Children Can Bring Light To The Darkest Of Days

Cycling home today, I saw a lot of Mums pulling various uniform-clad little ones across traffic lights, book bags trailing behind them. I also saw a couple of late-teens-early-twenties-aged-child-looker-after-ers laughing and giggling with their rabble, jumping and skipping along the road.

I love seeing it, it’s so lovely to see people happy and enjoying life.

It does make me miss the various little people (and slightly bigger people) I’ve been lucky enough to take care of, though. Growing up, I babysat for the vast majority of the village from the age of fourteen (being a Beaver Scout leader and having younger brothers helps with that!). I’ve lost count of how many lounges I’ve sat in, stories I’ve read, and games I’ve played.

Through volunteering, there are even more hours spent looking after children to add up. The hordes that have come through Beavers, Cubs and Scouts (at one point I helped out at all three, spanning two different troops), and those I worked with when volunteering with Shout Out Leeds, with Team v, at a school or two, play groups and church.

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When working in a toy shop for a few years, I met a lot of kids, some very briefly, but there were other more regular shoppers who I got to know quite well. As a student ambassador for a couple of years, I interacted with children and young people of all ages. With many it would be a ten-minute chat, or occasionally a day doing various activities. But residentials were the best bit of the job: whole weeks getting to know some incredible young people, being privileged enough to share their stories, hear their worries, and listen to their hopes and dreams. There are so many young people who I got to know really well, but who I will never see again.

Out of all of the children I’ve looked after, there are a couple who have, perhaps, made the biggest impact on me.

The twins who showed me that even though the world can be ridiculously rubbish, there are still smiles to be had, and Peppa Pig can fix almost anything. They showed me that what my body looks like doesn’t matter, so long as it’s healthy enough to take them swimming. They reminded me that baking can be fun, giggles are infectious, and that mess can be joyful. Their Mum recognised that things could be rough, cancer was rubbish, and hugs from little people were sometimes all that was needed to calm a storm.

The three children belonging to my friend. The youngest, born just a month after Mum’s terminal diagnosis, reminding me that life is cyclical and though people die, and it’s crap that they die, people also live, people are born, and life is precious. The middle one has enough energy to keep a power station active for a week and an imagination to rival that of acclaimed writers, who continues to show me that dreams are important and life isn’t as serious as you think. The eldest, an incredible footballer with a big heart, always outside playing with his friends – a continuous reminder that life is greater than these four walls.

Finally, the two boys who I spent Summer, Easter and Christmas with for three years. The boys who baked with me, swam with me, built dens and Lego models with me, ran down to the river, came to the library and tackled buses with me. The boys who took me to the Great Yorkshire Show, the Royal Armouries and Leeds museum. The two boys who let me kiss things better, let me hug them, let me care about them through a time when the world felt so uncaring. However rubbish my night had been, whatever crap was going through my head, however downright awful I felt, they never failed to lift my mood, show me how to smile and bring light to the darkest of days.

Kids are incredible (as are many of their parents!). I’m not entirely sure how/why their parents decided I was responsible enough to keep their little people alive, but I’m so glad they did. I don’t know how many of them will remember me when they are my age, but I will remember many of them.

Summer has come to a close, and I haven’t done a single day of childcare. It feels very odd. I’ve finally emailed my student ambassador job to let them know I’m not coming back, and had a lovely email in response. I miss some of these children a huge amount. I hope that I can see some of them soon (though a couple of them moved to Guernsey which is mildly inconvenient). I’m growing up and moving on and it’s impossible to take everything from my past to my future, I guess it’s just about recognising that these experiences will always be a part of me and my life – they have shaped me and helped me grow into the person I am today; they have got me through some really tough times. Moving forwards is hard, leaving things I enjoyed and loved is hard – but ultimately, it’s right.

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Little Things

As my life progresses I become more and more aware of the importance of appreciating the little things in life. Cliché as it might be, it improves my mood and helps me feel calm. Being someone who enjoys a bit of macro photography, I have a tendency to notice things that others sometimes miss, but lately I haven’t been finding the time to get out and about in the fresh air (blame essays…).

This week has been one of ups and downs. There have been some incredibly-exciting-squee-yay moments (like getting my first blog published on Huff Post) and some incredibly-not-so-great-meh-blergh-cry moments (like the other night). It’s been a weird one because for the past few weeks I’ve been a desk hermit; my life has revolved around waking up, essaying and sleeping. Then this week I’ve suddenly had some free time, no structure and a very long to-do list. I expected to be incredibly happy, very excited and seeing all the friends I hadn’t seen in far too long once essays were over but the reality has been different – having free time has given me chance to stop and think (never a good thing!), and I’ve felt really lost without having essays to focus on (not really complaining – I don’t particularly want any more right now but you know what I mean).

Today, after a week of a failed sleep routine, too much TV, weird food combinations and a bit too much sitting wondering what to do, I decided to sort it. Being like this doesn’t do anything but make me feel rubbish, I miss the best bits of the day, and all in all, it’s a bad plan.

After waking up too late (again), completing my morning run, writing a shopping list and doing all those other fun things, IDSC_7330edit decided to grab my camera and go on a walk. I don’t do this often enough. It feels self-indulgent and there are always others things I could (and arguably should) be doing.

I found my sunglasses (wahay, summer!), shoved on some dungarees and made it out of the door. I walked up through some fields, found some buttercups and started snapping away. It occurred to me that I wasn’t sneezing or wheezing and my legs hadn’t swelled up which was something to be majorly grateful about (modern medicine is wonderful). It was so amazing to have a gentle breeze, hear some birds, feel the grass moving in the wind and welcome a sense of peace.

A man walked past with four dogs – two spaniels and two black labs. We spent about half an hour chatting about photography and dogs. I stroked his dogs and they were so lovely, soft and affectionate. There was no agenda, no rush to be anywhere and I will probably never see this man again, but it was lovely to stop and chat for a bit.

We parted and went our separate ways, but it got me thinking; these are the things which make me happy and content. Being with people, the sunlight, dogs, my camera, the smell of a spring field. They fill me with a sense of peace and the knowledge that whatever happens in my life, these little things which will always remain. They will always welcome me back.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in my life in the next week, never mind the next few years and beyond. Hopefully I’ll graduate, I might be able to afford a house (probably not, but we can dream) and get my own dog. There’s a chance I’ll get a job (please be kind to me job market). I might meet someone who I want to spend my life with, or I might not. I’ll probably make some new friends and drift from others. Mum will probably pass away, hopefully nobody else will. The kids I’ve babysat will start taking their GCSEs and A-Levels and I’ll wonder how I got so old. There will be happy times and sad times. Times of distress, anger, joyfulness and excitement; lazy days and busy days; car trips and cycle rides. There are so many things to look forward to as well as the unavoidable difficult times.

I need to remember that though bad happens; there is also a lot of good. That even if I’ve neglected them for months on end, the fields will always welcome me back. Most importantly, if my life gets busy to the point that I don’t have time to stop and smell the seasons, it’s time to stop and revaluate things, because that is not a happy life and it’s not a life I want to live.

Just Be.

feet One of my jobs involves looking after two lovely young boys. They’re Star Wars, mad, fantastic at Lego and have an incredible amount of energy. They’re loving, have huge imaginations and do impressive impressions of minions.

Every single day, they teach me something new whether that be facts about planets and dinosaurs, intricate Ninjago plotlines or important life skills such as how to have patience!

On Tuesday, I was sat in the garden with them. We’d been in the park all morning and had then come home to have a picnic outside. We were sat out on the grass, in the sun, eating lunch, as you do – and I began to feel stressed. Physically stressed. There was absolutely no reason to feel this way. Yes, one of the boys often takes twice as long to eat as most snails probably do, but that in itself is not a stressful situation (unless you need to get somewhere quickly and you’re waiting for him to finish).

It occurred to be that there is very rarely a moment in my life where I stop. For most of my life, I constantly have to be somewhere, do something and it usually has to happen now (if not before). Some of this is when I have a lecture to go to and I’ve overslept, but often it’s a need I impose on myself because I feel that I can always do more and try harder. And that is probably why I felt stressed. It’s almost my bodies’ natural reaction that if I’m not doing anything for 5 minutes or longer then I’m wasting time and I must getbusyquickly or everythingwillfallapartargh!

I don’t think this is an ideal way to live. Yes, I like being busy and yes, I like getting involved with lots of different things. But there is something about stopping, looking at the world around you and noticing things. Noticing how the sun feels on your skin, that there are three bees in that flowerbed, that the air is beginning to smell like spring. Just appreciating where you are in that moment and feeling content.

Some might call it mindfulness, others might refer to it as meditation. Some do it through yoga or pilates, others will go for a bike ride. But I feel like it’s important to stop every once in a while, take in your surroundings, and just be.

A Brief Part Of Life.

Last week, the young boy who inspired me to start Escape The Frame (https://www.facebook.com/EscapeTheFrame) left my Beaver group to move to Cubs. It’s a necessary, but difficult transition. I think I found it more difficult then he did!

Looking back, it’s touching to see how much he’s grown and developed in the last year. A boy who used to hide under tables and refuse to join in, looked up at me with excited eyes and told me how much he was looking forward to going to Cubs. He then assured me that he had enjoyed Beavers and said thank you he’d had a good time. He looked me in the eyes as he said this.

I’ve loved working with him for the last year. It’s been challenging at times, there have been good evenings and bad evenings, but it’s great, now, to see him being so confident. I’ll miss him asking me for my camera every week and coming to sit on my knee but he’s growing up and moving on to bigger things now. (I have been informed that his uncle bought him a camera for Christmas, so I’m expecting to be invited to one of his showcases one day!)

He’s been a major part of my life for the past year or so. If I’ve been feeling rubbish, sometimes he’ll come out with something that’ll brighten me up. I’ve felt needed and wanted and have known that I’ve been making a difference. I hope he’s felt comfortable in my presence and I hope he will continue to grow and thrive. I don’t think that I will ever forget him or his smile. I doubt he’ll remember me in a few years, but you never know.

It’s amazing how people’s paths can cross for the briefest amount of time, yet they can make such an impact on each others lives… I think that’s a really big part of what volunteering’s all about.

8 Letters.

Thank you.

It’s the time of year when people look back on the past year, look forward to the next year and contemplate their lives. It’s also the time of year where people say thank you for things that you have done for them throughout the year. I have been lucky enough to receive some wonderful thank yous this year, in the form of gifts, cards, smiles, words and emails.

As much as I love what I do (and I really, really do), I often struggle with my confidence, frequently believing that I’m not doing ‘enough’ and what I do isn’t ‘good enough’. This can lead to me feeling fairly rubbish about myself! Already, volunteering has increased my confidence massively, but it is still something I’m working through. I find it incredibly touching when people thank me for my work. So much so that it can sometimes bring me to tears (in a good way!). It helps to validate what I’ve done and reassure me that I am making a positive difference, that is my main aim, so knowing that I have achieved this aim is incredibly important to me.

It is also incredibly nice to be recognised for the hard work that you put in. It makes you feel like people have noticed what you’re doing and appreciate it. When you’re sat at home, you should be in bed and you’re filling in yet more admin work, it can sometimes make you wonder why exactly you’re doing this. But, when you see the difference you make to those around you, and when people acknowledge the work you’ve put in, it makes it all worthwhile!

You will find that most volunteers enjoy what they do and you will also find that they tend to do it because it’s something they want to do and they want to give something back to the community. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need thanking. They do. Something as simple as a card or a text can really bring a smile to your face! It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture! Two words can make the world of difference.

It’s lovely when people bring gifts at Christmas but it’s aso equally lovely when people thank you year-round. It is incredibly imprtant to thank your volunteers, their work is invaluble and believe me, you would notice if they weren’t there! It’s 8 letters. They don’t take long to say, but I can’t stress how much of a difference they can make.

8 Letters
2 Words
1 Thank you.

But you don’t get paid?

There is one question I get asked a lot. Especially by those who are younger than me.

‘But why do you do it when you don’t get paid?’

I try to explain in terms of money. I explain how normally when volunteering, my travel expenses are covered, as well as any other expenses incurred throughout the day. I try to explain how it doesn’t matter whether or not I get paid because I’m living at home and don’t have many expenses. I try to explain how in some cases, volunteering can lead to a grant which is sort of a payment.

It occurred to me tonight, though, that maybe I’m getting this all wrong. Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

When they say ‘getting paid’, we all know they mean money. But does payment have to be in money?

Volunteering has given me so much more than a lot of other things ever could. No, I don’t get money for it. However, I do get experiences and chances that money can’t buy. I have met some amazing people and through volunteering, I have been able to network and link up with like-minded people, which has, in some cases, resulted with me being invited to new places and new opportunities. It has given me confidence and self belief. It has given me happiness, laughter, joyfulness.  It has given me the chance to give something back to a society that has given so much to me. To try out lots of different things and find out where my skills, strengths (and weaknesses!) lie. It’s given me friendship, companionship and a sense of belonging.

The most important thing it has given me, is hope. Hope for my generation. Hope for our future. Hope for myself.

So next time they ask me why I do it when I don’t get paid. I won’t try and explain the money side of things. Instead, I’ll try to explain how I’m paid in smiles, thank yous, experiences, laughter, a sense of satisfaction, friendship, opportunities, happiness and gratitude.

I only hope they understand.