Sunday, 30 July 2017

MPP: Holiday!

So, here I am, sitting on holiday, glass of wine by my side, small boy asleep in bed, exhausted by running around in the rain. And I thought, "Aha! I shall write a blog about the soul-restoring properties of lovely holidays with lovely friends in a lovely place doing lovely outdoorsy things."

And then I realised I was still so tired from work, and life, and work, and wrangling small boy, and driving from one end of the country to the other, and work, and wrangling small boy, and, and, and, and... that I'm more or less incoherent.

So I shall simply put it out here that I'm very happy and very lucky to have the chance to climb cliffs, leap across stepping stones, eat chocolate biscuits while sheltering under a tree from a passing rain squall, run, jump, chase and giggle with the best and most beautiful boy in the whole world.

I might write more when I can make more sense.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Meeting an axe murderer

That got your attention didn't it?

I should probably point out at this juncture that I didn't in fact meet an axe murderer. I met a lovely woman who bore no ill-will toward me, and showed no violent tendencies whatsoever. The notable thing about this particular lovely woman is that I've known her for (I think) 12 years, and yet had never actually met her. Such are the wonders of the internet.

Back in the mists of time, I had a different husband, and he turned out not to be The Right One. In fact, he was categorically The Wrong One, and in retrospect did me an enormous favour by declaring that he was leaving. At the time, this was not quite so clear, and in my distress I found solace within an online forum, amongst a group of women in similar situations. We wrote screeds of heartbroken descriptions; we ranted and railed; we plotted elaborate (and unexecuted) acts of revenge; we offered advice: emotional, physical and legal. Time passed. Pain passed. Life continued. Our forum did not. It collapsed, only to rise phoenix-like from the ashes, a place to continue our friendships, to share our continuing life-stories, our triumphs and our tragedies. The reasons for our original coming together disappeared into the past. That was no longer what mattered most. We were just a group of women with a shared history.

Eventually, that forum sank into the depths too, as the costs of maintaining a website became too high in a world where we could have private facebook groups, and group emails.

But, through all of this, we remained friends. We shared the mundane details of our lives. We knew about each others children, grandchildren, graduations, jobs, illnesses, pets, partners and hobbies.

Here’s the thing though. Most of the women who were part of this group were in North America. There were a handful in the UK, and over the years I’ve met them, and made friends in person. But most of the others? They are only a virtual presence in my life.

And then, out of the blue, S, from Calgary, told us she would be in London for a week, and was there any chance of any of the UK people meeting her? So I did. And on my way to London to meet her, I realised that what I was doing was perhaps a trifle odd. Do "normal" people jaunt up to their nearest large city to meet virtual friends? And I had a slight sense of trepidation, not that she might be an actual axe murderer in truth, but that meeting someone in the flesh, and talking face-to-face might be slightly harder than knowing one another online. I've already mentioned here how much easier I find it to express my feelings in writing than in person. I had a sudden fear that I would clam up, not know what to talk about, discover we had nothing in common, or generally have some horrifically awkward evening. I wasn't concerned about whether S would be lovely - this is the person who sent me an emergency back-up penguin when LittleBear became utterly devoted to a cuddly penguin BigBear had acquired on his North American travels, and I feared for what would happen if we lost The Precious Penguin. S also sent a lovely National Geographic book about penguins at the same time, which proved to be a launch-pad for LittleBear's devotion to penguins (he currently takes five penguins and one dinosaur to bed with him). As I said, I had no doubts about S's loveliness. It was my own social eptitude that had me worried.

Naturally, I was wrong. Sometimes being wrong is the best thing in the world. I had a lovely evening, chatting about Canada, and Egypt, and families, and life in general. And because S is lovely, and has followed the goings on in LittleBear's life, she brought with her three beautiful books for him. We have already danced and giggled with the Dinosaurs of Drumheller.

Real friends aren't only the ones you meet in person first. Sometimes they're simply the ones who are in the right place at the right time, even when that place is the internet.

Monday, 17 July 2017

MPP: Always look on the bright side of life

Despite feeling thoroughly dejected (still) about work, there are some bright shining lights in my life.

My former colleague, and perhaps the man best positioned to know exactly how I feel at work, sent me a message sympathising and asking the Bear family round for a barbecue.

LocalFriend emailed me and empathised.

Tigger sent me a text message telling me how awesome she thinks I am.

Piglet phoned and suggested I pop round for a cup of tea this evening.

I must try not to let work dictate how I feel about all aspects of my life. I have a wide array of lovely people in my life, who reach out to me when I'm in need, who love and appreciate me, who pick me up when I'm down, and laugh with me when I'm not.

There is so much to be grateful for, and happy about.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Up and Down and All Around

Somewhere in here there's probably a Mini Positive Post. Somewhere in here there's certainly a Major Negative Post. There's also scope for a Rant. I've spent several days explaining, in my head, what exactly has irked and upset me so massively that I left work early on Friday and came home and wept for an hour. And it just all gets too complicated, and too technical, and requires too much of a long and rambling explanation of the curious personality-types I work with, and too much knowledge of 18 years of back-history of working where I work.

So, instead of trying to explain why I feel the way I do, I'm just going to say how I feel. No explanations, no justifications, no he-said-she-said, no rights or wrongs. Just feelings.

I feel disregarded, unappreciated and ignored. I feel as though my job title (R&D Manager) is simply a sop to keep me quiet, and has no real meaning or relevance. I feel as though my contribution, during working hours and in my own free time, is under-valued, even taken for granted. I feel as though the amount I'm paid for what I do doesn't compensate for the level of emotional and psychological commitment I make, or the stress I feel. I feel physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to do two full time jobs in one set of part-time hours. I feel like giving up on a project on which I've simply hit a brick wall, with no support, understanding or ideas from my colleagues. I feel patronised. I feel marginalised. I feel as though I'm being treated with contempt.

But I also feel, perhaps because of all of the above, as though I'm not good enough. I feel as though I don't, and can't, and never will, measure up. I feel as though I dare not speak up, to defend myself, or my ideas, because I'm probably wrong; I'm probably too stupid to have understood some subtlety or other that my colleagues have already identified. I feel as though I have to keep trying, keep banging my head against the same brick wall, because if I don't and someone else takes over, they might solve the problems that are stumping me, and might reveal my inadequacy and stupidity.

I feel isolated.

I feel trapped, because I don't feel competent enough, or clever enough, or brave enough to look for another job. I feel trapped because I have the world's best working hours for a mother of a young child, and a flexible environment for fulfilling those hours, and I'd never find anything quite as easy to fit around school. I feel trapped because though on paper I can make myself look and sound good, I feel inadequate. I feel like a fraud. I feel as though I'm only masquerading as a physicist and am getting away with it for now, but it wouldn't pass muster in the "real" world.

I feel as though I should speak up, should say, "enough", should explain that I cannot function this way any longer. But I fear for the repurcussions. I fear being told that I'm not good enough. I fear being told that I'm not worthwhile, that I'm not needed, that my opinions are not valuable. It's hard not to feel that way when the last time we attempted to recruit someone, one of the major criteria was that, "they need to be better than you, PhysicsBear".

I spent Friday afternoon weeping.

I spent Friday night lying awake imagining resigning.

I spent Saturday evening weeping.

I don't want to go to work in the morning.

I don't want to carry on as though none of my feelings exist, but I don't want to attempt to articulate any of them when I'm simply liable to start crying if I do so.

I bet you're beginning to wonder where the positive part of this post happens aren't you?

I'll replay those last few events in a less selective manner...

I left work early and spent Friday afternoon weeping.

While at home, I received the following text messages from my colleagues, referring to two separate incidents:

"<boss> asked where you were. I said nothing. I have thought about telling him. But the risk there is that he apologises and then your venom will be undermined and you would be obliged to forgive him"
 "Hi PhysicsBear. I'm guessing you feel pretty sore after this morning's episode with <boss> . Try not to let it get to you. Thank you for coming to help me and I'm sorry you got caught in the crossfire. The rest of us really do respect your skill and experience (if that helps at all)"

I spent Friday evening drinking wine and eating cheese with some of my friends, and we set the world to rights. We giggled, we bitched and we shared embarrassing stories.

I spent Saturday afternoon making paper snakes for SnakeWorld with LittleBear, and solving a Rubik's cube every time he messed it up.*

I spent Saturday evening weeping on my mother's shoulder, while she reassured me I was splendid.

I spent Sunday morning playing with LittleBear, and he made me a "certificate" that reads, "Thank you for being a great parent". (And I shall omit the fact that I'm 99% certain he did so to make up for yelling "I hate you!" at me in a fit of pique when I said we had to stop playing football...)

I spent Sunday lunchtime drinking and talking and laughing with old friends. Some of whom I first met when I was 4.

I am blessed with a lovely family, good friends both old and new, and the best LittleBear in the world. I'm going to go to bed and try thinking about those things, and not about going to work.

* I followed instructions on the t'interweb, I'm not a Rubik's maestro. See, I told you I was a fraud...

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The counter-argument

Because no day is wholly bad, and LittleBear can always find ways to rejoice my heart...

I may be wallowing in the treacle of a project at work, but I have a job and I'm paid to do something that mostly I enjoy, among people I mostly like, in a mostly incredibly supportive environment.

I am battling trying to sleep in a house that persistently remains above 26C inside, but I have a warm, dry house that is, above all else, a home.

I have volunteered for a task that requires me to approach virtual strangers and ask for donations, but I've done so because my friends suggested I could, and they believe in me even when I don't believe in myself, and are helping me now I've had the guts to admit I'm struggling.

I have invited friends round for a drink later in the week. This will be a relaxed and enjoyable thing to do. I have friends. They like drinking wine. What's wrong with that?

I am meeting my old school friends for a reunion this weekend. The fact that I have friends that I first met 32 years ago is pretty cool. And I don't think we'd have lasted this long if they didn't find something of value in my company.

And, worst of all, yesterday and again this morning, my beautiful, clever, funny, loving, wonderful LittleBear told me, "I feel as though I should be on the cloud every day because I'm a horrible person". But today he asked me, "Mummy? Will you still be going to work when I start going to work?" When I assured him that I would be (because which of us can honestly afford to retire?) he replied, "That's good, because when I go to work, I want to come and work at the same place as you." I shall gloss over the fact that he also said he didn't think he'd be very good at it, and instead rejoice in the fact that, among a host of lovely things, his first ever school report said that he was growing in confidence, and that he was kind, and that he has good friends. And if those things are true, then I can't be getting everything wrong.

And today, we didn't spend an hour after school with LittleBear running around like a lunatic with his friends getting exhausted, or play football to add to the exhaustion. We came home and we played ludo, and I positioned all my pieces where LittleBear could jump on them, and I avoided jumping on his, just so he could have a happy, peaceful game, and we had a lovely, cuddly, happy time together. And I put him on the rainbow.

Mini Negative Post

I will probably do my best to return to Mini Positive Posting soon, but today that doesn't feel possible. Today the grey wraiths of anxiety are wrapping their tendrils around me. They are invading my dreams so I wake, sweating, afraid of an event that has never happened and will never happen. Recurring nightmares from decades-past are crawling back to the surface of my mind, forcing me to re-live almost-forgotten fears. They are tainting my interactions with my colleagues, with my friends and, worst of all, with my LittleBear.

I am wallowing in the treacle of a project at work that will not function, will not die, will not survive, will not end.

I am battling trying to sleep in a house that persistently remains above 26C inside, even when the outside temperature is ten degrees or more lower.

I have volunteered for a task that requires me to approach virtual strangers and ask for donations, and it's pushing my social anxiety over the edge. I nearly broke down in tears in the car today as I contemplated accosting more people to ask them to contribute. I've managed 4 people in a week... only another 20 to go...

I have invited friends round for a drink later in the week. This should be a relaxed and enjoyable thing to do. But in my current state, every aspect of it now feels like a potential judgement on my worth as a human being. Will people come? Will they enjoy themselves? Will I manage to converse without making an arse out of myself? Will they all secretly talk behind my back? Will my home be found lacking? (Yes, yes, yes, no and no respectively, but facts don't matter).

I am meeting my old school friends for a reunion this weekend, with BigBear and LittleBear. Another social event, another reason to feel anxious, to fear judgement, to fear failure. Is it actually possible to fail at attending a picnic? In my mind it is.

And, worst of all, yesterday and again this morning, my beautiful, clever, funny, loving, wonderful LittleBear told me, "I feel as though I should be on the cloud every day because I'm a horrible person". And every cross word, every criticism, every correction, every reprimand I have ever uttered came back and swamped me with remorse and guilt. Is this what I've done to my baby? I have wanted so badly, and strived so hard, to assure him that he is loved, that he is splendid, that I'm proud of him for all the things he tries so hard at. And yet he says he feels like a bad person. He hears only the moment I say, "that wasn't very helpful. Please can you do what I asked you to do and not just ignore me?" He doesn't seem to hear the, "well done" or the "thank you", or the "that's really good!" Am I praising him in the "wrong" way? Am I knocking him down instead of building him up? Am I undermining his sense of self-worth without knowing how I'm doing so? Have I inadvertently done the exact opposite of what I hoped? All I ever wanted for my child was that he didn't suffer the excruciating self-doubt and lack of confidence that besets me. And somewhere along the line I have failed. And that failure is more painful than any other.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

A guilty conscience?

Last night I had a dream.

It wasn't a dream about the end of racial inequality and all people being treated as equals.

Instead it was a dream in which I was in the headmaster's office (which I've never seen) having some sort of Parents' Evening type chat (which is not what happens at LittleBear's school). As we approached the end of a perfectly amicable chat, the headmaster produced a scrap of paper, on which he'd jotted a few notes down. They were quotes from this blog that he wished to ask me a few questions about, so that he could clarify a few things.

That's right. I got carpeted by my son's headmaster over what I've been writing here.

I'm pretty certain I say nice things about the school. I think it's an awesome and lovely school, with delightful teachers and a really nurturing environment. And LittleBear loves it. So I have absolutely no idea why I'm worried about being told off by the headmaster. Well, obviously, I have a deep-seated fear of doing something wrong and being told off for it, which taints my every choice and action in life. And that deep-seated fear tends to mean I assume that I am going to get told off, no matter whether I've done anything wrong. And it means that inside I perpetually feel a little bit like a six year old child who's used pen to do her maths schoolwork when the rules state that we have to use pencils (true story). I'm just waiting to be told off.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

MPP: it's never all bad

There are days when it's harder to think of something positive. Days when I'm hot and tired and crabby, and I've just had to throw in the towel on part of a design at work and commit to another month of delay while I get a new precision part machined and electron-beam welded. And even then I don't know if it's going to work. But at least I tidied my desk today. Not that that's my Positive Thought for the day.

Today I'm wearing a bracelet. I don't usually wear bracelets, not because I don't own them, or because I don't like them, but because I generally stumble through life wearing my wedding ring, engagement ring and watch and forget to open my jewellery box and get anything else out. But today I thought it would be nice to wear something nice. So I chose this:

It's not made of precious metals, or studded with gems. It's not flashy or gaudy. But it has a story, and one I can be grateful for.

It was my thirtieth birthday present from BrotherBear. And we chose it from a stall on the Street of Facades in Petra. I've written before about the distress and misery that aspects of that holiday caused, but actually, this bracelet reminds me of the things that were awesome too. About how mind-blowing it was to walk the collonaded streets of an ancient Roman city, about how utterly, stunningly beautiful Petra was, and how unbelievably lucky I am to have been there. About my first (and only) experience of scuba diving. About the fact that my family are actually really rather nice, even though sometimes BrotherBear does try and wind me up on purpose. He's my brother, it's virtually part of the job description.

Monday, 3 July 2017

MPP: The first rule

I have hummed and hahed about writing this post. Not because it's not a Happy Thing. Not because it transgresses my own rules about invading my family's private life. No, because it transgresses the First Rule of Good Sleep.

You haven't heard the First Rule of Good Sleep?

Lucky you.

That probably means you've either never had a child, or you were blessed from the outset with a Good Sleeper. (Or you've forgotten, because it works like that. Time can dull even the sharpest of pain).

The First Rule of Good Sleep is that you don't talk about Good Sleep.

There are two reasons for never talking about Good Sleep. The first reason is that by the very act of speaking about Good Sleep, you immediately jinx it, and for the next year at least your child will wake several times a night and want to get up at 4:30am, and there will be nothing at all that you can do about it. The second reason is that some, one, or all of your friends will have a Bad Sleeper, and will be haggard and drawn, dribbling into their seventeenth cup of coffee of the day by 9:30 and wondering if they will ever have a full night's sleep again. Mentioning a Good Sleeper to someone in possession of a Bad Sleeper is not simply bad form, it's downright cruel.

It is with immense trepidation, for both the above reasons, that I mention the morning of Saturday 1st July 2017.

On this notable morning, LittleBear did not get up and enter our bedroom until quarter to eight. That's right, not just a time starting with a 7, but a time closer to 8 than to 7. And the reason for this was not because he didn't wake up, and not because he was dutifully observing and obeying his GroClock, it was because he decided to open his curtain and read his book for a while after waking up. And when he did trot into our bedroom, he informed me that it was later than usual, and that he had read to himself, "because I knew that you would want to sleep for a bit longer Mummy".

This either shows the most adorable level of empathy, concern and consideration, or it reveals what the rest of my family have long known - I am despicably bad-tempered in the morning. So bad-tempered that I have cowed my poor little boy into staying away from me. And because this is my blog, and my happy post, I shall claim it's the former. BrotherBear and GrannyBear are free to disagree. (BigBear is unable to comment accurately on this tendency, as he is more-or-less comatose, even if nominally awake, until after three mugs of tea, and therefore fails to notice the manner in which I stomp around the house muttering dire imprecations.)

I would like to say in my defense that LittleBear did not "sleep through" even once until he was 8 months old, and did not reliably sleep through the night until he was 21 months old. I know the pain of Bad Sleep, and I know I am fortunate now to have Good Sleep. Please do not hunt me down and stab me to death with a blunt pencil for daring to mention Good Sleep. Please.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

How did I get here?

You know those days when you pause, brought up short by the absurdity of the situation you find yourself in, and you wonder how exactly your life reached that point?  Last week, I found myself in just such a position, as I carried a sobbing five year old out of Dunelm Mill while he insisted that what he wanted more than anything was a suitcase.

How did I get to this?

Let me take you back in time to Christmas...

We were having a jolly, festive, merry family Christmas. Nobody had drunk too much sherry, nobody had been given socks, nobody was gazing at an unexpected garden implement in vague bemusement, nobody had been served an unacceptable quantity of Brussels sprouts. In short, all was going surprisingly well. And then we pulled the crackers. There were miniature packs of cards, there were irritating little interlinking pieces of metal, there were strange plastic rings. And there was a clip-on plastic luggage label. For a suitcase. This was perhaps the best thing that LittleBear had ever seen. He gazed upon it with awe and wonder. And then he lifted his eyes to mine, tears welling in the corners, his bottom lip atremble, "but I don't even have a suitcase" he informed me, "I will never have my own suitcase."

Hoping to preserve the fragile tranquility of a harmonious Christmas, I hastened to assure LittleBear that one day he would indeed own his very own suitcase, and that certainly I would add "suitcase" to The List Of Things That LittleBear Really Wants*. And I haven't exactly forgotten about this promise, but nor has "buying a suitcase for my five year old" been right at the top of my list of priorities.

Fast forward to the present day, when we went shopping. After school. Near the end of the week. Near the end of LittleBear's first year at school. Those of you without small children may not be aware that this set of circumstances constitutes a full panoply of errors. It ticks every box of fatigue, misery, desperation, hunger and need. First, we went to the hardware shop to buy shed paint, because that's how rock 'n' roll my life is. Then, we went to Dunelm Mill, purveyor of random household objects and cake. I was tentatively seeking a footstool. We used to have a rather nice cow footstool. Then the Idiot Cat got fleas. And the carpet got fleas. And the footstool got fleas. The carpet and cat were treated for fleas. The footstool was forced to leave home and never return.

So, there we were, vaguely looking for a footstool. But, not being a complete novice at parenting, our first port of call was the cafe, so I could top LittleBear up with banana and cake, because I know that a hungry child is a difficult-to-handle child. I'd even deflected him from the sugar-rush-insanity of millionaire's shortbread onto the slightly-less-calamitous chocolate eclair. (This in itself may have been an error, as careful observation of LittleBear's face while he consumed his half of the eclair revealed a slight wash of disappointment on discovering that the cream was, "a bit plain Mummy", which roughly translates to "not filled to bursting with sugar").

And, as we meandered around failing to find any suitable footstools, we walked past a large display of suitcases. And they weren't just any old grey, black or blue suitcases. Oh no. These were lime green suitcases. There is no colour more beloved by my LittleBear than green. There could be no greater desire in his little heart right then, right there, than to own a lime green suitcase. Being the heartless, mean, inconsiderate mother that I am, I said "No". And that was when the tears began to fall. The tears for a lifetime of suitcase-deprivation; the tears for all the packing that he wouldn't be able to do; the tears for the poor, neglected luggage label with no suitcase to call its own; the tears for the life of hardship to which LittleBear has been condemned by the terrible accident of birth that means I am his mother.

In vain did I point out that we already own suitcases. With utter futility did I mention that we weren't going anywhere that requires a suitcase right now, so buying one today was not necessary. Forlornly did I suggest that it really wasn't worth being this sad about. Instead, I picked LittleBear up and carried him out of the shop. Sometimes, there's no other option.

* How I rue the day that I allowed LittleBear to become aware not only of Amazon Wish Lists in general, but the specific list I maintain for him...