So I imagine that this will be one of many reflections on special time play, one of the Hand in Hand parenting tools which are part of the Garden framework. However, I could not miss the opportunity to write a piece on what happened at the end of the week, when I had completed my work with the Garden children and started parenting my own.
Having done a few SPT sessions with the Garden children, I was feeling pretty good about the impact it had on our ability to be connected and play well together. When I arrived to my own kids on Thursday evening, I expected that they would need some good quality SPT as they had been with a friend and forest school leader for a full afternoon for the first time. However, they totally surprised me by being really sweet and joyful from the moment I walked in the door (this is a very rare experience, so much so that I am expecting fighting, or aggression towards me personally).
The next day we started the day well, and then left home for Bristol to spend the day at the Garden with the main aim of me getting to have some adult conversation time with the team and the kids getting to roam free and play. After we arrived, I spent some time feeding the children and trying to make and drink a cup of coffee without too much hassle (never had much luck with this when there are more than two children about). The children went off into the garden and five minutes later my daughter runs down and says her brother is stuck in the tree. I put my boots on and ran up, hearing cries for help and managed to catch him as he dangled upside down from a tree branch.
At this point his whole mood shifted completely. He was incredibly upset, demanding to go home and then the aggression started and the blaming. “You should have been here daddy” “You’re a rubbish dad” “I hate you” and so on and so on, interlaced with hard punches. Luckily for me and him, I had just had a week of great practise and results so I immediately found a way to slip in some special time which meant that he got to be really powerful in a time when he was feeling most helpless. I told him he could tell me to do anything which didn’t involve hurting me or others and that wasn’t inherently unsafe.
He started off by asking me to roll in the mud over and over again. And then when I stood up with mock anguish completely covered in mud, he told me to rub more mud all over my face. Then we moved down the garden and he asked me to run down the muddy hill which I did, feigning falling over. To which he responded with joy and laughter. We moved to the pond where he told me to get in with all my clothes and shoes on. At this I stopped him and explained that I would not ruin my shoes for the purpose of the time together so we agreed that I would take off my shoes and roll up my trousers. I then got in and had to stay there for as long as I felt it was bearable and then again and again. Finally, (5 mins in total), we completed and got back up to the fire pit, where his sister took over from where he left off.
Now normally, I am not that all in. Not that committed to the process. In doing it this time, from a primed and prepared place, having spent a lot of time reflecting on the power of the process, I realised something big. Being all in and being that committed makes a massive difference and my kids have a different idea of what that kind of commitment is, which makes me feel really happy sitting here, writing this up. Because they have that experience and that modelling on the very good days of me being a parent, they will be able to offer that to themselves and others at any point in their life.
This week, I have been all in, in most moments of every day. I have changed my sleeping patterns, been awake at 6am, been 100% present to the needs of the kids and myself when I have needed it. I have written reflections most days, written blog posts, decreased my internet time, looked after myself with good home-made food and trips to the sauna and watched a film. I have turned up. And that has made this week great. It has also meant that I now understand what I need to do in those moments that are most challenging. Stepping into them as much as I can, supports me and those that I am in relationship too. Expectations are the greatest cause of negative emotions and what really stop us connecting in the moment with what the emergent needs of a situation are.