It's the beginning of the Easter holidays.
Downstairs, my children are playing Victorian schools and I hear the teacher asking the pupils (both of them) to stick their success criteria into their books. How things have changed.
Having been a teacher for 25 years now, I've seen many things come and go. Among those in the come pile is the idea of success criteria for every lesson. What tickles me is that it's usually used in the singular - there is only one success criterion - and if that's what we teachers do, what hope is there? Actually lots, but that's another story.
When I go back after the break, my hours will have been reduced to 0.5. I'll be working Mondays, Tuesdays and alternate Fridays. It was at my request, so I'm really pleased. I'm also lucky enough to have a boss who will generally bend as far as she can to facilitate her staff (nothing crude intended, please!).
You might wonder whether that's because I'm doing so well as a writer that I can afford such a move with ease. You might also picture me writing a whole lot more in the future and that might even please you.
The truth of the matter is slightly different.
My first motivation is based upon my need to feel I'm around for the three children who are playing at schools. After doing a PHD and being unemployed for a while, my wife has landed a really interesting and good job. It's also a full-time one. That means she just can't be around for the children in the way that she's been able to since Nancy was born.
I'd already taken Wednesdays off to be around for the family (and to avoid some of the stresses of teaching and also the damage to my mental health), but that didn't seem enough.
Instead of being financially comfortable for the first time in many years, we decided that money wasn't important enough and that we can manage with a new regime.
That makes me nervous. We won't be as stable as we might have been and it might just take a strong gust of wind to cause a serious tumble. It matters not. I'm pretty sure I'm doing the right thing.
How can I feel so secure in that notion?
Answer - I'm reading All The Wild Children, a memoir by Josh Stallings. It's such a wonderful book that I don't really want to finish it. As I work my way through it, I feel I'm in the company of a good friend and I like having him around.
Thing is, Josh describes a life of sex and drugs and rock and roll forged from the need for him to bring himself up with the help of his siblings. They do crazy and brilliant things in the absence of parents and he tells it all with an openness and a voice that is truly amazing. In many ways his life reminds me of mine, yet there are so many differences. What I have to remember about my own highs is that they came when I was a teenager and as an adult instead of a young child (Josh had his fingers into everything well before puberty, how mad is that?).
If I asked, I think Josh would tell me this. If you're going to be a parent, be there for your kids. Hell, they may well screw up things anyway, but that's part of what they have to do to learn. Be there for your kids and you can at least know that you've done what you could. You may also have set a model for how things can be and how strong and loving a home can be.
Sure, I blow it a lot of the time - parenting that is. I'm not a perfect dad by a long chalk. I do know that I'm trying, though, and I hope that's what they'll remember.
I'll be reviewing All The Wild Children later in the week, so keep an eye.
Another treat from the book is watching him change his expectations of himself and what he wants to be.
I've wanted to be a writer for many, many years.
It's what I am now. Because I write and have written. There are no real success criteria to prove that other than that I've produced work.
I did want to be in The Velvet Underground. I wanted to be Elvis and Charlie Parker. I wanted to be F Scott Fitzgerald or one of his pals. Now, I reckon, I want to be Nigel Bird.
My current success criteria (to be amended where necessary):
I'm around for my children during the good times and bad.
I offer the kids a range of experiences which they'll enjoy.
I'll teach well on my 2 days a week and show the children I work with that they can achieve in many different ways and that the world isn't always linear (like a tight-rope they're so in danger of falling off). In fact, I'll be a safety net.
I'll keep a clean house and improve my cooking (I can hope for miracles, no?)
I'll write whatever I want as well as I can.
I'll die in my sleep in the middle of a dream about my grandchildren, with sea air in my nostrils.