Active Parenting and Island Visits

May 2016

I’m a parent. I don’t put an often precede this with an adjective. My week consists of being alternately good parent; bad parent; forgetful parent; proud parent; disappointing parent; loved parent; angry parent; happy parent; shouty parent; organised parent; rushed parent and occasionally I’ve been described by my three as ‘best parent in the world’, although usually when I’ve admitted defeat and given in to incessant requests for an illicit treat. When I was wee, my begging was influenced by the selection of sweets at the supermarket checkout, for kids today it’s more likely to be the latest downloadable app for the tablet/computer or a mobile phone upgrade.

In amongst these many faces of parenthood, I got to be ‘fun-parent’; ‘embarrassing-parent’ and I’d like to think ‘cool-parent’ when I accompanied my P7 on his residential school trip in May. A week away with a class of 11 year olds, what could be better? Or perhaps worse?! We went to Altnacriche, an outdoor adventure centre near Aviemore, run by the Scripture Union. I’m a risk taker by nature and love an extreme sport, so the range of activities on offer was like a dream: gorge scrambling; rope obstacles; canoeing and bush craft. The week aimed to build confidence, promote understanding, encourage responsibility and instil the values required to help our wee ones transition to secondary school after the summer. And I think they did learn a lot. But so did I:

Learning Outcome 1: Patience – As tempting as it was to elbow the P7’s out the way and be the first into the gorge, I waited patiently for my turn. As a parent, this patience is naturally occurring, you’re not conscious of putting your kids first but it happens all the time. When it’s someone else’s child, I think you’re much more aware and patience is a cognisant task. Your own child is a known quantity, you have an idea of how they will act, react and how far they might go (although they do push the boundaries and frequently surprise you). Someone else’s child is an enigma. You’re not quite sure how they will respond to you, their peers or the situation and your senses are on high alert. Patience was just one of my senses tested to the extreme during the week.

Learning Outcome 2: Being a teacher is a thankless task. Everyone will be familiar with ‘those who can, do and those who can’t, teach’ from George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman. Well it’s not true (but you knew that already right?). Being a teacher is a vocation, not just a job. It requires a special kind of person. Someone who can parent other people’s children, quickly learn their unique personalities and tailor a learning experience to meet their individual needs. A teacher needs to be a detective, athlete, social worker, police officer, politician, carer, actor and superhero, all rolled into one. I don’t have it in me to be a primary teacher for sure!

Learning Outcome 3: As a Scripture Union site, there were some subliminal references to Christian morals during the week but to be honest, these were more often than not lost on our cohort. However, my one take-away from the experienced team leader was around managing expectations. The kids always wanted to know what was happening next. A minute-by-minute description of what was planned and what they could expect. This surprised me. They favoured a structured itinerary and there was little space for unexpected events or spontaneity. The leader carefully navigated this demand by responding to the ‘what’s next’ question with ‘have a little mystery’. You could see the frustration in their faces but as the week went on, they became less hung-up on what was happening next and appeared to be more invested in the moment. I think this can only be a good thing and ‘have a little mystery’ has since become a common retort in my house!

Recovery from the week away was put on hold as I flew up to Shetland for a knowledge exchange workshop in Lerwick. Excited about my first ever visit, I packed the obligatory post-its and sharpies to support a colleague in delivering a workshop for cultural and creative sector participants from across the islands. And there are many. I was previously unaware that Shetland is an archipelago of 300 islands and skerries, of which around 15 are inhabited. There is something quite uncomfortable about my inadequate knowledge of Scotland and its islands. As my homeland, I feel that I should know such things. Perhaps when my Geography class at High School mapped out the San Andreas Fault, my learning might have been better spent visualising the Scottish Islands? Anyway, Shetland was lovely and I basked in textile heaven on a visit to Jamieson and Smith’s wool shop. Proudly carrying my 8 balls of 1ply cobweb wool through the airport security in a clear plastic bag, I was stopped by security staff bent over in fits of laughter: “I tocht du was takin’ a bag of toilet roll hame as a gift’. Hysterical! Nope, no toilet roll souvenirs but I did manage to squeeze in some delightful Shetland Fudge and Puffin Poo for the kids.

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