Ha ha, you’re poor!

A good while ago my youngest forgot his house key when he went to school, and had to wait a while at our door for one of us to come home and unlock. Our house is right beside his school so the kids leaving for home were streaming past. When a fellow student saw him there, he asked Nic whether this was his home. When my fella confirmed that yes, it was, the fellow student replied: “Ha ha, you’re poor!”

Nic didn’t tell me about it straight away. He’s like me, needs time to digest stuff that happened before he can decide how to feel. As it was, he wasn’t upset, it was just… weird. What did I think?

Well, I’m afraid it’s true, our house looks shabby. The window frames, sills and electricity box all need painting, it’s single panes rather than double glazing, and a few other signs point to the conclusion that we’re not exactly the Gates family. However, as I explained to Nic, the child’s statement was confusing, it needed clarification. What is poor?

Because while with me being a student we are indeed not rolling in money, our bicycles and cycling equipment are collectively probably worth more than a lot of people’s cars. Micky has top notch climbing equipment, a number of good quality hiking rucsacks, a good quality family tent, and a good quality two-man tent. We could have chosen to spend that money on the appearance of our house instead, but we didn’t. So are we poor compared to someone else in a fine-looking house who doesn’t own these things?

Is rich or poor what your bank balance is? We choose to remain as debt-free as possible. So another family, who chose to borrow money so as to make their house look fantastic, are they rich compared to us? Is it okay if there’s a minus in front of that bank balance, as long as it’s a lot of numbers?

Poor doesn’t even clarify whether we’re talking about money. You can have a poor life, and I most certainly don’t think we have had a poor life. Micky and I have had amazing experiences, have seen sights and sounds in our love of outdoor pursuits which most people never will. I have cycled along a quiet road with cows galloping beside me on their side of the fence. I’ve eaten a sandwich with about twenty of them staring at me (why is it that when I try to think of my most awesome cycling experiences cows come to mind?). Micky has glided up rock faces and stood on mountaintops, swum in clear lakes and seen the world from a place you can only reach through near heartbreaking effort and the sweet elation of attaining your goal. The kids are getting ever closer to having the freedom to travel as Micky and I have been privileged to do. Jonathan is about to visit South Africa, Lara has been to Ranafast twice. Is that poor?

Poor can also refer to ability. We are all above average intelligence, the children instilled with understanding that this alone will not get you places. They work hard and that hard work yields great results. This is a privilege, because there are other kids who work as hard or harder but don’t get the same yield. We are rich, blessed, privileged for the genetic lottery that has instilled in us this brain power.

We are rich in love and happiness. I am humbly grateful for a wonderful relationship with each of the children, free so far of most of the stereotypical strife between parent and teen. Is that poor?

So we had this really wonderful, thoughtful discussion of what precisely poor is, what it means, and I ended it with: “Anyway, Nic, you may be poor, but at least you’re not an arsehole.”

I think we handled the whole thing well.

On the good ship Your Life

Raising kids is like training someone to captain a very big boat. There’s a lot of theory to learn, as well as a lot of practical skills to master.

If you give the trainee too much control too soon, the experience will be terrifying. Insecurity abounds, manifesting in various ways depending on the personality of the trainee. At the same time you have to start letting the trainee participate in the steering of the ship in very small ways. My dad, a fount of wisdom who in addition to his dad experience also happens to hold a PhD in Education, always said to me when my own were small: no long explanations, you lose the kid after a few words. No abundance of choices, two or three at the most: too many choices make even adults unhappy. Above all, the child must know that they know that they know that you are in control. If you feel in your heart that ultimately you are not in control, they will know it, they’ll feel it, and this will not lead to a happy home.

Next the trainee must be given more and more responsibility and control as they become ready for it. Withholding control of the good ship from its rightful captain when the captain is ready for it, will result in mutiny. Understanding and communication is so vital in this stage. The rule is extremely simple and must be applied consistently: show responsibility and you’ll earn trust, the currency of freedom. This rule works both ways: the trainee must understand that to earn freedom, they must first earn trust. Trust is hard work to gather, and even harder work to regain if it is lost. The trainer at the same time must understand that they, too, earn trust, and are able to lose it. The trainee must be able to trust you to let go when they are able to take over.

Finally, while in the early years a child’s life and choices must be controlled, this control must be seen as a necessary but temporary arrangement. You must always understand that this is not your life. The control in the early years is crucial, it must be firm but flexible (and certainly not too flexible), but it is equally crucial that this control relaxes and disappears as soon as possible. Like training wheels on a bicycle, it must be there for the child’s own wellbeing at first, but it will become a liability if left on the bicycle when it is no longer needed. Once the trainee can steer the ship, the trainer becomes an advisor, who can caution, who can counsel, but who must never take control of the wheel again. Even if the captain chooses to steer the ship into waters you know will be disastrous, you may not wrest the wheel from their hands and try to steer the ship where you think it should go. The captain will never, never simply give the wheel to you, they will always fight for control, resulting in a mess of a course.

Much better to let them know you have no desire to touch the wheel, to earn that trust we spoke of so they’ll listen to your advice and value your guidance. The whole parenting relationship is, in fact, a balancing act of trust between the parent and the child, when you dig to the foundation. And if you look at the bedrock that trust rests on, you’ll find it is called respect.

Dungarees: I has them!

If you’re looking for directions on how to draw a dungarees pattern and sew your own, go here.

Back in South Africa, I lived my life in denim dungarees.  I had long ones for winter, and short ones for summer.  I wore them so regularly that I remember how weird it would feel to have pressure on my waist when I wore normal trousers.  Dungarees are obviously held up by the shoulder straps, and I wore them so much that anything else was strange.

They were too heavy to pack for Ireland, so I gave them all away.  “New country,” I thought, “new dress style.”  That was five years ago, and I’ve been struggling with clothes ever since.

Nothing felt right.  I kept buying this, and trying that, and not feeling really comfortable and natural in anything.  Recently I’ve started wearing the odd skirt and a few dresses again.  Yes, it’s been nice, it feels feminine and flirty to don a shortish skirt and stockings.  However, it still felt as if I was wearing someone else’s clothes.

I realised at a stage that I missed my dungarees, realised what a big mistake I’d made to leave them behind.  I started looking for dungarees here, but no luck.  I could have ordered them online, but with me sometimes wearing a 12, sometimes a 14, I was wary of doing so.  The other thing is that I believe fashion has veered toward tighter fitting clothes.  Even if I checked exact measurements for hips, chest etc. and ordered accordingly, my idea of a comfortable fit might be nothing like someone else’s.

Yesterday, all my problems were solved.  I got a sewing machine.  His name is Harold, and he’s gay*.

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