I have found putting into words my reflections of this summer remarkably hard. I think because on one hand it has been one of the best summers in terms of sheer solid learning, fun and relationships, but on the other hand it has held some rather difficult to digest learning about myself. I shall start with the positive:
- The Laughs
We have seriously never laughed so much in such a concentrated space of time. This has, without a doubt, been the ‘funnest’ summer we have ever had. Ever. As I look back at the photos I have posted over the past four weeks, they make me smile from the bottom of my happy heart:
So much happiness all squeezed into four weeks….
I spent the summer as a privileged onlooker to five children who became more authentically themselves as the days went by. My son, in particular, is fairly shy and not one who likes the limelight at all, yet I watched as he became very comfortable taking on the persona of all the characters. He drew the line at wearing a skirt or dress but was happy to take the part of a woman on occasion. He had asked to be excused from the whole summer because he honestly thought he would struggle to enjoy it. I was gratified to see him thoroughly enjoying himself. During the interval of the performance night, whilst he rushed to get changed for the next act, he exclaimed ‘Mummy, this is sooooo much fun. I am loving this!’
Of course B13 was hilarious with his dress, tights and skirt antics:
I am certain his lack of self-consciousness helped T lose his. As time went by B proved his worth an actor time and time again. I seriously think he should be on stage. He is a natural entertainer and a natural actor.
And the three girls I could see gaining confidence as the days passed. This was really good for everyone, and we definitely picked the right age to do it at.
- Sheer Academic Learning
We learnt loads, although I don’t think we realised just how much until the presentation and performance of Act 3 (this was the only act we performed how it was originally intended). All five children needed to learn a myriad of lines, all in old Shakespearean English. But the way they acted those lines, the expression they gave to the words and the obvious understanding they had for the meaning showed all the spectators just how much learning had been going on behind the scenes. And this scene and the children’s obvious understanding was one of the most frequently commented on aspects of the performance.
To name but a few, we learnt how to perform Shakespeare with regards to the Elizabethan theater; the effect the punctuation within the text had on performing the words; the role of the Foley artist; the structure of a five act play:
We learnt about many literary devises used by Shakespeare for emphasis and effect such as oxymoron and how it should be used in performance; the fun of a pun; personification; similes and metaphors; foreshadowing and the use of monologues and soliloquy. We learnt about iambic pentameter; emphasising the last syllable in the last word; what Shakespeare did to make his verse fit iambic pentameter and tips and hints for performing in iambic pentameter:
We learnt how to flirt Shakespeare style; to insult Shakespeare style; to make up words just like Shakespeare did:
We had deep discussions about love at first sight; the make up of the teenage brain and its resulting inability at times to make sensible choices; the ethics of killing and all the different types of love.
We all learnt loads, and will probably retain it fairly well because we learnt it whilst deeply immersed in Shakespeare and whilst having lots and lots of fun!
Lorna and I knew, if nothing else, the children would learn to work as a team this summer. At the beginning of the summer we both knew we would be heading out with at least four, if not five, leaders and practically no followers. Between us we have five very strong children who all have a voice and who all want to be heard. We both knew this could be a problem, but instead of focusing on that aspect we chose to focus on the good it would do everyone to learn to work beside each other.
Now there is something you need to understand. Lorna and her two children arrived at 9am every day and did not leave until 4ish in the afternoon. This wasn’t meeting for a few hours each Friday. No, this was full on, living in each other pockets every day. This could be difficult. And there were moments of difficulty. T and I are natural introverts and very much enjoy our own company and, in fact, need to be alone for considerable time each day. There were times we wanted to scream to be left alone. But you know what? Those times were few and far between.
I think everyone worked really well together, and learnt the art of give and take. All five children were receptive when Lorna and I needed to ask one or other of them to back down. And there was very little bickering (I hate bickering so I was very pleased by this).
For me though, the biggest surprise was how well Lorna and I worked as a team. She was the yin to my yang; the salt to my pepper. We are very different in many ways. She is loud, gregarious and outgoing; I can also be quite loud, gregarious and outgoing, but I am by nature an introvert getting my energy from being alone rather than with people. Our giftings are also completely opposite. She is fabulous on the computer, I am more an ideas artsy crafty type person. She is methodical and organised. I am, well, not. But then we are also similar in other ways. We are both very blunt, speak-it-how-it-is type people. She is one of the few people who have said they prefer plain speaking and actually genuinely does. This made for a good working relationship. Any problems were sorted as they arose. Neither of us are hurt easily so long as what is being said is constructive and not spiteful (and neither of us are spiteful). We are also both hard grafters, getting on with whatever needs to be done. She is completely reliable, so if she said she would do something she invariably did it, even if it meant staying up late.
All these things made for a really good working relationship.
As I already mentioned, Lorna arrived with her two at 9am every morning and didn’t leave until about 4 each afternoon. We were all together for over seven hours every day. This meant that we all saw each other at our best and at our worst. T had a hormone surge midway through where his voice dropped once more. This also meant his already introvert personality almost needed to be on his own. There were a few days he did not cope with being constantly with others. Nerves got the better of one or two of them nearer the presentation causing a few tears. The inevitable hormonal tears of both near teen girls and their mothers (!) happened at various times throughout the summer. B, who had only left school a week before the summer started had exhaustion and lethargy which really hit in week two. Lorna, who suffers from migraines, had at least two that I can think of which went on for days at a time (which I have to say she handled manfully and rarely complained about them). And I stopped sleeping, going back to the two hours a night I had been accustomed to for most of my life. We were literally at our weakest and yet we were loved regardless. There was no judgement, no trying to fix each other, just acceptance of how each of us was in any given moment. It was like Lorna and co. became part of our family for those few weeks. We took the good with the bad and because of that friendships grew stronger and closer.
For me, this was by far the best thing to come of the summer.
That, and of course the inevitable embarrassment when you ask five near teens to be lovely-dovey with each other in the name of acting (here they are ‘holding hands’ with each other..):
Yeah, that was pretty funny as well!
Now for the bad and the ugly……
The negatives of the summer were much harder for me to first vocalise and then accept and yet, if my quest for better health is to move forward, accepting was something I needed to do.
I have never considered myself a workaholic, although I know I work as hard as possible at whatever it is I have chosen to do with my time. I am not in any way a perfectionist, but I know I want to do the best I am capable of at whatever it is I have chosen to do with my time. And so it was with regards to this summer.
I knew what I wanted to achieve and I knew in order to achieve it I needed to put a lot of work into it before hand. So for three to four weeks prior to the summer I worked long hours during which I researched, wrote, planned and wrote some more. My printer was busy for the entirety of those four weeks and I managed to use up at least three realms of paper in the process. Yes, this summer was going to be a grand adventure into the life and works of Shakespeare.
During those four weeks prior to the Summer club starting, my sleep, which has been consistently good since last summer (when my doctor figured out why I’d had crippling insomnia my whole life and treated it) faltered a little. It wasn’t really bad, just the time I took to go to sleep was longer than it had been. I began feeling tired. My head began to feel buzzy and very busy. Turning off from anything Shakespeare became considerably harder as the days went on.
During the actual weeks of our Shakespeare Summer Club, I was consistently working into the small hours of the morning, and any sleep I needed simply disappeared. I was now back to my pre-treatment days of terrible insomnia rendering me with less than two hours sleep each night. As if this wasn’t bad enough, healthy routines I had lavished so much attention on fell through in a haze of exhaustion. I was now feeling slightly queasy all of the time, with a low grade headache. I spent the summer sub-existing on coffee, excess food and sugar with little to no time outside exercising. The weight loss I had worked so hard for was gradually diminishing.
By the end of the summer, I was exhausted, 4 lbs heavier and felt very unhealthy. My hair was frizzy and dry, my skin greyish looking and my head was in an almost constant state of buzz, with thoughts and ideas rushing around at all times of the day and night.
Having had insomnia for almost forty years I hadn’t realised how much it had adversely affected my health and the choices I made. I have slept normally for a year and I had wondered why making healthier choices was so easy. I realise now that it was because I was well rested. I had energy left at the end of the day to walk for an hour. I had enough energy not to need copious amounts of coffee and sugar just to get through the day. I had energy to cook and create food from scratch, to shop for healthy ingredients and the time and quiet in my head to listen to what my body was telling me I needed rather than reverting to my grab, snatch and devour technique brought on by the mindlessness of fatigue.
I like how I have felt sleeping each night over the past year. Yes, huge changes needed to be made to my lifestyle due to the decrease in the amount of hours I was now awake. I had to move from a home made curriculum to using various outside curricula in our homeschool. I no longer had the time to school plan through the night anymore. But I hadn’t realised how much being well rested affected my health. I was gifted twelve months ago with a treatment for this insomnia and I was now effectively tossing it aside in the name of education. Nothing, not even my children’s education, is worth destroying my pursuit of health over.
This summer was a huge success. And it deserved to be a huge success. I worked incredibly hard, as did Lorna and the children. But, and this is a big but, I will never do it again. I realise that whilst the children and I are capable of achieving great things together, the consequences of the choices are simply not worth it. If I want to reach my goal of seeing food as primarily a source of nutrition rather than as a crutch, I need to make sure the choices I make facilitate those goals. I have always thought that my lack of control over food was a will power issue; that all I needed to do was say no and everything would fall into place. Now I understand that my ability to say no (to food) is hugely impacted by choices I have made five or six decisions before that moment.
The very first thing is to set my priorities right once more. Over the summer, I read more Shakespeare than I did God’s word. My usual quiet time with God is before I go to sleep at night, only during the summer I was so tired by the time I got to bed, God’s word was forgotten in the quest for sleep. Whilst sleep is a priority, it should never take precedence over God.
The second priority after God is my sleep. It has to be because I can now see clearly how having adequate sleep allows me to be the best type of Claire I can be. A rested Claire is better a wife than an exhausted one; a rested Claire is a better mummy than a tired mummy and a rested Claire can give more thought and time to her friends than a fatigued one. And, probably most importantly, being rested helps me to be able to make sensible choices.
I knew that in these two primary decisions of how to spend my time this summer I had failed. By not choosing God and sleep first, I allowed myself to open the door to a myriad of unhealthy choices with regards to my eating, drinking and time spent in exercise. For the first forty years of my life I had no choice with regards to my sleep, but I do now. I realise how senseless it has been choosing work over sleep; sugar over fruit and veg; coffee over water and time at the computer over exercise.
Health is the most precious commodity any of us have, and I have been disregarding mine in the pursuit of a fun, educational summer. I am only just getting over that summer now, over a week after it has ended. My sleep has, thank God, returned to near normal, which in turn is helping me naturally make better decisions concerning my health and my weight has returned to my pre-summer weight. Gradually, I hope, it will decrease until I am at a weight which is healthy for me.
Lorna and I have discussed next summer, and whilst both of us hope to spend the summer once more doing something fun with our children together, we both agree we will not allow it to take over like we did this year. Next year, it will be child-led, project-based for all the family.