Saturday, 13 July 2019

A moment of positivity

Despite my current battle to keep my head above water, there are some moments of light and joy that I am going to focus on.

LittleBear has his future as a professional footballer all planned out. That's as a part-time professional footballer, obviously. The rest of the time he'll be busy being a physicist. However, his footballing plan involves being scouted for LocalTown, then moving on to BiggerClub, before finally stepping up into the Premiership. Simple isn't it? You can imagine, perhaps, my anxiety when one of LittleBear's team-mates got scouted not simply for LocalTown, but actually for BiggerClub. It took me a few days to decide how and when to break this news to him. I feared a crumbling meltdown as he wept at not being scouted. Instead the conversation went something like this...

Me: I've got some awesome news. Guess what? TeamMate has been scouted by BiggerClub, and he's going to start training with them.
LittleBear: That's really good for TeamMate!
Me: I wonder if he'll learn lots of good stuff that will help him in our team?
LittleBear: He probably will. I think he'll be even more solid in defence. And then we'll score more goals.
Me: Why will you score more if TeamMate is better in defence?
LittleBear: Because if I'm confident that we've got a strong defence, I'll score more goals, as I play better when I'm confident.

How can I not swell with love and pride at that attitude to his friend's success?

Meanwhile, LittleBear has also received his school report today. Obviously it's nauseating in its praise for my little angel, especially the bits about needing to be reminded to listen when with certain children. However, I am going to spend the weekend reading, and re-reading these lines, and reminding myself that I have the best and loveliest little boy in the whole world, and that no matter what stresses and strains the world throws at me, I adore him beyond all imagining.

"LittleBear is an incredibly motivated learner who has a thirst for knowledge..."

"It is always a pleasure to have a conversation with LittleBear..."

"It is always lovely to hear about LittleBear's regular trips to different bookshops!"

"We have loved teaching LittleBear and are proud of all he has achieved..."

Friday, 12 July 2019

Still here. Just

I am still here, though barely clinging on to sanity by my fingernails.

What have I been doing? Aside from collapsing on the sofa and weeping you mean?

Mostly, I've been reaping what I sowed. All those good intentions, and that sense of responsibility, and that desire to be wanted and needed and liked that leads me to volunteer for things has come back to bite me.

It seemed like The Right Thing To Do to volunteer to talk to the year two children about science.

And the PTA were so very convincing in their begging for help to run stalls at the school fete.

And it seemed such a good idea to have started helping out with LittleBear's football team.

The science education malarkey was only a morning spent in school, doing the same forty-minute "lesson" four times to four different classes. I feel passionately that children need to see that science is real, and normal, and doable, and that scientists are just people. And, even more importantly, that science is not the preserve of boys and men. That a scientist can just be "LittleBear's Mum", who they see every day, and who plays with them and talks to them.

But I'm not a teacher, and it took me a long time to plan what I was going to say and do to introduce atoms and elements to them. I spent many, many evenings preparing material, making molecular models, writing a powerpoint presentation, drawing on stickers, running trial samples on a mass spectrometer. The day itself was marginally nerve-wracking, as I've spent my life stoically avoiding public speaking of every variety, and children aren't necessarily known for being the easiest audience. In fact, it was all fine, and the science co-ordinator has asked me if I'll come back for another session next year. Which I think is a vote of confidence more than a sign of desperation. That's what I'm telling myself anyway. And I am extremely glad I did it, and delighted with the enthusiasm I got back from the children.

The PTA summer fair was also not overly long, or overly onerous, but I simply happened to be the parent who blinked first in the Mexican stand-off of who would take charge of organising the rota for our class stall, and setting it up on the day, and providing stickers and sweets as prizes, and providing a gazebo and chairs so we could survive the day. And it simply happened to be on the hottest day of the year. And I'd simply promised LittleBear that I would also provide both a homemade battenberg and a Victoria sponge with fresh cream for the cake stall. Simple really.

The football team is not, generally, too overwhelming a commitment. It requires time, and effort, and energy, not least because it involves an hour a week running around with a horde of seven year olds. It requires a certain amount of planning about the nature of the running around, and a certain amount of admin in keeping track of which small people have turned up, and which parents have handed over their weekly £2 for training.

That's generally.

But lately we've been dealing with registering the team and the individual players with the FA for next season, and we've been preparing for (and running) a ridiculously large tournament. Which is how I ended up giving up several evenings to painting white lines all over the local school field to mark out eighteen football pitches so that more than six hundred five-aside matches could take place in one day. Like I said, it was ridiculously large. It does raise enough funds to keep the entire club of twenty three teams running for the rest of the year, but it was also a lot of work.

On top of which, there are Tensions, and occasionally even Ructions, amongst the people running the various football teams. I dislike both Tensions and Ructions, and thus find myself having arguments in my head as I lie awake at night. I wonder if I've said too much, or not enough. I wonder whether I even want to be involved any more. I'm tired of showing up and having the physical equivalent of mansplaining occur - the men simply take over and assume I'm not even present, let along competent or qualified. I'm tired of attending meetings with men who appear to think women don't have a place in football. I'm tired of trying to organise and help and plan in the face of constant obstruction, and secret planning meetings that occur behind my back. But my boy loves his football, and Coach and I are working well together, and I love the little boys I'm coaching (most of the time!) and I can see a point on the horizon where the current clouds will start to clear. I just have to survive a little longer. Just a little longer. Just survive.

Except... there isn't ever really a break. Not really. Life doesn't stop. There's always work, and home, and cooking, and laundry, and housework, and gardening, and Random Things That Stop Working And Need Mending. And then there are all the other things. The phone calls about the things I "need" to do, the duties I "should" undertake, the requests to "just" arrange something. There's always a reason to lie awake, my mind churning with shoulds and what-ifs. There's always a LittleBear who can't sleep in the middle of the night and needs a cuddle. There's always something.

So if you see me on a cloudy day wearing sunglasses, it's because I'm hiding my puffy-eyes and tear-stained cheeks from the world.

If you see me walk past you on the street and I only raise a weak smile, and don't stop to chat, it's because my tank is empty and I have no words left for chatting.

If you wonder why LittleBear's teacher is hustling me quickly into the classroom after school, it's because she's trying to shield me from sobbing in front of the entire cohort of year two parents.

If I cancel our plans, if I don't socialise, if I don't join in, it's because I cannot face any more physical, emotional or social effort. I've given, and given, and given and I'm done.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Adventures in cake making

For many years I have considered making a Battenberg Cake. I am alarmingly fond of Mr Kipling's diabetes-inducing versions of the same, but wanted to have a go at making a "real" one instead. I made use of one of my favourite cookery writers, Felicity Cloake, who tries and tests multiple versions of traditional dishes to find the "perfect" one. Which led to me to the perfect Battenberg recipe.

So I set about making an appalling mess of my kitchen, including making the marzipan from scratch, which was considerably easier than I'd been expecting.

Raw mixture
I felt it was a bold move to simply fill a single cake tin with two colours (and flavours) of cake mixture, though I was pleased at the lovely colour that freeze-dried raspberries provided to the raw mixture.

Still segregated
The "two" cakes did, to my slight surprise, behave themselves and remain in their own sides of the tin.

Cake surgery
Though lacking the virulent pinkness of a commerical Battenberg, the colours were still pleasingly contrasting after slicing up.

Then came the irritating bit. I'd remembered that I owned raspberry jam, required as glue in this particular recipe. I had not remembered that I only owned seeded raspberry jam. There then ensued a tedious process of small ramekins being fed through the microwave and jam hot enough to melt bitumen being pushed through a tea strainer. Look, I know, in retrospect that heating the jam in a saucepan and using a full-sized sieve would have been more sensible, but all the small pans were dirty, as was the sieve, and I couldn't be arsed to wash them. Frankly it would have been easier to go to the shop and buy some seedless jam, but by the time that became a more obvious solution, there was already jam on the walls, and I was committed to my course.

Jam everywhere
However, stupid decisions aside, the end result was pretty awesome.

My friends, my husband and I all thought it was delicious.

LittleBear, however, informed me that he didn't really like raspberry, and what with the cake and its glue being raspberry, it wasn't a big hit. In fact, he went so far as to inform me that he prefers the bought one.

At this point I should take you back in time approximately thirty years, to an occasion when my beloved great-aunt also made a Battenberg. My little cousin was sufficiently impressed by this confection that he kindly told her that it was, "just as good as shop bought." This particular occasion has gone down in family folklore. I feel quite proud of myself for not even reaching the heights my great-aunt achieved.

Because I love my LittleBear however, and because it's the school fete tomorrow, I have made another Battenberg. This time it is pink only because of obnoxious quantities of food colouring, and it is held together with apricot jam. LittleBear taste-tested it for me.

The non-raspberry version

"It's not just pretty good. It's fantastic. I even prefer it to Mr Kipling."

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Dubious long term strategy

Long-term readers may remember my sage words of advice about getting through parenthood - Rule Number 2: do what works for you until it stops working. I may, however, have to slightly modify this advice. Let me explain.

LittleBear has, once again, for what feels like the squillionth time, hit a patch of Not Very Good Sleep. He wakes in the night, either with a nightmare or Just Because. He then struggles to get back to sleep and becomes increasingly overwrought and distressed about never, ever, ever being able to get back to sleep. Obviously, eventually, he does go back to sleep but this has been known to take an hour or more, occasionally also resulting in a small boy curling up in bed with me while his father is banished to a different room.

After a week of broken nights, I am not a terribly good-tempered person. (See also, inappropriate swearing and throwing)

Yesterday evening, BigBear was feeling unwell and didn't want anything to eat for fear of seeing it again, so I didn't bother to cook anything. Instead I poured myself a martini and ate snacks.


and a drink
I ended up eating the entire packet of cracker crisps and nothing else for dinner. I then went to bed, read my book for a bit and fell asleep. It was only this morning, when LittleBear scrambled into our bed for a morning cuddle that I discovered that he'd been up three times in the night and been tended to by his Daddy. I had not heard a thing. I had had a full, and uninterrupted night's sleep. I am therefore going to have to drink martini and eat appallingly unhealthy snacks for dinner every night to ensure I sleep enough.

I can't see a problem with this strategy. Can you?

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Intimidating? Me?

Picture the scene...

A crowded meeting room, twenty-five or thirty people sitting around a conference table discussing the planning and implementation of a large football tournament. Only three of those people are women, me included.

My fellow manager pipes up with a garbled piece of information about the parent of one of our boys volunteering his firm to be a possible sponsor for the tournament, that he'd forgotten to follow up on. So I nudge him, tell him not to worry about it and make a note that I need to contact said parent.

At this point the Chairman jokes, "I can't believe you've managed to get yourself a secretary."

A secretary.

A secretary.

I am not sure if I am proud or ashamed of the fact that I picked up an empty coke can, and threw it, hard, at the Chairman with an emphatic, "I'm not a fucking secretary!"

There was a combination of shocked silence and laughter around the room.

I don't think anyone who was at that meeting is going to mess with me now.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

A summary

I've not been blogging, mostly because I'm tired. And I'm tired because I'm busy. And I'm busy because I keep biting off more than I can chew. And then when I think about writing anything for this blog I feel a bit overwhelmed as I'm not feeling whimsical, or amusing, or informative. And I certainly don't have the energy for any ranting, no matter what I may be feeling about the current state of politics (on either side of the Atlantic).

So, herewith a summary of what's what:
  • I had a lovely holiday with Tigger, Piglet and most of their progeny. It rained, but we were happy anyway. I think we came home ten days ago, but it feels like months already.
  • I am now lagging several projects behind the mechanical engineer in designing the electronic control systems for instruments at work. He has completed The Indian Job, The Pelican Brief, Portugal-can-fuck-right-off-again and Ocelot Double Plus. I am still stuck on The Indian Job. (Yes, this is how we refer to projects at work. Technically I think they may be project numbers 1729, 2087, 2068 and who-knows-what. See? Names are so much easier. No, I do not intend to explain all those names.)
  • We had to "let go" an employee, and now we're trying to recruit again. This is (a) more work as we have to recruit, and (b) more work because we have to do the work of the person we don't have.
  • Being involved in LittleBear's football club turns out to involve a tedious number of meetings. These meetings are always on the same evening as my pilates class. I haven't been to pilates in a while.
  • Taking LittleBear and his LittleFootballTeam to tournaments is even more tiring than regular matches. They play the same total amount of football, but it's spread across four or five short matches, and three hours. Preventing insanity, injury and sunburn in eight children over that period takes its toll.
  • I appear to have tendonitis in my shoulder. I am going to switch to using my mouse left-handed to try and rest my right arm completely. Being in constant pain is tedious.
  • I can't be bothered to cook any more. 
  • Bread is featuring a lot in my meals. 
  • My trousers don't fit.
  • I have volunteered to help run a stall at the school fete.
  • I have volunteered to spend a day at LittleBear's school during Science Week teaching them about science.
  • I have volunteered to help out at LittleBear's football club's tournament.
  • I must stop volunteering for things.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Several more milestones

Having had crashing lows and inching highs over the past few weeks, I feel as though I am working my way towards a point where I know my place. And I don't mean that in a Harry Enfield-esque manner. I mean that LittleBear's football coach and I are gradually finding our feet as a working partnership, and I'm feeling more confident about what exactly my strengths are. I'm also becoming considerably more convinced of where my strengths aren't. Though I am prepared to change my mind on the latter given a bit more practice.

I had what can only be considered a baptism of fire on Tuesday, when training rolled around. Fortunately I went out of my way to be sure I arrived early. This was mostly with the intention of having a chance to discuss with Coach exactly what we'd be working on this week, and which part I would be best placed to take on. The best laid plans o' mice and men however... The traffic was abominable and Coach was stuck in it. So there I was, with no plan in place, and twenty-two small boys demanding to know what they should be doing.

With my newly-minted FA training, I did have half a clue of what I should be doing, and attempted to arrange them into mini "arrival activities" as they turned up. Which would have been a great plan if it weren't for the fact that by the time I'd organised three small boys, I turned round to find that another six had arrived. As I sorted those six out, the first three turned out to have no idea what they were doing, and another five were clamouring for attention.

And it didn't get much better. There were tears. There were fights. Occasionally moments of football broke out. Eventually Coach arrived, and a sense of relief washed over me. Except he didn't rush in and take over, despite my expectations and hopes. In retrospect, I am very glad he didn't. He even said, "No, you're doing great, I'm not going to take over. You do your thing." And that alone has done an enormous amount to help me have a bit more self-confidence and a bit more belief that it's all going to be just fine. No, I didn't do a stellar job, and yes, having all the parents watching what felt like a riot rather than training was deeply daunting. But after half an hour, we split the boys into two groups and ran two activities - me running one and Coach the other, with a swap after another fifteen minutes. I can confidently say that 11 boys is approximately five times easier than 22 boys.

But I did it. I didn't have a plan, I didn't have a well-thought out session. I didn't, in fact, manage very many of the things I was taught on my course. But the boys went home happy and (mostly) uninjured, which was top of the list of priorities from the FA, so I'm giving myself a tick for now.

Wednesday presented another challenge, in the form of a match for our new team. Normally Coach would take charge of such an event, except that we needed him as our referee, so instead I took charge.

The stress of trying to decide who should play in which position, if and when to substitute players, and what manner of instructions to shout was almost as great as herding 22 boys around in training. It became hard to tell if the boys were failing to respond to my instructions because they couldn't hear me, or didn't really care what I was saying. I suspect a spot of both. I also discovered the same problem that Coach has always had - you don't have a chance to do more than yell a couple of words as an instruction, so limit yourself to such imprecations as "get up the field!" or "back post!". And it is at that point that I found that that none of them were entirely sure which way was "up" the field, and the concept of "front" and "back" posts was utterly lost on them. The far side of the pitch is also a very long way away, and I do not appear to have a voice which projects well, so I screamed myself hoarse trying, and failing, to communicate with them.

It can't have gone too badly, as not only did they leave the pitch happy, but I even had some parents come and thank me. I don't think they were just being kind to the crazy-eyed lady who'd been screaming at their children, but you never know.

And finally, we came to the weekend, when Coach and I took our boys to their first under-seven tournament. This was yet another whirlwind experience, with the boys playing in a group of five teams, with every team playing every other team once, in a series of twelve minute matches. This took from half past nine until midday, and also involved having to leave the house at 8am to reach The Middle of the Fens.

Keeping the boys under approximate control, without strangling each other, breaking too many things, or getting lost was as much of a challenge as coaching them on the pitch. But between us, and with a lot of support from the parents, we kept them in place, and to my immense joy they played brilliantly. We had a few silly mistakes in the first match as they got used to the slightly different rules being implemented at the tournament, but they didn't let it get to them and even LittleBear played with enormous enthusiasm whether they were winning, losing or drawing. Not once did he collapse in tears, and not once did he give up sprinting after every ball. Nor was he alone. They all played their socks off, were absolutely buzzing by the end, and fully deserving of their participation medals.

So I feel that this week has blooded me as a football coach. But more importantly I feel that there has been a step change in how things are working between Coach and I, and I am much more confident about the coming season. Let's just see how training goes tonight...