Friday, 29 December 2017

Merry Christmas one and all

Contrary to my expectations, fears, dreams and idiocy I had a lovely Christmas. It looked to be heading deeper into the mire of misery as we headed northwards, pausing for a day with my in-laws. Not because of my in-laws, I hasten to add, before BigBear starts bridling about insults to his family. No, it was a continuing sense of feeling left out on my part, caused in the main by my own decisions.

Let me explain...

Over the past few years, as parents have aged, and children have become more boisterous, there has been a general trend amongst LittleBear's grandparental units, on both sides, to suffer from an Inability To Cope With It All. In the case of my in-laws, this has translated to Christmas with both their sons and hangers-on simultaneously to be a bit much. And since other-son has more complicated family arrangements, having an ex-wife, two children, fiancee, step-child and step-child's-other-family, they've had first dibs on Christmas Day, and we've arrived for Second Christmas a few days later. Assuming this to be the case this year, I announced we would take ourselves off to the middle of nowhere and return on the required day.

But then we arrived at the in-laws... and I discovered that they were all spending Christmas with other-son. And there would be a great, big, jolly, family Christmas to which we hadn't been invited*. And, naturally, this precipitated more feelings of woe and sadness in me, and an even greater sense that I would be bereft at Christmas.

So the next morning we set off for the middle of nowhere, with me fighting back tears as we drove. They persisted until we stopped to change drivers at Burton in Kendal and I had a large cup of coffee. My first cup of coffee of the day. And I felt a lot better. And my headache went away. And I began to wonder how severe my caffeine addiction is.

And then we had four days of utterly, utterly foul weather - what the Mountain Weather Information Service described as "incessant rain". The wind was 50mph, gusting to 70mph, and when we did venture out, LittleBear could barely stand, even when clinging to us. Then the valley flooded, and we couldn't even get across the footbridge at the bottom of the field. The cottage had nearly run out of coal and wood and the kitchen was a bracing 11C. And we had a lovely time.

We played games. We ate chocolates, and had toast for lunch if we didn't feel like anything else (and by "we" I mean LittleBear). We read books, and made up stories, and drew pictures, and had LittleBear's Christmas stocking in our bed, and had a teeny-tiny Christmas tree, and an open fire, and new oil-filled radiators in the bedrooms that chewed through electricity but kept us warm and comfortable. And I cooked a massive Christmas dinner for three people. And it was all lovely and low-stress, because I didn't have to live up to anyone else's expectations, or make sure dinner met with other people's approval, or lived up to other people's traditions.

I loved my family Christmases as a child, and I miss my family, but I do need to remember that everything doesn't need to stay the same for it to be lovely. There isn't one right way of doing things, there isn't one way of being happy. And if I spend too much time thinking about why I'm not going to be happy, I won't leave time for actually enjoying the moments of joy when they come along. And with LittleBear, there are always moments of joy.

On our final day the weather lifted to reveal glorious snow-capped fells under bright blue skies, so me and my boy ran across the fields with gay abandon:

Moments of joy

* This is, obviously, a gross misrepresentation of the facts. I decided we were going to the middle of nowhere, and BigBear informed his family of this. There was never an opportunity for us to be invited to do anything else.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

À la recherche du temps perdu

It may have been the taste of madeleines that provoked Marcel Proust's involuntary memories, but for me it seems to be the preparations for Christmas. And this year, perhaps because of an abnormal level of tiredness, I am finding it a particularly emotional experience. I am reliving all the memories of my childhood Christmases, and mourning all the lost times and lost traditions that I never realised were so transient. At the time, everything about Christmas seemed permanent, immutable and Christmassy. My maternal and paternal families celebrated Christmas in more-or-less the same way, so no matter where we were, or who we were with, I could expect a very similar, reassuring, comforting, family Christmas*.

And now?

I haven't spent Christmas with my brother in eight years.

I haven't visited my South African family for Christmas in twelve years.

I haven't spent Christmas with my English cousins in twenty years.

I'm not seeing a single member of my family, beyond my own two bears, at all over this Christmas period.

We've all grown up. We have our own children, our own in-laws, our own families, our own traditions. BigBear's family traditions are not the same as mine, and we don't seem to have formed a core of our own, beyond the quirk of having an octopus on the top of our Christmas tree. I haven't yet found a way to incorporate the things that seem to me to be essential to Christmas into our own lives, and I can't enforce them upon my in-laws when I'm a guest in their house (as we are every Christmas-time, though never actually for Christmas).

So here I am, feeling again as though Christmas won't be quite right still. The house won't be full of family, the table won't be groaning with food, every chair in the house won't have been roped in to seat us all. I won't have bucks fizz before lunch while we all open presents, as nobody else drinks it. I won't pour brandy over a Christmas pudding and set fire to it, as nobody else eats it. I won't make GrannyBear's special very rich Christmas fruit cake as nobody else likes it. There won't be any arguing over who gets the last of the bread sauce, as nobody else likes it. Nobody will wheel out every single Asterix pun about bacon and ham, batting word-play back and forth across the table, as I'm the only one who knows the Asterix books back to front. We won't make a futile attempt on the King William quiz, because nobody can do it**.

Neither my own beloved Granny, nor LittleBear's Granny will appear mid-afternoon with the tray of "afters" for us to binge on while we play cards. There won't be a sugared almond, a crystallized ginger or a date in sight. I won't spend the afternoon playing board games and cracking nuts, seeing who can get a brazil nut out of its shell intact, and how much turkish delight it's possible to eat before feeling sick.

I feel lost and tearful at my inability either to know what our Christmas should be, or how to recapture enough of my own Christmases to assuage the immense waves of loss that are sweeping over me as I contemplate the past. My grandparents are long gone, as is my own father, and now my uncle too. I feel as though I'm single-handedly trying to cling on to all the precious memories and habits of times gone by while the other branches of my family have moved on and left me behind. They have forged new paths and new families and they have their Christmases, of which I will never be a part again. I feel as though I have lost something infinitely precious, and I never even got to say goodbye.

I know that we will have a wonderful Christmas, and that I will rejoice in my LittleBear's joy and excitement. And I hope that in doing so we will make memories and traditions for him to love and cherish and return to. There will be more that defines a Bear Christmas than just an octopus atop a tree, but at the moment, I don't know what it is. Despite decades of adulthood, I feel as though I'm starting from scratch. And I don't know what I'm doing.

* Obviously, no family is perfect, and we have some excrutiating memories mixed in there too, but I'm glossing over those at the moment.

** None of us has ever been able to do it, but my grandfather's answers were always able to make us feel as though we were at least slightly competent.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

It must just be something about me

So, having bleated about my idiocy in making cakes for the PTA Christmas fair, despite not needing to, and blaming it all on an utterly misplaced and pointless sense of parental guilt...

... this evening I found myself making a batch of Christmassy cupcakes to take to work. Just because I felt like it.

Christmassy cupcakes

I even treated them with (edible) shiny gold glitter spray.

From which I can only conclude that a) I'm a glutton for punishment and b) I just quite like making cakes anyway.

Now if only I'd managed to get my favourite tupperware box back from the PTA at the end of the Christmas fair, I'd have somewhere to put them.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Christmas crises

I started out feeling moderately organised for this Christmas. I'd even bought my first Christmas present in October, which is unheard of for me. We made a plan to spend Christmas at the family cottage in the Lake District, and thus also be able to visit the Northern BearFamily on the way there. Or back. Or both.

This all seems remarkably splendid and well-planned.

Except... reality is now beginning to bite. For one thing there's the reality that I intend to spend five days at Christmas in a cottage with no heating. And in winter it's not uncommon for the electricity to get cut off by falling trees or other natural disasters. And the nature of the pump that brings water into the area is that if the electricity fails, approximately 24 hours later the tank on the hillside is finally empty and there's no water either. Admittedly it probably won't happen like that, but there's still that whole heating thing.

And then there's the food. By a quirk of incompetence, I failed to get a grocery order booked in time, and there are no slots available. So I'm left with two options: take the food with us, or try and buy it on the way. On the 23rd December. You can stop laughing now. We're taking the food with us. And the bedding, towels, thermals, waterproofs, walking boots, Christmas tree, decorations, advent calendars, presents, toys, games, books, computers and all other forms of entertainment, heat and happiness. In a small hatchback. No, really, I said you could stop laughing.

I've been offered the loan of a roof box for my car, which sort of seems like a good idea, but also feels like an admission of failure, as there are only two and half of us, and it's only five days. And I'd need to buy and fit roof bars to my car to be able to use the roof box. I made an appointment to have roof bars fitted at the local motoring emporium tomorrow morning.

But then... we hummed and hah-ed about the point of spending £145 just in case we couldn't fit everything in, and decided to cancel the order. We can deposit presents and some clothes at Grandma and GrandadBear's house on the way north, replace the space they were occupying with food, and continue, with potatoes in our laps if necessary, for the last 84 miles. And then, cold, weary, and possibly unwashed, we can return to Grandma and GrandadBear's house for a second wave of Christmas and be reunited with normal clothes and the remaining presents.

There was a moment in the previous paragraph that I skipped lightly over... "decided to cancel the order". Cancelling the order involved phoning the shop. I don't like phoning. I'd already had to speak to them when they phoned me to confirm details and book a fitting time. They'd been so nice, so friendly, so helpful. Wait! What? Surely that would make it easier to phone? You'd think so wouldn't you? But not in my twisted little mind. In my mind, the fact that Nice Man Mike had been so nice meant I would be personally affronting him by cancelling the order. In fact, I was essentially duty-bound to spend £145 I didn't want to spend, just to avoid upsetting Nice Man Mike. And he might turn into Mean Mike if I told him I didn't want his roof bars.

Those of you who have not experienced my battles with phone calls might find it hard to believe that I was on the verge of tears this morning while contemplating making this phone call. And it only got worse, since by the time I'd psyched myself up to do it, I had to leave work, collect LittleBear, deposit cakes at the cake stall, spend an hour and a half at the school Christmas fair (while carrying 37 precious objects for LittleBear) and then get us, and our 37 precious objects home. And then phone the motoring emporium. While LittleBear asked me to watch a battle between a cheetah, a wild dog and a hammerhead shark.

Mike answered.

My heart sank.

I explained I needed to cancel an order, as our plans had changed and I no longer needed to carry the heavy load I thought I would need.

"Your husband doesn't have to go on the roof then?" quipped Mike.

"No problem love, I'll cancel that for you."

Just like that. He was still Nice Man Mike. In fact, he could probably do without faffing around fitting roof bars to someone's car on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Now I just have to try and plan whether I can buy only foods with nice square edges that will pack into boxes really efficiently. Weetabix, potato waffles and cheese for five days I think.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Making life harder than it needs to be

Today is a day for revisiting the spectre of the guilt of the working mother. Which is completely different from the guilt of the stay at home mother, or the guilt of the trying-to-have-it-all mother. Because I know my particular flavour of guilt is only one of many, and if I arranged my life differently, I'd find different ways to feel deficient, less-than, and guilty.

This evening, at 9:30pm, I finished making Christmas-themed cupcakes for the PTA cake sale. I could have done what any sensible, right-thinking, normal human being would do. I could have just bought some. It's really not going to make any difference to the children, or the other parents, or the teachers, or the amount of money the PTA raise at the Christmas Fair tomorrow. I don't need to prove anything. Except to myself.

Every week there's an email or a Facebook request, or a letter in the school bag - asking for volunteers to help in the garden, or to man a stall at a fair, or to walk the children round the village, or to help out at the film night, or to wrap presents, or to do a host of other helpful things to raise money or enable activities to take place. And I never sign up. I feel I ought to. I know LittleBear would love me to. He wants me to come and help in the garden next term, but I can't. I work. If I take time off for term-time activities, then what will happen in the holidays?

So instead, I need to prove that I care. Need to prove that I am a good enough mother, that I too can devote time and energy to the extra activities at school. Even though nobody else cares, it salves my conscience. And it's a bloody ridiculous thing to do. Because I'm already tired, and I have a list of Things To Do that actually need doing, but instead of doing them, I've devoted an evening to a pointless exercise in maternal guilt management.

I think I need my head examining...

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Too tired to even be deranged

It is possible that at some point I will write about how awesome my son is, and how much fun we had at London Zoo. I might find the energy to write about him coping on the tube, even when Camden Town station was so over-crowded they were closing the gates and only letting a trainful into the building at a time. I might write about how much he loved seeing all his favourite snakes, not to mention penguins and wild dogs and meerkats and lemurs. I might write about  how I, Johnny-Morris-like, provided voices for all the animals we saw, no matter how stupid I looked in front of all the other, more normal, adults around me. I might write about LittleBear eating a packet of hula hoops, a banana and a chocolate brownie for lunch. In the rain. With his gloves on.

Or I might just leave you with that cluster of images and tell you that I lay awake from 4am to 6am, worrying about how to acquire a cuddly stingray for my son. And then, even though my lovely friend has offered to try and acquire one when she went into work, I decided to run back to the museum to be there when it opened, queue up, dash round three museum shops to find one of the last remaining stingrays and then run back to the hotel. And before undertaking this absurd performance, I shattered the childhood dream of surprises at Christmas by gently explaining to my son the impossibility of purchasing his heart's desire anywhere other than actually in the museum, and that he needed to decide if he really, really, really wanted it. As you can surmise from the outcome, he concurred that he did really, really, really want it, more than anything in the world, and that he was prepared to sacrifice time in the zoo in return.

So here we are, back home again, with our eyelids drooping closed, the cat frantically over-excited to see us again, and a sense of deep relief to be out of the seething mass of humanity that is London.

And I think I was a better mother today. Whether it was the warm glow of knowing I had a cuddly stingray in my bag, or the calming and reassuring presence of BigBear to take the stress out of solo responsibility, or the additional sleep that LittleBear had had, or a combination of all three, I don't know. Suffice to say, I was much more patient, much more loving and much more kind today. And LittleBear made me so very, very proud by being the best little bear in the world.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Sleep-deprived and deranged

I spoke too soon.

I may have had a bed to myself, but that only marginally improved the quantity and quality of sleep I obtained. There were two factors involved. Firstly, the hotel room was, as they so often are, far too hot and far too dry. This led to me succumbing to the one-glass-hangover, and waking feeling utterly, utterly wretched. Secondly, LittleBear woke at 5:30, instead of his more usual 6:45. In truth, "secondly" may also have been caused by "firstly", as I can't imagine he was much more comfortable than me, even without having consumed wine.

And thus it was that at 6:45 I was being regaled with statistics from the Guinness Book of Formula One Records with a pounding headache. Living the dream. Or perhaps the nightmare.

I managed to stave off actually emerging from my bed for another half hour or so, at which point I found ibuprofen and coffee, and introduced LittleBear to what probably still counts as the parenting highlight of the day - I'd remembered to bring his advent calendar with me, and remembered to put chocolates in the first two pockets at least. And because I wasn't up for any kind of battle, he had today's chocolate in bed. And in many respects, my parenting went downhill from there.

Breakfast sustained me with industrial quantities of coffee and fried foods, which layered on top of the ibuprofen nicely to render me more or less human. Though, sadly, not any less tired. LittleBear, meanwhile, chomped his way through two bowls of fruit, a massive doorstop of buttered toast, and a croissant. And I introduced him to Nutella on his croissant. The individual packets are relatively generous, and it only took about half a pot to comfortably daub every chunk of croissant. Which is how I came to allow LittleBear to eat the rest of the pot with a teaspoon. Like I said, my parenting was nose-diving.

Since the Natural History Museum doesn't open until 10, and our hotel was only a few minutes down the road, we returned to our room to play a few swift games of "Uno" before tackling the rest of the day. And I made the classic error or winning the first one, leading to a small (and under-slept) small boy lying on his front sobbing that he was never, ever, ever going to play, ever, ever, ever again. Nose-diving.

Despite such traumas, we still made it to the museum in time to queue up and be among the first to get in for the day, allowing us plenty of time and space in the all-important dinosaur galleries first. The route round seems to have changed in the last two years, which was when we came on our Big Day Out. Aside from the fact that, obviously, dinosaurs are awesome, there were two major things that struck me - firstly, it was very disappointing not to be able to walk along the elevated gantry, and it felt as though we actually saw far fewer skeletons; secondly, LittleBear remembered around which corner he would encounter the meteorite on a stand that he could touch, two years after he last saw it. I think I have spawned a freak.

The museum was as awesome as ever, though we did need to stop intermittently to curl up in a cuddle on a handy bench with a nanoo. There were several more parenting nadirs however...

...for instance...

... while playing with the demonstration of the difference between a horse's leg and an elephant's leg, and watching LittleBear bounce up and down with a metal post under his chin, I found myself saying, "If you knock your teeth out and there's blood everywhere, I won't be sympathetic and cuddle you!" The devastated tearful collapse then warranted some serious apologising and the assurance that I would always, always, always care if he was hurt, and always, always, always try and make it better.

I even managed to hold firm to my injunction that coming to London, and staying in a hotel, and eating in restaurants and going to the museum and the zoo were treats, and that I wasn't buying anything in the shop. I didn't manage to resist imprecations to visit the various museum shops (for they are many and scattered). And LittleBear and I both fell in love with a beautiful, soft, cuddly ray. And I assured him that it would go on his Christmas list, and that as long as we knew if was what he really, really wanted, there'd be a good chance he could have it. So every time we passed a shop, we popped in to cuddle a ray. And I knew that the museum has an online shop, and buying one would be easy. Oh foolish me. It does not exist in the online shop. It was been discontinued by the manufacturer. I have as good as promised my son something I cannot provide. I hadn't thought my parenting could go much further downhill today.

I have one possibility, and that is my friend who works in the museum, who if I beg and plead and cajole, might be imposed upon to cross the boundary from back-room to front-of-house and buy one on my behalf, before the world's supply of adorable cuddly blue-spotted rays dries up completely.

In the gaps between visiting shops to cuddle rays, we covered a lot of territory, though by the end we were resorting to the lift to descend from the mineral collection to the ground floor, before ascending into the From The Beginning Gallery. As we paused (again) to extract nanoo from my bag to have a sustaining cuddle on my lap, I suggested maybe we should head back to the hotel... "But we haven't been to the Human Body yet". So off we went... and I was relieved that LittleBear was already almost comatose, as I could lead him swiftly through the details of human reproduction and into senses and memory. There is rarely a day when I do feel like explaining about sperm and how they get where they're going. But there are some days when I am even less keen than other days. This was, in case you hadn't guessed, one of the latter.

After six hours, we did finally stumble back to our hotel. And I've probably made it sound as though I was mostly a splendid Mummy with one or two moments of vexation, but it feels a lot more as though I was a vexed Mummy with one or two moments of being almost human. And I'm finding myself genuinely (and perhaps disproportionately) worried and upset about failing to buy the coveted ray when I had a chance. BigBear arrived this evening, and his rather more robust view is to simply tell LittleBear that he can't have it. He's probably right. But he didn't see the utter adoration that LittleBear heaped upon this creature. And he didn't almost-promise that LittleBear could have one for Christmas.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Derangement relieved

Here I sit, in the dark, in a hotel room in central London, trying to type quietly while LittleBear snores beside me.

The last time I took LittleBear away to a hotel was our road trip to Lyme Regis, and I have to say, that a mere five hours in, and I've already made some better decisions about this excursion:

  • we came by train, and thus LittleBear was not sick
  • I have booked a hotel room with two double beds, and therefore I do not have to spend the night being kicked by a small wrigglesome creature
  • I have discovered* that my laptop has a little light that can shine upon my keyboard, so I can even see to type in the dark

I was feeling more than a little trepidatious today about this whole expedition, starting with the idea of whisking LittleBear straight home from school with no dithering in time for a 3:30 taxi and hoping the taxi would get us through school-rush-hour traffic to the station on the other side of town for a 4:15 train. To my utter astonishment, this worked seamlessly. And the train was almost empty, and LittleBear was good, and helpful and listened to me, and didn't behave like a lunatic.

My trepidation extended to the idea of London underground with a six year old at 5pm, so I made the profligate decision to catch a cab, and we thus traversed London (slowly) above ground, but without being trampled on or squashed or terrified. And then the hotel restaurant, despite alarmingly declaring itself to only be Asian fusion cuisine, turned out to do pizza and fishfingers and other child-friendly (and LittleBear friendly) delectables, so we didn't even have to leave the building to find dinner, which was something of a relief with an exhausted boy in tow. And I got to have Nasi goreng and a glass of wine, which was a bonus.

Now all we have to do is get enough sleep that we don't both sit on the floor and sob in the Natural History Museum tomorrow. I probably haven't mentioned the middle--of-the-night requirement for Emergency Mummy Cuddles last night have I? They happened. Which has probably contributed to LittleBear falling asleep so quickly in strange surroundings, and also to my general zombie-like state. In fact, it's entirely possible that even though it's only just past 9pm, I might go to bed myself more or less nowish...

* BigBear explained this feature to me after I complained in my blog about not being able to see to type. I felt like a Bear of Very Little Brain after that.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Another deranged plan

This time tomorrow, LittleBear and I (all being well) will be safely ensconced in a hotel in central London, in preparation for a Wildly Exciting Adventure. On Friday, LittleBear's school has a teacher-training day, so we're going to take the opportunity of hoping that the Natural History Museum will be not quite as insanely busy as it is at the weekend, and spend the day there. And since we're going all the way to London, we're then going to go to London Zoo on Saturday. I must be insane.

To give you a minor insight into the exact levels of my insanity, here's a selection of the things that I've packed:

- three sets of pyjamas
- an encyclopedia of animals
- a packet of cheese biscuits
- steri-strips and surgical dressings
- a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone
- chocolate fingers
- mouth ulcer gel
- three toy sharks
- two cuddly sharks

There are perils in packing when feeling tired and stressed. It would be fair to say I may not be at my most rational.

If I survive the experience, I may even tell you about it. Watch this space...

Sunday, 26 November 2017

You shan't go to the ball

Back in the Old Days (the ones before LittleBear, and sleep deprivation, and the evaporation of a social life) I used to make a habit of holding a mulled-wine and mince pie party before Christmas. I would make vast quantities of pies and biscuits and mince pies and buy enough cheese to sink a battleship, and mull enough wine to drown a camel. Friends would arrive from near and far, and we would stay up too late and feel ropey in the morning.

Last year, I managed to return to something along those lines, and it was fun - not only to regain some semblance of Life As It Used To Be, but also just to eat and drink and be merry. Though I confess, I was looking at my watch anxiously as it passed midnight, and wondering whether child-free friends realised that it was past my bedtime...

Last year I was clearly feeling brave and bold, because I didn't just have a mulled-wine and mince pie party, I held a children's party in the afternoon as well so that friends who were deficient in the baby-sitter department could also come out and eat cheese*.

And, generally speaking, I recall last year's events with fondness. I think people enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. LittleBear and his friends enjoyed it and LittleBear went to bed and to sleep without being too perturbed by a houseful of people.

So, in the spirit of festive fun, I'd been vaguely planning to do something similar this year. And then, last night, while wallowing in self-pity as I struggled to eat, drink, talk or sleep without excruciating pain due to the massive ulcer on the side of my tongue, I found another ulcer developing under my top lip. And I threw the whole idea of a party in the bin.

One mouth ulcer and the whole party is cancelled?

Surely that's some kind of over-reaction?

It's really not, honest. Mouth ulcers in my life are symptomatic of being stretched to breaking point, of my immune system being on the point of utter collapse, of the candle having been burnt at too many ends. The combination of LittleBear's birthday and party (and cake), weathering the storm of chickenpox, drowning under a tidal wave of work, trying to get ready for Christmas, and rashly arranging a weekend in London with LittleBear in four days time** has left me with only one possible day on which to hold a party before Christmas. And to be honest, if I only have one free day between now and Christmas, I suspect I will find there are a lot of other things I need to be doing on that day.

And I feel sad, and a bit crap, but in possession of just enough self awareness to remind myself that not holding a party will not result in the immediate and instant evaporation of all my friends. Because, being inclined that way, I do assume that I have to do things for my friends for them to like me. If I don't feed them, they might leave me...

So, this year, I am sorry to say, there will be no Christmas party, and PhysicsBear shall not go to the ball.

On the other hand, last year's "Christmas" party didn't actually happen until 4th February, so there's hope yet for us all to enjoy a festival of cheese.

* Yes, cheese always features prominently.

** That's the sound of me panicking.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Fusion cookery

By popular demand*, here comes the post about The Birthday Cake. This year's cake, as ever, was of a general dinosaur-esque theme. But it was heavily influenced, in LittleBear's mind, by a rather more sophisticated cake that he'd seen in a book. Somewhat further back in time, I made a cake for GrandmaBear's birthday, and I made the rather rash decision to consult the male bears in the household about the design of the cake, using a cake decorating book as reference. BigBear did not have strong views, but LittleBear certainly did, and what is more, he felt inspired to make Helpful Suggestions regarding a design for his own cake.

GrandmaBear's cake turned out reasonably well, despite my misgivings about my ability to pipe royal icing with anything approaching a smooth flow.

GrandmaBear's cake

However (and you knew there was going to be one), LittleBear spotted this cake in the book:

Chocolate box cake

That's right - a beautifully constructed cake designed to look like a beautiful box of chocolates. This would, in itself, have constituted a Challenge Too Far for my decorating skills, but then LittleBear didn't exactly want a cake like that. He wanted a cake that had a lid on, with chocolates hiding inside, but he wanted the chocolates to be dinosaur eggs, and the box to be camouflaged and disguised with leaves and twigs so as to look like a nest, and there needed to be dinosaurs marching round the outside.

Obviously, the correct answer at this point would have been hysterical laughter followed swiftly by "not on your life, sunshine."

I suspect you've already guessed that this wasn't the answer I gave, which is how I ended up making nearly a kilogram of chocolate icing early this month.

Step one in the cake-making saga was relatively straightforward. I made two layers of chocolate cake, and one layer of chocolate cookie (to be the lid).

Basic elements

This rapidly became less straightforward when it became clear that a large slab of chocolate cookie is not structurally sound. In fact, it wasn't possible to pick it up, let alone use it as a lid for a cake, so I resorted to re-baking it until it was teetering on the brink of burnt, at which point it became reliably crisper and more rigid. Surprisingly it was still tasty, though with two days till party time, I was prepared to accept an inedible lid just to complete the challenge.

While I was busy worrying about the structural integrity of the lid, I was also contemplating how to create the recess in the top that would allow the concealment of the eggs. Having used a cake mixture that used 3 eggs to make the two slabs pictured above, I decided that I needed to make a rectangular perimeter with a 1-egg mixture, thus occupying one third of the area of the above slabs. For geometrical reasons that I won't go into, this resulted in me lying awake at 3:30am trying to calculate the square root of 32 in my head.

Fortunately, working in an engineering firm allowed me to knock up a modification to one of my cake tins during my lunch hour, allowing me to make a perimeter cake:

Perimeter prior to baking

Perimeter fresh from the oven
And thus I was liberated to start making industrial quantities of icing, and building The Cake of Doom.

Industrial quantities of chocolate icing

Layer one

Layer one iced

Layer two added

Layer two with perimeter icing

Perimeter layer added

Plastered in chocolate

I was then able to fill the cake with chocolate eggs, and insert a little extra structural support just in case the twice-baked cookie wasn't up to the job of spanning the top.

Egg-filled, reinforced cake

What I should have mentioned at some point was that for the week prior to making the cake, I'd spent most evenings tediously lovingly crafting sugarpaste leaves in various semi-convincing shades of green. These I was then able to stick down all over the outside of the cake and the lid, thus rendering it brilliantly camouflaged against any predators hoping to steal the dinosaur eggs.

They'll never find the eggs in here

Which most people would think was more than enough cake, but LittleBear had been quite clear about the need for dinosaurs as well. Which is how I ended up with six individual dinosaur cakes standing around in plastic cups with icing dripping off their feet.

Which also then allowed me to (re)discover that the T.rexs in this particular set of dinosaur cake moulds are unable to stand up, and therefore need artfully arranged "logs" to lean against.

I could stand up if I wanted to, really I could
And then I forgot to take a picture of the completed cake. Because I had a party for 25 small children to finish organising.

And though this all sounds like a stupid amount of effort to have made, my boy not only loved his cake, and loved eating it, but he also joined in making it, and it became an opportunity to have fun together.

Making his own cake

I do find myself saying the same thing this year as I've said on previous years however, which is that next year I won't ask LittleBear what he wants, or if I do I'll rein in the wilder excesses of his imagination. But I know myself. So I can more or less guarantee you'll find me doing something equally daft next year.

* OK, one person asked about the cake. Frankly, that's as popular as I get.

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.


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Pointless busyness

It has been a week since I've written a post.

The house has no fresh food in it, and very little left in the freezer.

The gardening jobs are still lurking on a list.

The sheets on the beds need changing.

The carpet needs a serious vacuum clean.

Best friend's birthday present is still not wrapped, though her birthday was yesterday*

What on earth have I been doing?

Have I been bringing work home with me? I have not.

Have I been ill? I have not.

Have I been relaxing and reading my book? I have not.

I have been making a cuddly giant squid. A giant, cuddly, giant squid. With LittleBear. It has been an adventure.

LittleBear decided he would really like to have a go at making a cuddly giant squid, and, being the soft touch that I am, I agreed. We found a pattern on the internet; we choose fabric**; we modified the pattern because the arms and tentacles were not long enough; we drew the new pattern on huge rolls of paper; LittleBear cut out the pattern pieces; I cut out the fabric; together we sewed the pieces - LittleBear on the pedal of the sewing machine and me feeding the fabric through. If any of you have ever sewed with two slightly dissimilar fabrics, one of which is stretchier than the other, you will know how slowly and steadily you need to take the process. Try imagining doing this, when you have no control of the speed whatsoever. I am probably more proud of myself for remaining calm and even tempered in this endeavour than I am of constructing a cuddly squid at all.

We stuffed the squid, we made eyes for the squid, we attached the eyes. It has literally taken over all my waking hours at home for the past week. I was sewing eyes on with LittleBear between breakfast and school this morning.

The mantle and fins are cut out and ready to go

Eight arms, two tentacles, insides and outsides

Mantle with stuffed fins. All sewing and stuffing by LittleBear

A heap of unstuffed arms, three by LittleBear, five by me

Once the squid arms and tentacles were stuffed came the extremely painful, fiddly, time-consuming and vexing process of joining the appendages to each other, and to the head.*** It required more than thirty pins just to hold it together. Needless to say, I saved this bit for after LittleBear had gone to bed.

Trying to assemble squid appendages

But then, the end was in sight. With only another 750g of stuffing, we had a fabulously absurd squid. My fingertips are lacerated, I have bled from under the nails of multiple fingers, my back is still recovering from hunching over a seemingly endless supply of arms and tentacles. But how can I be anything but delighted when the end result is this?

It really is a giant squid

Squidy likes watching Numberblocks too

Squidy isn't afraid of anything and will chase all the worries away

* I only feel a little bit bad about not having wrapped Piglet's present, as I'm not seeing her till Saturday, so I feel I can get away with it.

** I am going to offer a heartfelt, and unsponsored, recommendation to use the website Plush Addict, who not only sell awesome cuddly toy fabric, but will also colour-match the thread for you, rather than making you rely on the colours shown on screen.

*** For those not familiar with squid anatomy, here's a handy diagram, with thanks to a blog by the Burlington Science Centre. We have not constructed either a siphon or a beak.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Effortless elegance

Those of you who are as old and haggard mature and experienced as I am, may remember a couple of chocolate adverts from our youths. Firstly there was Galaxy chocolate, with sultry women draping themselves around with silk and chocolate. Then there was Flake, "only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate", again involving naked women eating chocolate, generally in the bath. Sometimes there was a telephone. And a lizard. It's all a bit hazy now. Suffice to say, the message was that chocolate was sexy and involved gorgeous and come-hither-ish women.

And now there exists such a thing as a Galaxy Flake (more-or-less, trade names notwithstanding). And, having had a rather rubbish day, that involved, among other things
  • being told (by two members of the board of directors no less) that I needed to do someone else's job as well as my own, because he was, to use their words, shit at it.
  • getting home and finding that one of my radiators was widdling water into a tupperware box, handily placed there by the cleaner, who had presumably caused the widdling by smacking into the radiator with over-enthusiastic hoovering*.
  • having a small boy who, once again, "couldn't" get to sleep because he didn't have anything to think about, and even the lure of the new sticker reward chart failed to prevent whimpering and demands for parental attention.
I decided I deserved some chocolate. And having one of these Galaxy not-a-flake-but-similar bars about the house, I decided that was what I'd have. And I proceeded to drop flakes of chocolate down my own cleavage, where it proceeded to melt, covering the inside of my t-shirt and undergarments in melted chocolate splodges. They never showed that in the adverts did they? Though that might explain why the Flake-lady was eating chocolate in the bath...

* Fortunately I have an awesome plumber, who I phoned, and who turned up, fixed the leak and left, without charging me, within twenty minutes. This is the kind of blessing in my life that I should focus on from time to time.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Time to get the CBT books out again

Back in the mists of time, as I slowly medicated my way out of Post Natal Depression, I continued to weep on my GP's shoulder from time to time, and she continued to be sympathetic and understanding. Until she moved to another part of the country. I don't think it was anything to do with me. But, one of the things she did do was refer me onto a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

And along I went, feeling something of a fraud, because I was better by then. I was cured! I was normal! And then we started talking, and all my twisted ways of seeing myself, and seeing the world, came pouring out, incoherent and punctuated by tears. And I realised that though I was functional, and capable, and more-or-less getting on with life, I was not quite as healthy or stable as I could be. And over the weeks, we gradually unpicked some of my unhelpful and unhealthy thought processes. We gave name to them, shone the bright lights of understanding upon them, found detours around them, found new thoughts, new patterns and new habits.

And it's kind of worked. I'm mostly in a better mental state than I used to be. Mostly. Avid readers here will have noticed I have an entire category of labelling for my posts of "anxiety". I'm a work in progress. I like to tell myself we all are, it's just some people haven't realised there's no such thing as finished.

And this past week has been particularly challenging for maintaining my equilibrium. It started last weekend, with a tediously long drive in the rain and the dark and across rural Lincolnshire to avoid a closed motorway. It was nobody's fault that we had such a long drive, but it sowed the seeds of exhaustion in me, and possibly in the small boy who'd been tucked into "bed" in his car seat and was sleeping all the way.

And then we had a family evening out with the Bear Family in The North, taking LittleBear out for his first properly late evening meal. He managed surprisingly well for a small boy who is not accustomed to being out late, or to having much variation to his routine, but didn't stumble into bed until close to 10pm. And he was both amazed and horrified by the time. Perhaps that should have been a warning to me?

And then the normal week rolled round again, and I wrestled with Broken Things, and Idiot Customers, and Minion Who Lacks Gumption, and Bureaucracy From Hell. And I didn't go to bed early enough. Not once.

And three times in the last week, LittleBear has failed to get to sleep in what he considers an acceptable length of time. And he has started to become fixated on not falling asleep. He is getting worried and anxious and panic-stricken about being awake. He's not afraid of the dark. He's not scared, or lonely, or (as far as we can tell) in any other kind of discomfort or distress. But he is so worried about the idea of being awake late, that he's lying awake worrying about it. Last night only required two extra visits upstairs, and he was "only" awake until about 9pm. Which was an improvement on Thursday, when he sobbed hysterically for twenty minutes, and required some serious levels of parental intervention, cuddling and calming before sleep came.

And how have I handled this? Have I been calm and relaxed about it? Have I assumed that it's just a phase and that it will pass? Have I been appropriately soothing and yet cheerful with my son about the fact that it's really not a problem? What do you think?

The good news is that, thanks to my CBT, I can label the way I'm feeling as catastrophising. And I can know that it's an unhealthy and unproductive way to think. Go me!

Unfortunately, this hasn't entirely stopped me from my utter conviction that I will never be able to go out in the evening ever again. Or that LittleBear will never return to going to bed and us not hearing a peep out of him until morning. It hasn't stopped me from berating myself for not having a babysitter more often, while I had the chance, while LittleBear was good at going to bed. In my mind, this is the end of everything. The end of relaxing evenings. The end of having a well-rested child. The end of any hope BigBear and I had of going anywhere together. Which we didn't do anyway, and now I wish we had, because we'll never... (you get the idea).

But at least I know this isn't a sensible way to think. That's a start.