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Sabbatical, Day 50: On Not Taking Family For Granted

So today is Mothering Sunday – ‘not to be confused with Mother’s Day’, as Wikipedia says at the top of its entry. A time to remember our mother the Church, the Bride of Christ, as well as a time to honour those in our families who often more than anyone else have epitomised the selfless and sacrificial characteristics of love.

Today in the UK it is poignant to do so, given the death last night of Jade Goody, leaving her two small boys to remember Mothering Sunday as the first day of their bereavement each year. I imagine that if Jade could have hung on through today, she would have done. It is popular to talk of terminally ill people hanging on through certain events and then giving up. My father-in-law said he never wanted my wife and her sister to witness him die, and he slipped away just after they left visiting him at the hospital. Somebody else I know died thirty minutes after the midnight that signified the end of her husband’s eightieth birthday. 

But it is not always possible, and Jade Goody was taken from her sons at a most cruel time. When I heard of her death this morning, I had a deep sense that our children should never take their mother for granted. Right now, in their young ways, they don’t. I hope they never do. 

It has been hard to focus on Debbie today, because it is also Rebekah’s sixth birthday. And in a true sign of motherly love, although we gave her some presents and cards, Debbie has deferred the attention and focus of the day to our little girl. 

Rebekah with her '6' balloon for her birthday

Rebekah with her '6' balloon for her birthday

Here she is, taking great delight in the balloon we bought to mark the occasion. She derived pleasure from all her presents, large and small. She is still at the age where the cost of the gift is not the issue. Long may it last! 

Several relatives and friends sent money for her, so we put that inside another present, a purse, and rather naughtily took her Sunday shopping. Now that she is doing some basic addition and subtraction at school, we hope it will be an early lesson in financial management!

We allowed Rebekah to choose the venue for lunch out. To our relief, she didn’t opt for the children’s interminably regular haunt of Pizza Hut, but another low-cost venue, Wetherspoon’s. Student friends of ours see it as a great place for low-cost booze (surely a curse in our society), we see it as a good venue for cheap meals. OK, you can tell they’re not prepared from fresh on site, but when funds are limited, a location where the four of us can feed for £20 is welcome. We have developed a family grace for mealtimes where we thank God for each member of our family, as well as the food. We then amend it when there are particular things to be grateful for: today was one of those days.

Back home now, Rebekah is enjoying the first High School Musical film on DVD. She had acquired numbers 2 and 3 as presents, and is watching the first one again to get back into the story. I’m going to wrap up the blog post a little early today, because this evening I shall be packing for tomorrow’s drive to Lee Abbey, and helping Debbie sort one or two domestic issues before leaving. 

dsc_0041So I’ll just close with this picture of Rebekah from yesterday. Here she is, in her birthday sash, and wearing a princess crown, waiting with Mark to greet her guests at her pottery party at The Glazed Look.

Happy Birthday, little girl – it’s been six amazing years since that foggy morning when you came into the world courtesy of an emergency Caesarean when induction drugs were sending your heartbeat all over the place. Look at you now – kind, clever and fun!

Mum and Dad love you so much.

Sabbatical, Day 40: Ministry And Personality Type Survey Explosion, Child Worries

The response to my surveys into ministry and personality type that I announced yesterday has staggered me. At time of writing, I had 42 members of the Facebook group. 60 people had completed the congregational members’ survey. 29 had completed the ministers’ survey.

At the recommendation of David Burton, I have joined Twitter and am using that to publicise the surveys, too. Please ‘follow’ me if you are on Twitter. My username is davefaulkner.

Other news today mainly concerns the children, and especially Rebekah. Today, she had a ‘number bonds‘ test at school. Testing seems to have started quite early, in my opinion. She is still ten days shy of her sixth birthday. For a few weeks now they have also been having spelling tests, and Becky is getting quite agitated about it. Last night she was late getting to sleep, worrying about whether she would pass. She kept getting stuck on the numbers four and six. What number do you put with four to make ten? What number goes with six to make ten?

There have been two saving graces about this. One is that we have been concerned about her concentration when learning. This certainly made her concentrate – but I felt like we had a GCSE student in the house! The other is that … she passed. Now she’s worried about going up the front at assembly next week and being applauded when the Head Teacher gives her the certificate!

What worries we load onto children at a young age. I have been concerned for a long time about the pressure induced on children by the SATS tests required by the Government. I know these are going to be rationalised, but making children take official tests from the age of seven means they have been turned into nothing less than political footballs by cynical, morally evacuated Governments. Worse, parents who have seen the strain on their children have effectively connived with this by looking for the results in evaluating schools. 

And there are other worries, too. A little while ago, my friend Dave Warnock sent me an invitation on Facebook to join the Pink Stinks campaign.Last night, I finally looked at the campaign and joined up. It’s taking the colour pink as symbolic of the sexualisation of young girls, and that’s something I feel very strongly about as the father of a five-year-old. I’ve joked before about her love of Claire’s Accessories, but it must have been around the time she started school that she began to change from tomboy to girly girl. I have no problem with her having a nice appearance, and frankly for all my life she will always be the most beautiful girl in the world. But I don’t want her value to be based on how physically attractive boys think she is in later years, or how attractive or not she perceives herself to be. 

While Pink Stinks seems to come from a secular feminist origin, having the militant atheist Polly Toynbee as a major cheerleader, there is much in the campaign I am pleased to support. One excellent feature of the website is the naming and shaming of sexist products aimed at children. Another is the section of the site that seeks to promote positive female role models. I’d far rather Rebekah had Sally Ride as an aspirational figure than Amy Winehouse or Paris Hilton. I believe my daughter is made in the image of God, and that gives her a dignity like nothing else on earth. I want her to know she is loved unconditionally, and that she has unique gifts which she can use in the service of God’s kingdom. 

I hadn’t thought too much up to now about the propensity of infants’ school girls to love High School Musical or Hannah Montana. Although I recognised them as telling the stories of teenagers, there hadn’t been anything I’d noticed that seemed  overtly immoral. What had bothered me was that they told stories that were not age-appropriate and that that might be emotionally difficult. I could see that might be tricky to handle. Now I think I see them as rather worse than that, because they are promoting a certain image of what is acceptable young womanhood, and much of it is just based on looking good for the boys. 

I have to say Debbie isn’t as worried by this as I am. She thinks the trend towards little girls prettifying themselves is a fad that will disappear and be replaced by another trend. Me, I see sinister commercial forces behind it. What do you think?