started tapping away on WordPress I’ve realised I have a voice, that I’m entitled to feel anger and that it can be a constructive emotion, that I’m not as hopelessly dim as I thought I was, and that women like me can make a difference. My experiences mean I connect with certain feminist concerns, like ‘honour’ crime and religious patriarchy, more than others. But I realise that my experience is only one in a sea of inequality suffered by women, and the beauty of blogging is how much it teaches me about others. There are so many inspiring people online (women like GlosswitchSarah DitumJasvinder SangheraRaquel SaraswatiMaha, Huma and Mona Eltahawy) who’ve opened my eyes to sexism and the potential for emancipation, and after years of questioning my own worth and the legitimacy of my pain, their words validate my anger and encourage me to believe that I can bring about change.

I hope that one day I’ll get the opportunity to write ‘properly’. I turn a bit green with envy each time I’m on Twitter – I’m pretty sure 75% of the people I follow have either written for newspapers or had a book published – but I’m also inspired and motivated by the success of other women. I have a book burning away in my mind that I’m desperate to write, but it’s only since I’ve had an online presence that I’ve felt I could make it happen. After speaking to a publisher at Britmums Live this year I’m more ready than ever to start writing about my past – the forced conversion, the religious misogyny, the disownment, and the piecing together of my new identity. It’s a story that needs to be told. It hurt me so much, but now I’m free, and I’ll be freer still when my words fill up those pages and can encourage some other poor soul who feels as trapped and hopeless as I did. But until the book really starts to come together I’ll continue to blog, because every time I write a post like this I feel like I’m chipping away at the patriarchy that took away my agency and manipulated my choices. These words are my feminist resistance.

Maya Angelou by Katie Rodgers

Summer learning with Little E & the thorny issue of starting school

The summer holidays are a wonderful thing. As a working mum and a teacher I yearn for them. I love the idea of being with my boys all day for more than just a weekend. And my very British optimism/denial about summer weather keeps me going during the months of cold greyness when I’m working until the wee hours and missing my children.

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^^ Quality time with my boys this summer ^^

Each summer since having the boys has been different because their interests and needs change. My first summer as a mum was so easy. I didn’t realise it then but having one child was – in terms of time – a luxury. I had the time to enjoy E, to think about him, to parent him gently and mindfully. And I didn’t really need to plan. We drifted through each day at our own pace – popping to the shops, having a picnic, going to the park, feeding the ducks, meeting other mums and children for play dates. But this summer I’ve a 3 and a half year old and a toddler to cater for and it’s quite the challenge keeping both of them happy and engaged.

Screentime

Like a lot of 3 and a half year old’s E’s drawn to anything with a screen – the tv, our phones, the tablet. He knows a screen has the potential to be the source of tv and gaming goodness, and he’s obsessed. It doesn’t help that he can work pretty much every electronic gadget in our house single-handedly, so he can turn on Pokoyo or Peppa Pig and play Angry Birds or Dipdap, without my input. If I left him to it he’d happily watch tv for hours, and while I’m not immune to the benefits of using Peppa as an occasional babysitter, if E watches TV for any longer than 30  minutes he turns into a gremlin. It’s quite an interesting transformation – he starts watching TV with a normal complexion, a smile on his face and life in his eyes, and then 45 minutes later he’s a pale, floppy, obstinate shadow of himself. Suffice it to say I’ve spent a lot of time this summer trying to convince E that we don’t need to turn the tv on. It’s actually been pretty successful – I find that if I just refuse point blank at the beginning of the day, he soon stops huffing around the house and finds something to play with.

Preparing E for school

As well as minimising screen time I’ve been keen to encourage E’s learning this summer. I’m of the opinion that learning through play is best for children his age and as school starts so early in the UK I’ve had no desire to encourage formal, sit down learning. However, I’ve noticed a few things that make me think he might be ready for more discrete learning time: he’s a lot more keen on structured play than he was last summer, he gets quite frustrated and silly if I leave him undirected for extended periods of time, and he thrives on one on one time when J and I teach him things and talk through experiences. Also he starts school in 2015 *eek* so there is a part of me thinking I should probably start easing him very (very) gently into the culture of school.

The problem with education

Now…I’m already walking a fine line in terms of the school ‘issue’. I do not want to be that pushy mum who is so concerned with results and potential that I end up putting my child off education before he even starts. What I do want to do is encourage a love of learning. As the mother of 2 boys I know my children are likely to face challenges within the education system that their female counterparts wont. Statistically boys don’t fare as well in exams as girls. There are a whole host of reasons for this (and it’s taking all my willpower not to turn this into a sociological analysis of gender and the British education system!) and one of the biggest, in my opinion, is that boys are more likely to struggle with reading and writing. Something I’ve a keen (read: obsessive) interest in is the theory that reading and writing are feminised within our culture, so boys end up feeling emasculated for demonstrating a love or an aptitude for these activities (daddies: read those bedtime stories to your boys, you are their number one male role model. Foster a love of language and reading. It will make all the difference come school age). Another reason boys can struggle with education is because schools aren’t too good at catering for their learning styles and concentration spans. Boys don’t do as well as girls at sitting still and listening/writing for extended periods of time. They often need to talk and move in order to process information, but our classrooms don’t allow that kind of freedom and so male students are often perceived as difficult, distracting and troublesome.

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^^ Kid loves reading. So far ^^

I have other concerns about school, in particular the strong (read: oppressive) culture of assessment, and of valuing traditional (read: archaic) academic ‘success’ above all else. I love education and I love teaching but education as an institution is something I’m not so in love with. I think it can quash creativity (take a look at this, seriously, do it), self esteem, individuality and innovation - characteristics I associate with both success and with healthy 2, 3 and 4 year olds. I don’t want my dynamic, confident, happy little boy to be squished into a box with a number and label that dictates his life. But I’m a realist (or at least I’m trying to be), so I understand that E will have to go to school and that my role as his mother is to try and support him and his teacher in making that experience as fulfilling and positive as possible.

In an ideal world I’d send my boys to a school with a Steiner/Montessori* approach for their primary education – in my mind these schools emphasise the interrelatedness of subjects and encourage super important non-linear, and abstract thought, they promote collaboration rather than individualisation, they nurture relationships based on mutual respect rather than outdated systems of hierarchy based on chronological age, and they value the child’s natural interest in processes, instead of obsessing over ’results’ and arbitrary targets. Failing that, in my ideal world, I’d home-school E. Alas, we can’t afford Steiner (plus I’m not 100% cool with some of their philosophy) and I would literally go mad if I had to stay at home all day (sorry, E, selfish mum alert).

So, as you can see I’ve a ‘few’ (and there are more, oh there are more!) niggling concerns about our schools. However, I believe it’s my job to try and counteract the challenges my children might face within our education system with as much love and encouragement as possible. So, this summer in a bid to minimise the lure of the tv and to try and nurture a love of learning (because that’s what I hope my boys achieve more than anything: a love of learning and a resilient self-belief that they can achieve anything they put their minds to), I’ve been working on something new with E. It’s a computer programme called Reading Eggs. It incorporates E’s beloved screen time but in an educational, mummy-son time sort of way.

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Reading Eggs

Reading Eggs is an interactive online program for children ages 4-8. Its 120 lessons are designed to teach children how to read or to build on existing reading skills, and it’s centred around five pillars of reading instruction – phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The programme is a great starting point for children who have limited to no reading skills, but it can also be a really useful resource to compliment what a child learns at school. With interactive animations, songs, games and rewards, it’s an exiting little world for children within which they can learn at their own pace.

We were sent the Reading Eggs Mega Book Pack, and we were so impressed. The name is quite the giveaway – with 80 reading books, 400 stickers, 8 mini posters, 8 activity books and 2 packs of flashcards, it’s most definitely “mega”. Little E was excited from the word go, not only did he love the idea of being able to work through his own special game on my laptop, but he was thrilled by the prospect of important mummy and E time. He’s is super-keen to ‘play’ Reading Eggs whenever we get a free minute, so I’m excited to see how he gets on with the programme over the next couple of weeks. I’ll be watching with interest as he works through the lessons and games, and I’ll write back soon with my thoughts. Watch this space…

We were sent Reading Eggs for review purposes but, as always, I will be giving you my honest opinion.

* If you’re interested in Montessori education there are a lot of books out there, but for an instant fix take a look at the Montessori at home link on Abigail’s blog. She’s a fantastic blogger who writes about Montessori in a really accessible way. Oh, and her photographs are beautiful.

This is how we do it

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This is us.

We’re a messy bunch. We don’t do picture perfect. We’re not Instagram-ready.

The big one is loud, and all arms and legs, and hands that want to squish your face hard because HE LOVES YOU SO MUCH.

The small one talks and talks and when everything in his world has a label he shoves it in his mouth for a chew. He whizzes about between your legs like an inebriated kitten.

I’m the one shrinking as they grow. I no longer have the time or money to make things pretty, so my clothes and my house are a bit grey and sticky. My eyebrows are sky high with bewilderment, or with ‘teacher’ face as chaos unfolds, or because I’m trying to stifle laughing at their impishness. My hair is piled into the sort of lopsided bun that has given up on life. But none of that matters, because my arms are full of hugs, and my heart is fit to bursting from loving these gorgeous grubs.

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