I went to a parenting workshop. Because, you know, I wasn't putting myself under enough pressure as it was, what with rehabilitating a child through a painful and traumatic surgery. It was important too to call every aspect of my parenting into question, and convince myself that this whole situation would be much easier to bear if I were a better mother.
The decision to attend followed a full week where the main sound in the Coffee House was howling. On one occasion, when both my children were screaming their faces off in different parts of the house, my mother and I could only stand at the foot of the stairs, holding onto a newel post each, shrieking with deranged laughter.
This hysterical heartlessness is not something I have learned from any parenting manual.
The message behind the Simplicity Parenting book on which the workshop was based is that our children are overloaded: with toys, with media, with activities. Decluttering, slowing down, and establishing family rhythms are ways of bringing some calm into family life, and preventing children from becoming overwhelmed. Children need time to be bored, to find their own activities, to enter 'deep play' away from outside stimulation.
The thing is, I agree with all this. But left alone with a Vision Sheet to fill in about what I would be throwing out or giving away, I found myself scribbling "Our stress is nothing to do with the stuff on the shelves." My question about how you can strap a child into a metal frame for an hour and then expect it to autonomously choose its own activities could not be answered. Our 'family rhythms' at home revolve entirely around sessions of physiotherapy.
It turns out that expecting a parenting workshop to solve our family's problems is the equivalent of cleaning the house in order to stop the roof falling in.
Still. I have cleared out some DVDs, and hidden some plastic ponies in a suitcase in the basement. (Whatever the course leader says, children under nine do remember what toys you have decluttered in their absence.) I've sorted the children's clothes into outfits in an attempt to Simplify Choice. A man from the Scope shop came by and I gave him a load of books. I'm trying to keep the house clearer and more quiet, and be mindful of the time things take so we don't overburden ourselves.
But on returning home from the workshop with my Vision Sheet and my new resolve about cutting back on television, I found my family gathered round a film, playing with a new set of tiny plastic dogs. They were calm, and they were happy - and that was a very simple joy indeed.