I'm sat on my sofa enjoying the comfort of a warm house, shattered but happy, after a wonderful weekend camping at Plan-It Earth in Sancreed with about 40 grown ups and 20 children. It rained, our tent felt like it would be blown away from the moment we arrived, we barely slept, I cried (several times). And yet I am left uplifted, hopeful and affirmed by the experience.
Manitonquat is an 87 year old Native American elder, steeped in storytelling and a heartfelt understanding of the natural world. His partner, Ellika, is a Swedish writer, one of those women I aspire to be as I grow wiser - open, serene and full of love.
Together, they hosted a weekend for individuals and families, sharing their learning about living together as a community: listening with the heart, respecting and supporting each other, and above all, learning from the children around us.
As a mother, it was deeply inspiring. To see my children appreciated as a gift to others - acknowledged as my valuable contribution to the world. Manitonquat's words above (he is currently writing his 11th book, this one on parenting) capture my parenting beliefs too. My children will go on to forge their own path, but I know that wherever they go, their start will be rooted in love, and being heard.
I was actually terrified about signing up for this experience - camping with two small children, probably without my partner due to his work schedule. Yet I felt I should go.
I mentioned the idea to my son, and he was so thrilled at the thought of camping with Native American Indians that he asked me about it every single subsequent day for weeks.
And then each time I thought "oh no I don't think I could manage that on my own", a reminder about the weekend would magically appear somewhere - in my inbox, in a pile of leaflets by the till as I shopped... So eventually I decided there must be a message there! We would find a way to afford it, and I would find a way to brave the challenges - for my family and for me.
As Friday came, I doubted my choice. I felt sick, scared of camping with people I didn't know, scared of what we might be asked to do, scared that my children would be unhappy and a burden to others, scared that my husband wouldn't be able to join us - I would be alone in the unknown. The weather forecast was bad. The amount of stuff I needed to take, two kids in tow, seemed ridiculous.
We arrived in the rain, our kind taxi driver venturing deep up grassy tracks to try and get us close to the campsite itself.
The site was a warren of secluded camping spots surrounded by trees and I had no idea where to head. The kids looked on, still confident that I had all the answers... I didn't.
Just as I felt ready to weep into the stinging nettles, help arrived, and we were escorted through the rain to our magical bell tent.
I still had no idea where the compost toilets were, no idea where we would meet for our first family camp dinner, but we had found refuge. It was cosy.
And as the kids and I inflated the mattress and rolled around giggling in our sleeping bags, it became home.
And so the weekend began. As families and individuals together, we listened deeply to each other, we saw the beauty in each other and we reflected that back. To hear others say that they saw the strengths in my parenting, that I was doing a good job - was an incredible feeling. When does that ever happen??
My husband was able to join us in the evenings (and even better, in the mornings to make us breakfast!). Our first ever nights as a family together in a tent were special. The children (who stayed up each night 'till 9 or 10...!) slept happily. While my partner and I got very little sleep, there was much appreciation of this special family time - of the sound of wind and rain on canvas, and then the shadows of waving plants as the sun finally came out in the morning.
During the daytime, Manitonquat encouraged everyone to play with the children - to be led and taught by them. It's precious precious time when we truly listen to our children and play.
So we had water fights, a lot of them... We learnt about making bamboo spears, we shared cuddles and stories.
Wonderfully for me (especially without any dad-help) there were four young women and Rosie, the daughter of the house, (christened 'my friends' by my besotted daughter) available to look after the children whenever they were happy to play together, bringing them to us when they needed cuddles or food.
So I had a rare chance to take time for me, to follow much of Manitonquat and Ellika's talks and tasks, and to make new connections with some lovely people. My son had the chance to adventure further than I have ever let him go before - journeying with his friends. I freaked out, but it seems he is ready. My daughter wove her spell on everyone she met.
I learnt that I am a good mother. That all that I have been doing here with story of mum fits. That my vision of building on our Mums Being Heard Days and creating opportunities for mothers to come together, to celebrate and create, to be seen, heard and valued, has a place. I found that many of the instinctive activities we've explored recently are also present in Manitonquat's vision of a Circle Way, one that has been years in the making (like focused listening, sharing the good and the bad feelings we have about ourselves, giving compliments, celebrating together...). I felt connected to something bigger and deeper.
I am full of it now. I hope that feeling stays. Watching my son trying to stay awake round the campfire to hear stories of American Indian gods, and giants, was magical. Seeing my daughter choosing when she wanted to be with me and when she wanted to head off to play with others was beautiful.
Returning home, my daughter smelt of honey and woodsmoke, my son's cheeks were flushed with adventure. And me? I was left with a sense that I should share my vision for story of mum's future with you all very soon.
Best of all, Manitonquat's advice doesn't just apply to parenting. "Listen and hug" seems a pretty good approach to life in general.