I can hardly believe how time has flown, it felt like only a couple of weeks ago that I thought ‘ I really must write a new year bit’ and here I find myself squarely at the beginning of Spring, today is Spring Equinox and as new life pops up all around us Playcircle is also burgeoning with with new hopes, dreams, plans and possibilities.
Last year we said a very sad farewell to our Wendy. For those of you who don't know it was her imagination, generosity and hard work, along with Chloe’s, that became the foundation on which Playcircle was built so it was an end of a very significant era. However pastures new beckoned and with our support she followed her heart to Devon. We remain in regular contact so she still has influence on any big decisions we make and her place in the circle is reserved forever.
2016 was also the 6th year of StoSy sessions being rolled out to the folk of Stroud and Nailsworth with beautiful tales and songs both familiar and new, capturing imaginations and delighting both children and parents, with ever growing numbers to reflect this.
We held our second mightily successful fundraiser for the Refugee crisis. We again raised over £1000 and this time funds raised went to Stroud Refugee appeal to aid the fantastic work they continue to do. As I cast my memory back to the event what stands out in my mind is the overwhelming support from the Playcircle family and the truly amazing atmosphere of the day itself….a delight to behold and be part of.
The Playcircle drop in for parents and their little ones completed its second year becoming the’ heart beat’ of the Playcircle operation. We have found our feet and we believe that the gentle rhythm and inclusive environment that we provide is proving to be a great way for us to welcome new families into our community. If only we could stretch the walls to make our growing numbers feel even more at home!
Back to 2017…the team is simply fizzing with exciting ideas!
As well as committing to an Autumn fundraiser and traditional Christmas party in addition to the Story sessions and drop in, we also hope to do a regular walk ‘n’ lunch. We have already held our first one which proved to be a hit all round! The morning was spent wandering around the lakes and gardens of Ruskin Mill where we, together with our little ones created ‘journey sticks’ and then we returned to the Playcircle space to natter over homemade soup and our very own artisan sourdough bread (Thank you Dan!)
We hope to enjoy more time out in nature together and witness all the seasons and believe that the communal act of sharing lunch will become another much loved Playcircle tradition!
Unfortunately our grand plans to redesign the garden space at the town hall have fallen to the way side due to funds and planning however over the coming weeks, with a little help from our friends we hope to spruce it up and give it a wee facelift… maybe with a splash of colour and some new planting. Any donations or volunteered time would be much appreciated, please make contact with any of us ASAP. We would so love to spend more of the drop in outside!
Other plans, in the cooking stages include a ‘Mouse Hunt’ and dare I say a mini festival!?! Hehehee….watch this space…2017 is set to be a fantastic year full of surprises.
Thank you to all members of our ever widening circle without whom our dreams would remain just that.
It takes a village to raise a child ~ African proverb
When I first met Chloe and Wendy one of the things that sparked our friendship was our shared views on raising children. We agreed heartily over many cups of tea (and a few glasses of wine!) that no matter how prepared or equipped with natural maternal predisposition we are, motherhood is an often excruciatingly exhausting and thankless task, with the knack of rattling us to our very core! We also believed however, without a doubt, that such challenges can not only be alleviated but utterly transformed into a fulfilling and empowered life choice by coming together regularly with other mothers/parents.
Their original mission behind the Playcircle story session was to bring parents and children together through their love of music and play. This was and continues to be achieved with beautiful simplicity….significantly and in equal part due to the standard of the music and the magical quality of the sessions but also because it sprung from a heart felt desire to dissolve the isolation and challenges experienced by parents today. I am definitely not a match to there musical talent so it was this, the latter, that I identified with and am almost evangelical about! Although I dearly wish I could sing songs and beat drums, what I am half good at is ranting about something I feel passionately about. The ladies have kindly supported me and given me this forum to do just that!
Today, with much trepidation at the thought of talking to a wider audience than my nearest and dearest , I want to offer my thoughts about the isolation and loneliness I experienced after the birth of my first son and how some time spent in an African village led me to where I am now, nestled in a community of likeminded parents.
I remember internally squealing with delight when I saw on Chloe’s wall the quote ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ the first time I visited her house. This was the very phrase I had bandied around again and again in conversation since Freddie was only a few months old, sometimes with so much zeal that it had been hard not to ignore the affectionate and sometimes less than affectionate eye rolling it often induced. That simple line resonated so deeply with me for a number of reasons, especially as the year before I fell pregnant my husband and I volunteered for some months in Africa. I was blessed with the experience of living and working alongside the people of Madina Salaam, a small village in rural Gambia.
At first I was frustratingly given special non-job- jobs for the ‘white lady’ which created a sense of distrust and separation between myself and the women of the village. Over the weeks and months though the barriers lifted and I was allowed for a brief time before I returned to the U.K into the fold of their family and domestic life. I was eventually able to be me and therefore participate, in a very normal way, in this collaborative community of women. I worked in the fields, I helped prepare food, I helped their running of a small textile workshop, I played with babies and I sat and waited outside with other women while a woman gave birth (the baby being delivered by 2 female neighbours).
Even as I was then without children it struck me how nobody was excluded; all the women of all ages worked together in all areas of life, including raising children. Without asking or arranging support or specific child care the ties of sisterhood wove seamlessly throughout their days leaving no child neglected and no one mother more responsible than another. There was a lot I didn't see of course, and I am not for a moment underestimating the hardship of the poverty they endured on a daily basis but despite this and for the most part these women and children seemed happy. They were productive and they laughed a lot. This led me to think that it may well be in that connection to each other that they were able to do and be the best they could be despite their circumstances. In fact it seemed as if the very conditions that made their lives hard were the same ones that unified them. No one was alone or lonely.
I witnessed a stark contrast to the separateness so prevalent in our developed world today. We, generally speaking but especially in the part of the U.K. I have had the privilege of living in, have a higher standard of living and our wealth can buy us an abundance of things and opportunities. Despite this I believe that most of us are not thriving emotionally, and one of the areas that I see this and the most pertinent to me is parenting and more specifically mothering. You only need to look at statistics around post natal depression to see that something isn't right.
The pressure of doing it all, being everything….having a beautiful or at the very least a moderately clean and tidy house, being a creative parent, an entertainer, an organiser, a nurturer, a cook, a teacher, a nurse, a role model, an income provider, an emotional rock etc for 24 hours a day 7 days a week….is immense. I’m certain that there are mums out there that CAN spin all these plates and more ( In fact I reckon I might know a couple!)and there will be some that just go easier on themselves, to them I sincerely and warmly applaud. But it is my guess that most mothers are affected by these pressures and societal expectation, I certainly have and continue to be. For me, my overwhelming love for my children, a perfectionist nature and perhaps even a virgoan astrology chart(?!!), not to mention being an average person affected by the onslaught of western media, all of which meant I threw myself into the task of parenting with an already unrealistic expectation of what it would be like and how I ‘should’ be….to relentlessly try to be all these things come rain or shine, and without the wider support of the community I lived in meant that at the end of my first child's first year, I was a frazzled heap to say the least and certainly a far cry from the fulfilled, glowing domestic goddess I imagined myself to be.
A frequent day dream had been imagining myself pegging washable nappies to the line while my youngest sat at my feet playing contentedly and my eldest asked curious questions about bugs and flowers…the smell of the evening meal cooking on the stove would waft from the windows…and later that evening I would put my angelic children to bed and finish making that patchwork quilt or throw a new pot on the wheel etc…this describes just one moment, of which I have been blessed to have many similar – like golden nuggets to be cherished, but I truly believed for some time this would be a mere snap shot of my perfect life…..I never imagined that there would be many more times where I felt so exhausted; like I was spread so thinly I barely recognised myself anymore. Where there were days that my only pleasure was compulsively eating 10 ginger nuts one after the other, where the only time I got for myself was sitting on the toilet (sometimes I wasn't even afforded this privacy)! At times being so emotional that all I wanted to do was walk out of the house, get on a bus, get on a plane and find a remote beach, a book and a cocktail….but knowing that I couldn't and when it came down to it, wouldn't leave my children….so instead I would collapse in a heap at the end of each day with very little motivation to do anything much more creative than browse Pinterest!
I went along to mother and toddler groups to seek that connection with other parents that I so desired, but for the most part I would sip tea while my little one tore round on trikes or clung to my leg, while I made small talk with the other parents….it was good to be with people because there were days when sometimes the only people I saw were the staff the local shop but it wasn't what I was looking for; I was undeniably lonely and isolated. My thoughts would often return to the mothers of Madina Salaam – that’s what I wanted. I wanted and needed to be part of a community where both child and mother are supported and enriched.
If you were to take any group of mothers, amongst them there would be an array of different characters all with different strengths and weaknesses….there would be fantastic cooks with the knack for combining wholesome ingredients that children actually like to eat. There would be women who were super organised with their fingers firmly on the Facebook pulse knowing exactly what was going on and where, there would be amazing storytellers, lullaby singers, sporty types, teachers, natural nurses and medicine women, artists and creative types with the ability to make something ordinary into something extraordinary, even the rare breed of fantastic women who enjoy doing the laundry!
We all have wisdom and creativity within us and I truly believe we each have the capacity to be amazing parents in our own unique way….but to be all of these things all of the time is in my view unrealistic. It is my vision that we share our strengths with other women and we come together to alleviate the stress of modern day living whilst our children benefit from the combined care and wisdom of a network of happy fulfilled mothers! The mothers would be happy because they would be recognised for their strengths and would have support in the things they found challenging. The children would be happy because they would not only be positively affected by their mother’s happiness and fulfilment but they would also be part of a ‘tribe’ of children who would to some extent naturally look after and entertain each other… Not bad eh?!
I know I'm describing what some might term a utopian ideal that wouldn't pop up over night but I’ve seen it first hand in Africa where they have nothing, and I have my own first hand experience of how radically I was affected for the better by being connected to other parents in a meaningful way through my participation in helping to run Playcircle drop-in. Now I believe the time has come where we need to adopt some of these cooperative and collaborative values here where we have ‘everything’. We need to extend our love beyond our families and friends to a wider community, our ‘village’. To do this we need to open our doors, step out of our houses and meet, talk and weave our dreams together (preferably over mugs of tea and busy crafting hands!) Together we can work out what this looks like and slowly but surely carve out a new model of mothering that leaves no one standing in the dark so to speak. I think it's possible.
I’m pretty sure my almost fanatical dreaming of a future where mothers wouldn't have to be alone in their experience of raising their children attracted to me the fantastic group of women that started Playcircle; who were and continue to be my saviours. Then the opportunity to help run the drop in session, and now the ongoing stream of incredible parents who attend these sessions. So I’m not gonna give up dreaming because I think we've got all the ingredients for something awesome….we just need to stir the pot!