Friday, 30 September 2016

Not like the other mothers

Through careful observation, I have concluded that I am Not Like The Other Mothers. And for once (it had to happen) I actually like the way I am, and don't see this difference as a bad thing.

My moment of revelation came a couple of days ago, outside school. It came when I found myself rolling around on the lawn of the Baptist Church, being tickled by an assorted gaggle of small children, only one of which was mine. I couldn't help but notice that I was the only mother thus engaged. The others were being all grown-up and sensible and standing on the path chatting to each other, occasionally casting a fond eye over their offspring.

How exactly did I come to be desecrating the coiffured grounds of the church lawns with such silliness? Well, LittleBear started by asking me to chase him and tickle him. How could I refuse? How can anyone refuse to play a game of tickle-chase with a four-year old moppet? And then obviously, it was his turn to chase and tickle me. Which was only fair. And naturally, being somewhat taller than LittleBear, it was only reasonable that I allow him to pull me to the ground for better tickle-access. And what could be more irresistable when an adult is lying on the ground being tickled that all available children join in the tickling?

And so there I was, rolling around on the grass, with an assortment of children I'd never met tickling me. In full view of the whole village.

I couldn't help but ponder how it was that I was the only parent to whom this happened, and I concluded that the divergence occurred at the point where I was asked to chase and tickle LittleBear. I have a sneaking suspicion that the acquiescence to this request, which I view as entirely normal, is in fact one of those things Normal People Don't Do. I fear Normal People might have a sense of dignity, or some other such nonsense.

Other mothers don't seem to take their shoes and socks off and paddle in streams.

Other mothers don't seem to climb the climbing frame.

Other mothers don't seem to roll around on the ground being tickled.

Other mothers don't seem to play hide-and-seek in the graveyard.

Other mothers don't seem to leap from boulder to boulder at the recreation ground in high heels.

And you know what? I'm fine with that. I'm not other mothers. And other mothers aren't me. So I'm going to keep hopping from rock to rock, rolling on the church lawn and being silly with LittleBear for as long as he'll let me. And if I get funny looks from the other mothers? They probably weren't going to be my friends anyway.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Mile by mile

Well, I did it. I ran 10km in less than an hour. Only 30 seconds less than an hour, but it was still what I set out to do. And I also finished ahead of my 72 year-old father-in-law, so avoided complete humiliation. In fact, in the "Female veterans between 40 and 45" category, I came 10th. And no, there weren't only ten people fitting that description. There were 22. In fact out of a total of 303 finishers, I was 148th. So all told, mid-table mediocrity. But that wasn't really the point. The point was surprisingly well summarised in a trite Facebook meme I saw that said something along the lines of:

"I don't run to be better than other people. I run to be better than I used to be."

Unfortunately, I missed the mark slightly even by those standards, since the previous weekend I'd run marginally faster than that in training, but that's probably not the point either.

Meanwhile, here's my take on the 6.22 miles that I ran...

Mile 1

As foretold in the Writings of Husband, the race started off too fast. Combined with the Wisdom of GrandadBear, which stated there would be a jumbled melee of bodies weaving round each other getting over the starting line. Both these things came to pass. And despite the Meanderthals on the starting line, I ran the first mile too fast. Not massively too fast, but not the easy start I'd intended*.

Mile 2

Oh dear. A hill. Who put that there, and why? My home town has a certain hill-deficit, so all my training has been on the flat. This was perhaps An Error. The hill's not too vicious - about a third of a mile of steady ascent through the back streets of Rochdale, gaining a massive 70 feet. It's rather reminiscent of "Call the Midwife" with terraced houses opening straight onto the streets, grubby children running up and down, mothers in doorways with babes propped on hips. All friendly, with many waves, cheers and high fives at the lumbering, sweating bodies dragging themselves up the hill.

Round the corner and thunder down hill, only to find it then kicks back up again. Arse. The second mile finishes just as we begin to level off again. A disastrous time for that mile. My dreams of a sub-hour time are evaporating.

Mile 3

A levelish, easyish patch here, and I'm in amongst a group of people all running a fairly steady pace. This seems OK. We get to the water station, and I cruise through, not having been needing any water when training, even in much higher temperatures. Then I have a last minute panic - what if today's the day I need water? So I grab a bottle from the last person in the water line and keep going. Only now I've got a bloody bottle to carry, which is rather annoying, since I don't want a drink, there are no bins, and I'm far too British to litter.

Soon we're on to the canal towpath, which has the advantage of being flat (hooray!) but the disadvantage of being muddy, narrow and slow. No real chance to overtake the bumblers in front and suddenly it turns out my third mile is completed in a poor time. I realise that the group who are running a fairly steady pace are going a bit slower than I want to run. Time to shape up and set my own pace.

Mile 4

Some bewildering back and forth on a couple of roads, executing u-turns at each end. Clearly parts of the route put in to make up the exact distance, but irritating to run. Not helped by the muppets who've decided to ignore the cones, barriers and "Road Closed" signs, and not only drive along the roads we're running on, but do so while playing a constant string of obnoxious tones on their car horns. Sadly the race marshals are not armed and dangerous so aside for some brisk "tutting" not much happens. A good time for the fourth mile, and the comfort of knowing I'm on the homeward leg now. The water bottle is becoming increasingly annoying, though I've taken a few swigs, just to pretend to myself that it was worth grabbing.

Mile 5

Back up and down the hilly bit now. The good news is that the third of a mile that I laboured up in mile 2 is all downhill now. The bad news is that the short sharp stretch I "thundered" down is now an up. But I'm damned if I'm going to let it beat me, so I lean in to it, grit my teeth and drive on. And I overtake people all the way up, don't drop my pace and feel better about that 0.1mile than about most of the rest of the race. For a moment I felt a surge of pride as I overtook a much younger, much slimmer, much fitter woman in running club gear... and then realised she was pausing to use her asthma inhaler. There's a limit to how smug anyone can feel at overtaking someone having an asthma attack.

Why are there no bins for this sodding bottle?

Mile 6 (and a little bit)

We reconvene with the half marathon route and are confronted with a sign marking the 12 mile point. The very thought makes me want to whimper. But I've got three good miles under my belt, along with two poor ones, so if I can keep it up for the last mile, I might still break the hour mark. But it's hurting now. The heavy pounding of the hills has got me in the hips, so much so that I'm barely feeling the shin splints any more.

There's an idiot running almost alongside me, except he's not, he's sprinting for twenty paces, then walking for ten, then repeating. Which means he's passing me, dropping back, passing me, dropping back, and driving me bloody insane. And then the race marshal steps off the pavement and right in front of me. As if the half-wits in cars on closed roads weren't bad enough, now the marshals are out to get me too.

I glance down at my watch... 0.3 miles to go... and I might just make it. Then I realise that's the same distance as from the pub to home, and I usually put my foot down and go flat out when I'm running the final stretch from pub to home**. So I give one last push, extend my stride, relax my shoulders and just go for it. As close to a "sprint" as I can manage after 6 miles. Round the corner, over the bridge and into the finishing straight in front of the Town Hall. BigBear is sitting by the cenotaph, but he doesn't spot me, and I don't want to waste energy with a wave. I'm in a clear patch as I head for the finish line, so the announcer has a chance to check my number and call my name out with a "well done" as I cross the line. 59 minutes and 30 seconds.

And because no analysis is complete without a graph, here's the profile of the run, with a few comments of my own:

 The Aftermath

I feel both relieved and disappointed. My breathing and heart-rate recover surprisingly quickly and I'm left with the feeling that I could have pushed myself harder, could have got a better time, could have, should have... Except my legs are wrecked. More wrecked than from any other run. It's the hills I think. Parts of me hurt that haven't hurt in training. I'm glad I did it. Glad I broke the hour barrier. But I wish I'd done better. Not to "beat" anyone else, but because I think there's better in me. So do you know what I've done?

I've signed up for a flat 10k in my home town in three weeks time. It was the only answer.

* For those wondering how I'm so confident about my times, distances and paces, I'm now the proud owner of BigBear's cast-off GPS running watch. It knows where I am and it knows what I'm doing. Which is kind of worrying.

** No, I don't train by running home from the pub, it just happens to be a landmark on the way back to the house from most of my routes. Honest.

Footnote: updated to remove some of the slightly fruitier language about people driving on the closed roads.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Highs and lows of starting school

Obviously, every "Mummy blogger" on the planet has written a post about starting school, about the pride and the sense of loss, about the fears and the hopes, and since I'm never one to shy away from a bandwagon, here's my version of all the cliches...

For the past six months or so, I'd been relatively sanguine about LittleBear starting school. He was so obviously ready to start learning more and discovering more, and having more opportunities. And then it started to get closer, and more real and more immediate, and instead of the hopes and opportunities all I could see was the little, fragile, sensitive, solitary child who struggles with new experiences and who I was about to dump in the ultimate new experience. And every fibre of my being screamed not to let go of my baby, despite knowing full well that this was a normal, healthy, necessary step in his path through life.

And so we got to his starting days. Blessedly, only half-days to begin with. And that first half day I felt sick with anxiety, terrified that my LittleBear would be overwhelmed and daunted. That he would be bewildered and upset. That he would hate it and beg not to go back. After all, we'd had four years of nursery, regularly punctuated by sobbing fits of "I don't want to go to nursery" and a limpet clinging to me as I tried to leave him there.

But no. School was brilliant. School was fun. School was exciting.

And then we moved on to slightly longer at school each day. And still he was happy.

And then he came home from school in alternative pants and trousers having had an "accident". This is my little boy who hasn't had any kind of accident in nearly two years. My little boy who went from nappies to dry in a week. But... he's also my little boy who always needs reminding to go to the loo as he fidgets, squirms, wriggles and insists he doesn't need a wee. And it sent me into a flat spin. He didn't seem even remotely bothered, and could barely remember what had happened, or where, or when. It was a complete irrelevance in his day, certainly compared to the sausages, mash and chocolate cake he'd had for lunch. But I was instantly and completely convinced that it was a Harbinger of Doom. A Sign. A Terrible Portent. It was irrevocable evidence that he was unhappy, unsure of himself and Everything Was Going Wrong. Because I never over-react to anything. Not me.

So then I spent the whole weekend intermittently weeping gently about my baby, about whether he was going to be OK, about whether we were entering a terrible regression into wetting himself, about whether he was actually afraid or confused or unhappy and I wouldn't be able to help.

And then Monday rolled around, and not only was it the first full day of school, but it was also the first day to involve half an hour at the "breakfast club" before school to give both BigBear and I the chance to get to work on time. And we both felt like complete heels leaving our little scrap there, looking small and lost and confused.

I wept on the way to work, missing my constant companion, missing his little voice piping up from the back seat asking for stories, missing the silliness and the happiness we used to share in the car. I'd had four years in which I'd always had LittleBear with me on the way to work. There had been plenty of times I'd been desperate for some peace and quiet, when I'd longed to just listen to the radio and not have to pretend to be a particularly ill-informed bunny rabbit, when I'd wished to be able to stop telling endless dinosaur stories, but after three days of peace and quiet, I missed my boy. Couldn't we just wind back the clock and I could have him with me again? I felt bereft. Alone. Lost.

Meanwhile... LittleBear had a lovely day. Breakfast club was apparently splendid, and the drawing he produced (of a dinosaur) was so incredibly awesome that the lady there took a photocopy of it to keep for herself*. And lunch was fishfingers and chips, and he got to play on the trikes at play-time and he couldn't remember anything else.

And though I miss my time in the car with my adorable boy, I've discovered that I have something better. I collect him from school at 3pm and we have nearly three whole hours to play together before dinner. None of the frantic rush that work days used to involve - sprinting through the door, dropping bags left, right and centre and hastily trying to throw together dinner in six and a quarter minutes. I no longer have a whole Monday and Friday at home with him, but I do get a great big chunk of time every day.

So while I haven't exactly stopped worrying about my baby's wellbeing and happiness (after all, he told me today "I prefer playing on my own at school, because then other people can't annoy me") I am going to relish the fact that I get time to play every day. I'm going to be grateful that I'm lucky enough to have a job that will allow me to collect him from school every day and sweep him up in a cuddle (for as long as he will allow such an indignity). And I'm going to try to stop imagining the worst. Because I'm sure you've all noticed how good I am at that.

* This is LittleBear's interpretation of the event. I'm not entirely sure what actually happened.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Who am I and what am I doing?

I seem to have forgotten to blog. Perhaps for longer than I have forgotten to blog so far. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given we've been confronting Starting School, which has been marginally stressful (for me at least). For a start it involved LittleBear being at home for a week between the end of nursery and the start of school. And then he spent four "afternoons" at school, which actually consist of four one and a half hour sessions. And now he's undertaking mornings. And only next week will he actually properly start school in a full-time sense. All of which also coincided with the continuing complete and utter failure to function of everything I'm working on at work. And for reasons best known to myself I have started trying to teach myself HTML and CSS so I can write my own website. And the cat has brought fleas into the house. And my cleaner has been off work with severe morning sickness. And I'm training for a 10km race next weekend. And there's been an unnecessary quantity of hot weather, making sleep a distant memory.

The upshot of the above has been that I've been sleeping badly, ferrying a small boy to and from school by bicycle in nasty sticky weather, and then re-designing circuit boards, writing a website, running, cooking, cleaning, washing carpets, and generally stressing about more or less everything.

On the plus side, LittleBear so far thinks school is wonderful and he loves it. He is full of bounce and joy and excitement. Mostly he is enamoured of playtime. He is also very much his father's son. And he bears striking similarities to his uncle, BrotherBear. BrotherBear has always been noted for working on a "need to know" basis. He does not share unnecessary information, such as interests, hobbies, thoughts, opinions or his whereabouts with his family, unless he deems it necessary. Extracting information from LittleBear beyond the fact that he had a lovely time is proving challenging...

Did you have a story today?
What was it?
I don't know

Did you do any painting today?
I don't know

Did you play with Tom today?
I can't remember

Meanwhile, when I meet a fellow mother in the playground I am told, "Oh! This is LittleBear! I've heard so much about LittleBear, MyBoy is always talking about him!" Really? I've heard that LittleBear has a new friend, whose name might be MyBoy. And that's it. I had the same experience at nursery with SweetGirl, who apparently talked about LittleBear all the time. I'd never even heard her name until her mother introduced herself. Ah well, I can't be surprised, given the nature of his father, who is distinctly reticent about sharing information, or his uncle. It's just me that shares every passing thought with almost everyone I meet.

So I am still here, and more or less still functioning, but this is the first evening in a long time where writing here hasn't felt like a profligate waste of time in light of the enormous list of Things To Do that was following me around the house.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Proving me wrong

There are few things that entertain LittleBear more than proving me wrong. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because I'm irritatingly infallible and all-knowing, so demonstrations of my failings are a rare and entertaining delight?*

There are games that LittleBear likes to play that are designed simply to demonstrate my wrongness. He will stand holding a bouncy ball and ask "which way am I going to throw it, this way or that way?" And naturally, whichever way I indicate, he throws the opposite way. Every time. And solemnly and vehemently insists that he had absolutely, definitely, completely, already decided which way to throw, and it's entirely coincidental that it's the opposite direction to that which I had chosen. This game can be adapted to many situations - which way am I going to jump? Which way am I going to throw nanoo? Which way am I going to swim? Which way am I going to run? Which dinosaur is going to attack the stegosaur? It's amazing the number of situations in which I can be hopelessly wrong.

And despite the fact that I am more or less utterly certain that LittleBear not only doesn't know that I write a blog, but he doesn't read it, he has now set about proving my most recent post utterly wrong...

Yesterday, on his last day at pre-school, I collected him and discovered that he'd eaten couscous with tuna and peppers. Now, this might not sound particularly radical to you, but he has never eaten tuna before, despite being offered it with tedious regularity. And though he loves peppers, he religiously picks cooked pepper out of anything it appears in. And the very idea of having foodstuffs mixed is anathema to him. Except yesterday. When he ate the whole lot and declared it to be "yummy".

Today, we went swimming (at LittleBear's request) at the municipal pool. Since it's still the school summer holidays here, the pool was FULL. We had to wait twenty minutes before we were issued a ticket to be allowed to even get changed to go in. And then one of the three pools was closed because there were too many people in it. Was LittleBear fazed? Did he attempt to avoid the hordes of teenagers in the pool? Did he cower at the side, not wanting to go where there were big children? He did not. He hurled himself around like a loon and wanted to go on the water-slides but was thwarted by the 8-year age limit on them. I was genuinely astounded that he wanted to go on a new and exciting activity that was also being used by bigger children. It's all context though. The swimming pool is somewhere that (now) he's amazingly confident and happy. He loves splashing and swimming and diving and jumping, and he doesn't care if there are other people there or not, as they don't really impinge on his own fun.

Now I just have to work out what went right with swimming and try and transfer that ease and confidence to a few other realms of his life. Though if it involves all the angst and tears that we had with swimming, I think I might stick with how things are now!

* You can stop laughing now.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Another parenting crisis of confidence

Once again I have been Foolish and Deluded. I have committed the cardinal sin. I have transgressed my own rules. I have read an "expert" article on parenting. And now I am wracked with guilt and self-doubt. The article's all about raising a confident child, and about all the things to do right and therefore, by implication, all the things you might be doing wrong in raising your child.

Those of you who have been stalking me assiduously, or paying an alarming degree of attention to what I write, will recall that when setting out on the extraordinary adventure that is parenthood, BigBear and I discussed our hopes and fears for our proto-child. And we were unanimous in our desire to try to instill self-confidence, healthy self-esteem and happiness into whatever progeny we gave rise to.

And already, it feels as though I'm failing in my quest. My LittleBear is anxious and unconfident. Not always, not everywhere, and not with everyone. But there are clues to his lack of confidence...

- if I try to read him a new story, he puts his hands over his ears, just in case. He always wants to look through all the pictures in a book first, and discuss what might be happening, before he'll risk a new story, a new peril, a new outcome.

- if we go to the park, and there are other children there, he'll only play on equipment with no other child in evidence. If another child appears? He retreats. If all the play equipment is in use? He stands at the side of the park, head tucked down into his shoulders, not wanting to join in. This occurs even if he's there with his friends. We went to a play park with the small Tiggers, of whom BoyTigger is LittleBear's absolute hero and idol. And though BoyTigger and GirlTigger rushed off to play, LittleBear stood forlornly at the edge, immune to all encouragement, and then finally asked to go home.

- if he's faced with new food, he shakes his head, refuses to speak, and will get close to tears at the thought of trying anything new.

- if we play at a friend's house, and there are other children there too, he stays by my side, playing his own games, only with me, and hides behind me if another child tries to talk to him.

- if we go to a party, LittleBear remains attached to me in a limpet like fashion, unwilling or unable to interact with other people, only me.

I try, I really do try, to encourage, and support, and love and praise my beautiful, fragile little boy. And now yet another person is announcing that the power to raise a confident child lies solely with the parents. That the failure to raise a confident child lies solely with the parents. Another person is denying the possibility that there are inherent differences in personality, that there are traits that are not changed simply by being a better parent. I'm being the best parent I know how to be. More than that, I'm being a parent who is aware and alert to avoiding damaging an emerging sense of self in my son. And yet, still, I feel as though my baby is faced with a battle that I can't win for him. That I can't parent his way out of. And while I'm facing the dawning realisation that maybe this is just the way he is, I'm simultaneously being told the 17 Amazing Tips to Raise a Confident Child, as though that's all it takes. A recipe. A list. A set of check boxes.

For those who haven't read the article I linked to, these are the things I should be doing to make sure I raise a confident child.

1. Appreciate effort no matter if they win or lose
2. Encourage practice to build competence
3. Let them figure out problems by themselves
4. Let them act their age
5. Encourage curiosity
6. Give them new challenges
7. Avoid creating short cuts or making exceptions for your child
8. Never criticise their performance
9. Treat mistakes as building blocks for learning
10. Open the door to new experiences
11. Teach them what you know how to do
12. Don't tell them when you're worried about them
13. Praise them when they deal with adversity
14. Offer your help and support, but not too much of it
15. Applaud their courage to try something new
16. Celebrate the excitement of learning
17. Be authoritative, but not too forceful or strict

I've read this list, over and over again, and the description that goes with each item. And I've really tried to think critically about whether I do or don't manage those things. And honestly? I think I occasionally slip up on points 4, 7, 12 and 14, but I've pretty much nailed the rest. Seriously, I could give you chapter and verse, with examples, photographic evidence and citations of me doing exactly those things. In fact, now I've read what I should be doing, I'm actually quite pleased to discover that it's more or less exactly what I am doing. The disappointing thing is that it doesn't bloody well work.

And it makes me angry that "experts" parade their knowledge around, telling us all how to be better parents, how not to get it all wrong, how to make sure our children end up psychologically healthy, physically strong, mentally agile or whatever else their book is touting. And never do they acknowledge the spectrum of humanity that is represented in children. Never do they say, "actually, for the most part, if you're a good enough parent, your child will turn out however it's going to turn out, and you just have to roll with it".

And I'm trying to roll with it, really I am. I'm trying to walk the tightrope of giving LittleBear the opportunity to step out and try new things, while giving him the cushion of warmth and love to know that he's safe and loved no matter what he does. I'm trying not to worry too much about his fear of the unknown. I'm trying not to be petrified that next week he starts at school with 96 other four-year olds, of whom he's familiar with a scant handful, and friends with one. I'm trying not to cry when I think of him standing at the edge of the playground, afraid to join in. I'm trying not to break down when I picture him not eating anything at lunch-time as the new and strange food choices scare him into silence and terror. I'm trying. I'm really, really trying.