Monday, 20 November 2017

Drama? Me?

So here we are, at day 4 of chickenpox. The day that People On The Internet said was the absolute worst day of chickenpox, and to be dreaded at all costs. What happened? I went to work, and left a remarkably perky small boy eating toast in my bed, while trying to persuade his rather tired father to play games with a giant cuddly squid. And when I got home, I found an even perkier small boy, and and even more tired husband. A small boy who had needed no calpol, no piriton, no virusoothe, no calamine all day. A small boy who had developed no new spots all day. A small boy who showed every sign of being more-or-less better.

This morning, LittleBear woke up after half past seven* after having slept soundly all night without a whimper.

This evening, LittleBear went to bed with no drugs, no lotions, potions, liniments or creams, and we haven't (two hours in and counting) heard anything from him.

Tomorrow, on the grounds of some vaguely suspicious spots that may or may not have a crust on them, he will stay home again. I don't want to be That Parent, who sends their infectious child back to school, and while I'm 95% certain the vaguely suspicious spots are dry and not wet, I don't think an extra day to be certain will be a bad thing.

So, once again, all my doom and gloom has been proved groundless. Once again, I should know better than to read about other people's children on the internet**. Once again, I should just accept that sometimes what will be, will be, and I should just roll with it. Once again, getting myself wound up to a fever-pitch of anxiety serves no useful function whatsoever. But if I became relaxed and able to handle minor bumps in the road of life without assuming that the suspension of my mind has broken and all the wheels of my life have fallen off, I'd have nothing left to write about, and you'd all be very disappointed. I'm just doing it for you.

* For those souls who either don't have children, or who have forgotten, this is essentially a miracle.

** You would have thought that I would have learnt my lesson from discovering that books about child-rearing were deeply unhelpful, or that parenting articles frequently piss me off. But apparently I can't be taught.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Better, worse and better

Chickenpox appears to be something of a rollercoaster ride, as with many LittleBear illnesses. One minute he's hurtling around the house, playing "keepy-downy" with a helium balloon, the next he's curled up on the sofa, with a heap of cuddly toys and a soothing DVD on in front of him. I admit there is a strong correlation between bounciness and piriton/calpol levels, so today we're keeping him dosed up a bit more than yesterday.

During the day yesterday, there seemed to be little development in the spot department, and then as the tail end of the day approached, every time I looked at my bear there seemed to be more spots, in increasingly unpleasant places. The fact that he is deeply resistant to the application of calamine lotion or the consumption of piriton syrup is not helping the itching, though he's gradually being persuaded that these implements of parental torture do actually help and are therefore worth having. This has not reduced the amount of sobbing, complaining and insistence that it's the worst thing in the world ever. Right up there with tooth-brushing*.

Bedtime was deceptively easy, with a somnolent (if itchy) small boy settled into bed, covered in calamine. And then, about two hours after bedtime, presumably as one sleep cycle shifted into another, my poor baby started making the most heart-rending keening, whimpering noises. I kept checking on him, and finding him asleep, whimpering and squirming, rubbing his back and head and tummy. And this continued, every 15 minutes or so for, well, I'm not quite sure how long for, as I'm a terrible mother and managed to go to sleep, despite the pathetic whimpering. BigBear reports it continued for quite some time however.

I had been happily sitting on the sofa, engaged in some calligraphy, when the whimpering started, and I immediately felt sick and tearful, hearing my baby's distress. I stopped being able to concentrate on what I was doing, I couldn't watch television, I couldn't read my book. I immediately, in my twisted little mind, leapt to catastrophic-thinking - fearing we would be up all night, and that then I'd be crabby and tired and tearful today. I got the spare bedroom ready in case I needed a place to share a bed with my poorly boy. I paced around the landing and bedroom, wondering what I could do to help my boy, even though he was asleep. In the end I did nothing. I went to bed, and (to my surprise) exhaustion got the better of anxiety, and I slept soundly until 7am, when LittleBear trotted out of his room to the bathroom.

And then BigBear and LittleBear allowed me a couple of extra hours in bed, and when I came downstairs, I played with dinosaurs with a perky small boy, who doesn't seem to have many more spots, though still has a lot that show no sign of blistering, and I'm left wondering how I tell if they're going to blister or not. How long do I wait before I conclude there are no more fresh blisters to come? It's a mystery...

And then, an hour after I got up, the tears and grumpiness returned, so we inserted more piriton and calpol to get our small boy back on an even keel.

So, it could be better, it could be worse, and as usual the worst parts seem to be in my head.

* Tooth brushing has become marginally easier thanks to the Eternally Clinging Tooth finally falling out yesterday morning. This event was in itself a trauma, as it happened in bed and resulted in a small quantity of blood emerging AND that blood ending up on the beloved nanoo. The wailing continued for a tediously long time, and even the lure of the tooth fairy bringing a whole pound in return for the tooth was not enough to stop the tears.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Pox

It's been a while since I've written anything, in large part because I have crossed over from A Bit Tired to So Exhausted I Don't Function. And that is, in large part, due to the transition from having a 5-year old to having a 6-year old, which necessitated a party. A large party. A large and exhausting party. A large and exhausting party with a large and exhausting cake.

I had been planning to write about the cake and show you all how marvelous I am, and what a skilled and amazing cake-maker I am. But I was too tired to bother, and now LittleBear has chickenpox, and I'm wondering why I didn't get him vaccinated.*

Yesterday morning started with a sobbing small boy, and BigBear informing me that his little boy appeared to have chickenpox as I appeared downstairs from the shower. LittleBear was distraught, not at the idea of being ill, but at the thought of missing school, missing Golden Time, missing Crown Assembly, missing a playdate with his Best Friends In The World and missing Go To School In Spots Day. (Oh, the irony...)

So yesterday I stayed home with my LittleBear, and we played, and we built Lego models, and we had our own Golden Time, and we ate fishfingers, and it was all basically OK. There were some spots, some blisters, some itching, some tiredness and sadness, but nothing too bad. He even went to bed and to sleep easily and calmly.

Then today....

Today there are many more spots, in many more nasty places, such as eyelids, and lips, and inside ears. And there are many more blisters, which are much more itchy. And there is much more scratching, and sadness and pathos.

And I did a Foolish Thing. I read stuff on the internet. I read that (allegedly) it's the fourth day that's the worst. I read about children who slept no more than an hour a night, who screamed and scratched and wailed. I read about the itching getting worse and worse and worse. I read about not being able to leave the house for two weeks. I read about new waves of spots arriving just when you think it's all over.

And I keep looking at my poor, pathetic, itchy, sad baby and wondering how much worse it's going to get before it gets better. I wonder how poorly he will get, how hard he will find it to sleep, or eat, how long we will be trapped at home feeling sad, and itchy and poorly and bored and irritable.

Because there's only one thing worse than having a poorly child, and that's having a poorly child when you're already tired, and you've read Other People's Opinions On the Internet, and you're susceptible to worst-case thinking, and prone to anxiety, and suddenly everything seems terrible.

What I really need to do is look at the little munchkin curled up under a duvet on the sofa with his cuddly penguins and cuddly giant squid, watching Blue Planet II, tired, but apparently quite content. This is the truth. The internet is full of lies. 

* I am rabidly pro-vaccination but also incredibly disorganised and allergic to phoning the doctor's surgery for an appointment. Many vaccinations are given as standard in this country, and they just happen without me needing to actively do much. Chickenpox is not one of the standard panoply, so it didn't happen.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Probably OK

Every now and then* I worry about my LittleBear. I worry about his oddities, the ways in which he's not like other children, whether he'll continue to fit in, to have friends, to be happy.

Last week, he was invited to a friend's house to watch a film. Normally he will point blank refuse to consider such a thing, because films are scary and horrid and he doesn't want to watch them. Ditto all other forms of fiction. However, on this occasion, several of his dearest friends were gathering and he seemed to think it a nice idea. Five minutes into the film ("Sing" as it happens) I found he was curled into a small ball, cuddling his penguin, shark and two nanoos, with his fingers in his ears, shaking his head. A bit of cuddling and I ascertained that it was "too scary" and he wanted to go home. My heart broke a little bit for my poor baby, but I snuggled him away from the film, and he settled down to play with toy cars instead so that he could stay for pizza with the others. He was entirely content playing instead, but it just fuelled my worries about his "otherness".

Lately, we've been playing Scrabble together, and it turns out that the structure of playing with letters and numbers appeals to my boy enormously. He loves the idea of letters having points values, and everywhere we go now he's busy scoring words, numberplates, signs, names, anything. A few days ago, he was eating potato waffles and baked beans for dinner. This may seem unrelated to playing Scrabble, apart from one of the peculiarities of this meal in our household. Those of you not familiar with potato waffles - they are a grid of reformed potato, thus:

Rectilinear potato

Those of you not familiar with early electronic calculators or the inner workings of my mind may not spot the potential to form seven-segment-display characters from a potato waffle.

The geometric essence of a potato waffle

The simple application of a sharp knife allows the creation of a wide variety of letters:

B, E and r, rendered from potato-y goodness
Under instruction from my little tyrant however, I have also attempted extravagant feats of cursive letters from a potato waffle. They are convincing only in the mind of a five year old:

A somewhat unconvincing, and fragile o and s
When last munching his way through his own name (yes, yes, I do construct his name from chopped up potato waffle. Yes, I am a fool.) LittleBear piped up,

"Mummy? Do you know what half of three points is?"

Not spotting anything out of the ordinary yet, naturally I responded,

"One-and-a-half points darling."

"No Mummy, it's actually one point."

"Is it? Why's that?"

"Well, if you cut an 'M' in half it's an 'N'; if you cut a 'B' in half it's an 'O'; if you cut a 'C' in half it's an 'R'"


Let me help you here, dear readers.

3-point M becomes 1-point N

3-point B becomes 1-point O

3-point C becomes 1-point R
Now, while I may think it's awesome that LittleBear has memorised the scores of every letter on the Scrabble board, and is able to take a sideways view of the structure of letters and think laterally and generally be adorable, I also fear for what this approach to the world will mean amongst other children (and adults). I have enough experience of being a bit odd, and a bit on the outside, to know that it's not always the most comfortable place to be. I may be comfortable(ish) with who I am aged 43, but I don't want it to take my LittleBear that long to be OK.

And then, this morning, he came out with something that put my mind at rest about his ability to have friends and be friends and be part of the world in a loving and awesome way...

"Mummy? I've been thinking about my party."

"Yes dear?"

"LittleFriend doesn't like chocolate, so we need to make sure there's something else that he likes."

Because this Saturday is LittleBear's sixth birthday party, and he has planned his cake in extraordinary detail**, including the important fact that it is a chocolate cake. But, out of the twenty-seven*** children attending, one of his dearest friends doesn't like chocolate. I'm not sure it is possible for me to be more proud of my baby than I am about the fact that he remembered this, and cared so much about the happiness of his friend that he wants to be sure there is cake for him too.

I think LittleBear will probably be OK.

* When I say "every now and then" obviously I really mean "almost constantly". 

** My ability to realise this cake in actual physical form will start being challenged tonight. My stress levels are already high. By Friday they may be stratospheric.

*** Yes, really. This may be one of the stupidest things I've ever done. Twenty-seven children. With me entertaining them. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Old dogs and New Tricks

In the wake of #metoo, more and more worms are munching their way out of the woodwork and revealing the rotten heart of our establishments. And there are the same tired non-excuses for crappy behaviour being wheeled out, of poor, confused men who just can't tell in the face of all this horrible, rampant feminism whether it's OK to call their assistant "sugar tits" or not. And the not-at-all lamented Fallon, claiming that “The culture has changed over the years. What might have been acceptable 15, 10 years ago is clearly not acceptable now.”

And while he may (and I only concede this very grudgingly and with serious caveats) be right that the culture has changed in the last 10-15 years, it doesn't actually mean that it was ever acceptable to the women involved to grope, harrass or outright assault them. Just because it was possible to get away with it without losing your job, doesn't mean it was acceptable. It merely means unacceptable things used to happen.

I have a friend who falls into that group of people who seem to be mired in this confusion about what is OK and what is not. He is a sixty-year old, overweight,  white man. For the sake of anonymity, I shall call this man Nigel.

Nigel describes himself as a racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynist pig. He says he was raised that way. But he is utterly aware that the way he was raised had flaws, he is aware that many of his knee-jerk views are wrong, and he makes a conscious effort to not allow his upbringing to drive his actions now. He admits that his initial reaction to the calls for gay marriage was that there was no need, marriage is marriage and is for one man and one woman, and if you're gay and want a partnership, have a different one. But he now says, "I listened to what everyone said, and realised I'd lost that argument. I'm wrong, and marriage can be for everyone."

Nigel torments himself over perceived transgressions. He was walking along the street recently when he passed a young, attractive, beautifully dressed woman. The sight gladdened his heart, not (according to him) in any predatory way, but just in a "isn't it lovely to see something attractive" way, and he smiled. He smiled at the young woman in question. And then he felt terrible. He asked me if what he had done had been wrong. Had he been lecherous, threatening, harrassing by smiling at her? Was it objectifying to find the appearance of a stranger a source of pleasure?

Nigel over-thinks things. But, despite his condemnatory self-description, he is a liberal, feminist, accepting man who is aware of his own potential to discriminate and tries not to.

Men - be like Nigel. It's really not much more complicated than that.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Changing the clocks

Back in the old days, the autumnal changing of the clocks was a day to be relished. An extra hour in bed, an excuse to stay up a bit later, knowing you wouldn't pay the penalty the next morning. Little did I realise, back then, how many people there were, in my street, in my school, in my office, who must have hated the return of GMT as much then as I do now.

Changing the clocks when in possession of a small child is not a thing of joy and wonder. It is a fiendish plot hatched by those who do not understand the sanctity of parental sleep, and who blithely say things like, "he/she could just have a lie in after a later night" when talking about your small darling, as though any normal child under the age of 15 has ever had a lie-in on any occasion other than when so ill they should probably be in hospital.

I have, after the first 22 months*, been blessed with a child who is relatively good at sleeping. I am also that most cursed of parents - I have a child who obeys his GroClock. Contrary to what is written by various other Mummy Bloggers whose children do not obey the GroClock, this doesn't mean my child is stupid or unimaginative. It means he is horribly anxious and terrified of breaking the rules, to the extent that he will wet himself at football club rather than ask to go to the bathroom because he is afraid that he's not allowed to ask. So if anyone starts to give me grief about my son's unnatural obedience, I'll give them chapter and verse on the downsides. The trade-off between GroClock-obedience and desperate anxiety and self-doubt is not as obvious as the sleep-deprived would believe.

Anyway, back in the realms of sleep...

We are currently three weeks into a sticker chart rewarding LittleBear for not fretting about the absolute time on the clock, as he had become incredibly anxious about what time it was when he fell asleep, and worried about not being able to fall asleep. So, really, changing the time is an excellent way to further mess with his head. We've already had to hide his GroClock at bedtime, and then sneak it back again once he's asleep so that he doesn't know the time when he goes to bed but does know the time in the morning.

You might wonder why we bother, but I (slightly shame-facedly) admit that, in the morning, he is every parent's dream. When his GroClock says 7 o'clock**, he knows he's allowed to open his curtains, or turn his light on, and read his books. And when the "sun" comes up on the clock (typically 7:15) he's allowed to get up and come and climb into our bed. And he rarely makes a peep before that.

This week, I've attempted something A Bit Cunning.

I've changed the time on LittleBear's clock by 10 minutes every day for the last 6 days. I've give him breakfast, lunch, dinner, bathtime and bedtime 10 minutes later every day***. And he's solemnly turned his light on at "7 o'clock" every morning. Except it was nearly 8 o'clock this morning by the unadulterated clocks in the house.

Which sounds like it's worked brilliantly doesn't it?

I'm beginning to sound dangerously smug aren't I?

Do you want to know what the real effect has been?

LittleBear has got incrementally more tired, deranged and miserable every day for the past six days.

Our evenings have got shorter by ten minutes every day for the past six days.

Bedtimes have become more fraught, with higher rates of whimpering-small-boy every day for the past six days.

My Cunning Plan has resulted in not one exhausted day, but a slowly ramping crescendo of misery, looming over the entirety of half term.

Truly, tomorrow is going to be a barrel of laughs.

Which is where Section Two of my Cunning Plan comes into force. I'm going to spend all afternoon in London with friends, and not get home until after bedtime. I might even have a nap on the train on the way there. Good luck BigBear...

* Yes, I was counting.

** Parents of earlier risers - please don't hate me too much. I'm a nice person really.

*** The mental contortions involved in this undertaking have almost been enough to deprive me of an hour's sleep every night.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Is it me too?

Living a life, as I do, where social media features daily in my life, I suspect I'm living in something of a bubble. In fact, I know that I am. And most aspects of that bubble are clear to me. I am largely surrounded by people of a similar age, race, nationality, class, political outlook, education level, and social interests. Largely. Obviously, there are variations, but they're not massive. I know some Americans for instance. And Canadians. I really mix it up.

Because I'm aware of my bubble, I do venture outside it, to read and see what other people are thinking, saying and doing. But there's one aspect of my bubble that I'm not sure about - I can't discern whether what I've been reading and hearing inside my bubble is also occurring outside my bubble.

It's the #metoo movement. The movement whereby women are standing up to be counted, declaring that they have been the victims of sexual assault or harassment. Declaring publicly that their experiences are not unique, not one-offs, not aberrations, but the everyday lived experience of huge numbers of women.

Has this really been as widespread as it seemed in my white, middle-class, female bubble? Has the awareness of #metoo spread outside the people who are participating in it?

I don't know. And therefore I don't know whether what I'm going to write is going to make me look utterly abnormal, or utterly absurd for drawing such attention to my very normality.

Because I haven't been sexually assaulted. I haven't experienced inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. I haven't been shamed into keeping abuse silent. I haven't been groped, manhandled or interfered with at any point in my life. I watched, horrified, as more and more of my friends simply wrote "#metoo" on their Facebook pages, and I began to puzzle over why my own experience has been so different.

And I thought some more.

And I thought of all the things that don't count, because it's just what happens. The wolf-whistles from building sites. The requests to see my tits from pissed men at parties. The men in clubs and bars who wouldn't accept that it was possible to dance with other female friends, and that no, I didn't need a man to dance with. The hoots and yelled obscenities from white vans. The guiding hand in the small of the back to "help" me through doors.

But that doesn't count does it?

That's just the way life is if you're a woman, isn't it?

I haven't been sexually assaulted, so I don't need to write #metoo, do I?

And then I just felt rather depressed.

Because, no, those things aren't OK.

Just because I haven't been raped, doesn't mean every other form of verbal abuse and harassment is OK. And the very fact that I simply shrug it off as "just how life is" is not OK either.

I didn't claim #metoo, because by the time I'd considered the issue, and my own life experiences, it felt as though to speak up was to devalue those who've suffered real abuse, assault and pain. It felt like saying, "ooh, I know how you feel losing your leg, I broke a fingernail once." But actually, I think it's kind of the point - that every day, countless women face a constant barrage of sexism that ranges from "only" a wolf-whistle all the way to traumatic physical assaults, and that it is all part and parcel of the same thing, the treatment of women as lesser beings, as objects, as things.

And I'm not a thing. None of us are. And none of us should sit back and say, "being talked to like an object isn't real sexism, so as long as I haven't been raped, it's not a problem." It is a problem, and it's one that can't be fixed by one or two people speaking up. It will take all of us to speak up, all of us to say, "enough", all  of us to say "no more", to refuse to accept a society where women are afraid on public transport, where women accept being yelled at on the subject of their bodies every time they go for a run, where women think daily insults and contempt are normal. And I mean all of us. Women and men.