Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Minor triumphs

Currently my life feels sufficiently out of control, that I am prepared to celebrate even the most minor victory. To put things in perspective, even my builders are now making fun of my incoherence and inability to make decisions. I had to send an email apologising for my deranged witterings over the weekend. (This was because I had realised that my impression that the roof had been put on at a different, lower height, was simply wrong. It's exactly where it used to be. So asking them why it was lower just made me look like the Crazy Lady.)

However, back to the minor triumphs...

Last Thursday, and again on Monday, BigBear and I went out. We went Out-out, for our respective Christmas dinners. LittleBear had babysitters both nights. Babysitters who had to tuck him up in bed and say goodnight. LittleBear did not have a sobbing meltdown. LittleBear was happy, and went peacefully to sleep, without upset. What was the secret of our success? I think I can put it down to two things...

1. I involved LittleBear in the process of discussing and choosing who he would like to babysit for him. He was absolutely clear that it needed to be someone who could cuddle him if necessary, which translates to it needing to be a "Mummy", who is capable of Mummy-cuddles should the need arise. We now have a short-list of four Mummies who are deemed The Right Sort of Mummy. Fortunately all four of them have expressed a willingness to trade babysitting duties, so I'm vaguely hopeful that we may be able to set up some kind of bartering-for-favours system, allowing BigBear and I to go out more than once a year.

2. Bribery. I promised LittleBear a packet of MatchAttax cards if he was good for each babysitter. First thing he's said to me in the morning when he's bounced into bed has been, "I was good Mummy, can I have MatchAttax cards?"

Our second minor triumph is that the cat has defecated in his litter tray. I have never been so happy to see cat poo in my life. Clearly valerian root and vetiver have a profound effect upon a sense of feline wellbeing, as he is now happy to sprawl in his usual spot on the sofa, legs wafting in the air, belly exposed, with apparently not a care in the world.

Just at the moment, I'm taking my victories where I find them.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

A trying weekend

There's something about the first term of the school year that seems peculiarly, and unjustly, exhausting. Is it because the children are thrown into a new routine and worn out by it? Is it because they've just had the long summer holiday and have got out of the habit of getting up and concentrating five days a week? Or is it just because it's cold and dark and we all feel tired and miserable?

Whatever the reason, this weekend has been particularly emotionally draining. For all of us. LittleBear even calmly and happily accepted that it was time for an early bed tonight as he was too tired. This has happened perhaps twice in his entire life. I am planning to do much the same.

Friday was a slightly atypical variation on our normal Friday. A normal Friday involves bringing LittleBear and BestFriend home, getting them both into their football gear, feeding them biscuits and taking them to football training. Getting a small boy into football gear is not dissimilar to how I imagine it would be to try and get a squid into a onesie designed for a goat. Full length, skin-tight lycra underclothes, shin pads with velcro straps, long socks that snag on the velcro and (insult of insults) lace-up boots. Getting two small boys into football gear is about four times as hard as getting one small boy into football gear, due to the tendency of small boys to get sidetracked and start slapping each other with their socks, or trying to juggle with their underpants.

This Friday I'd rashly volunteered to take three small boys to football training. Knowing my own limitations however, I had declared that I would pick the other two up from their homes, leaving their own mothers to undertake the squid-wrestling. I did manage to get them all there, and back again, and only one of them got injured, and only one of them left his coat behind. Look, I never said I was good at this childcare stuff, OK?

Because it's that time of year, the football club then had a party almost straight after training, whilst I had volunteered to babysit for the Piglet family. No Piglets were injured or lost their coats, so my skills were clearly improving through the day. I did, however, have to abandon BigBear and LittleBear at the football club party; both looking somewhat shell-shocked and as though they'd rather be anywhere else. LittleBear still bears all the hallmarks of his younger years, and doesn't cope well with arriving at a party that's both loud and already in progress. And BigBear doesn't really like parties at all. So there they stood, hand-in-hand at the edge of the hall, my lost bears.

Apparently, however, LittleBear did enjoy himself, ate pizza, met Father Christmas and was given chocolate, so all was well.

Meanwhile, I didn't return from my babysitting duties till sometime after midnight, filled with rage at the swines who'd closed the road home (and with myself for having forgotten that they were doing this, despite the fact that they have done so nights for the past year or more).  So I stayed awake wittering at BigBear for rather too long, so neither of us got enough sleep, and before we knew it, the diligent all-weather builders were hard at work hammering the roof. Not that that mattered overly much, as we had to be out of the house by 9 o'clock for LittleBear's football match.

As per the rules of the FA, the score or result of an under-7 match may not be publicised, because it is strictly friendly and non-competitive. So I will draw a discrete veil over the event and say only that every time the opposition scored, my little boy wilted into tears, and on at least two occasions I broke with convention and ran round the pitch to give him a cuddle. He's only seven after all. And by 11 o'clock he was a very, very tired seven, who was adamant that he hadn't enjoyed playing at all.

I have spent a large portion of the weekend feeling desperately sad about how easily his confidence is bruised, and how easily he turned from my confident little torpedo, shredding a defence to canon a ball into the top corner into a hesitant, nervous defender, hanging back, dropping off the ball, shying away from the tackle. As always I find myself wondering how I can help him build his resilience. How I can persuade him that winning or losing a game is not a judgement on his worth as a person. How I can convince him to keep picking himself and trying again if things don't go his way first time. And then I remember he's only seven, and it's asking a lot of him.

A morning of exhaustion and heartbreak set us up perfectly for going to a spy-mission themed birthday party in the afternoon. It may not come as much of a surprise that my LittleBear spent three-quarters of the party sat on my lap doing a word search while his little friends undertook the spy mission. He was too scared to want to join in. Fortunately(?) two of the other little friends were in similar state, so he wasn't plagued with the self-doubt of being the only child who didn't want to join in. And, by his own admission, he enjoyed the party. Funny little soul.

Today, which could have been restful, was punctuated instead by the screaming of a huge circular saw in the building site, as the diligent all-weather builders sliced up massive quantities of insulation to fit into the new roof. They elected to do this because it was going to be "quieter for us" than hammering the roof to put the rest of the slates up. They have a funny idea of quiet. But they are utter perfectionists and have done a beautiful job of fitting the insulation to my peculiar-shaped roof. So there's that.

BigBear was tired. I was tired. LittleBear was tired. IdiotCat was probably tired. He was certainly stressed, as the moment the rest of the bear family had finished breakfast and disappeared upstairs together, he voided his bowels on the carpet. It really improved the day. Again. He even chose a different patch to the one he'd just peed on and I'd already cleaned earlier in the morning.

One of the few high points of the weekend had been that our Beloved Burnley had finally won a match, so I installed my two bears on the sofa, watching Match of the Day, while I ripped out a vanity wash-basin upstairs (that has the eccentric outflow pipe). Before having any breakfast. Because tiredness had led to poor decision making.

Then we all shouted at each other a bit. Had I mentioned we were tired? And I was hungry. Hungry and tired is always a winning combination. Eventually, we had some food inside us, and I took LittleBear off to the garden centre to acquire a small tree for Christmas. We generally have a large tree, but inconveniently someone's pulled down the room we usually put our tree in.

Eventually, after two garden centres and a trip to see Father Christmas, we were home with the tree, and a bottle of cat-calming herbal spray, that we all hate the smell of. So we had a jolly time, with the windows open trying to clear the stench of valerian root and swapping affectionate comments like,

"Why does nobody let me make any suggestions?"

"I don't even like baubles"

"Do you have to put that there?"

There were two verified instances of tears while decorating the tree, because that's what Christmas is all about.

Eventually it was bedtime, and all was well.

The cat is calm and snoring, apparently enjoying the valerian root more than the rest of us did. There is a box of lego on the chair beside me, that LittleBear received from Father Christmas at the garden centre, that he would like me to wrap up so he can have it under the tree for Christmas. The lights are twinkling on the tree, and there are three little penguins hung on it in a row. I made them six years ago, one for each of us, and every year we hang them side-by-side on the tree. This year, LittleBear wanted them facing the door so they could welcome people into the room. So those are the three thoughts I shall take to bed with me. Not the yelling, not the tears, not the aching muscles, not the dust and the dirt and the soiled carpet, not the anxiety and insecurity of my boy and me. I will take to bed the thoughts of the loving, considerate, compassionate little boy who melts my heart.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Roofs come and go

The adventures in re-building the extension continue apace. For a brief, dizzying period we had absolutely no roof at all over the extension. And since that included having no roof on top of the old, completely non-water-tight, flat roof that still covers part of the kitchen and the bathroom, and since that flat roof houses sizeable quantities of mains wiring for lights, there was a liberal application of tarpaulins. And there were high winds. And lashing rain. Which was fun.

Fortunately, the tarpaulins remained in situ over the leaky flat roof, and the rain remained on the outside of the tarpaulins, and hence the bathroom.

Unfortunately, the tarpaulins made loud, dramatic, flapping noises which scared IdiotCat. A lot. So, despite the presence of a litter tray, and despite the cat's evident ability to use said litter tray, we have returned to a time of receiving deposits on the carpet. Mostly fluid deposits. Poor old puss. And now, despite our best efforts to clean the favoured corner of carpet, and replace the noxious vapours with the delicate smell of synthetic carpet shampoo, there is a corner of the room that clearly smells just right to the IdiotCat, and he keeps using it.

You see my wits?

You see where the end of my wits are?

I'm well beyond that point now.

Meanwhile, it's beginning to look as though I was so traumatized by the disappearance of the roof that I didn't take a proper picture of it.

A view of the neighbour's garden
So here we have the beginnings of a new wall, featuring distinct evidence of the absence of a roof.

But, fear not! There was a flitch plate on the way. And it arrived, along with more strong wind and lashing rain. Despite the distinctly adverse weather conditions, the all-weather builders clambered around on the roof, chiselling out a hole in the wall into which to embed the flitch plate, and then proceeded to build a completely new roof. Substantially lower than the old roof. Which is odd.

New vs Old
The first thing that might strike the eagle-eyed among you is that shifting the roof line down was an eminently sensible thing to do... because the old roof line actually cut across the window sill of one of the upstairs windows. I'm pretty sure you won't find that as a design feature in many architecture books.

It's still not clear why the roof has moved down as much as it has. I did ask the all-weather builders why it was different, and discovered another endearing feature of the house that I hadn't known before - the old ridge beam of the roof had not been down the middle of the extension, so the two sides had had asymmetric slopes. So they've mounted the new ridge beam (flitch plate!) down the centre of the extension, just for the fun and symmetry of it.

One of my colleagues helpfully suggested that perhaps the roof was at the new height because the roof beams come in particular sizes/angles, so it had to be made like that to fit a standard size. At which point I had to explain to him that every single piece of timber is being cut to size and fitted by hand on site. None of this is off-the-shelf building.

So we're left with a little bit of a mystery. I have no doubt that there's a good reason, as the lovely builders haven't yet done anything without a good reason, it's just I don't know what it is yet. I'd like to know, because six inches lost from the height of the room makes a big difference. You can do a lot with six inches. It's enough for an entire extra shelf of books. I don't want to have lost book shelf space for no good reason.

Meanwhile the windows and doors are due to arrive in a week's time, and the all-weather, weekend-working builders are due to spend the weekend putting slates on the roof, which is Awfully Exciting.

I'm fondly hoping that as the room returns to being a place that doesn't make alarming and unpredictable noises, IdiotCat will stop making alarming and unpredictable deposits. I suspect I hope in vain...

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Christmas-induced rage

It may be the case that I'm simply still so sleep-deprived that my anger levels are considerably elevated, or it may be that attempting to shop in LocalTown is akin to doing battle with the demon spawn of Hades.

I think it's the latter, though evidence suggests the former is in with a good shout.

I took the opportunity today to make a foray into LocalTown to attempt to purchase some of the things that are just too hard to buy online. I don't do this often, and I've now re-discovered why.

Was it because the electronic signs on the way into town informed me that all the carparks were full? It was not. I parked in my Cunning and Secret Place and therefore only paid £3 instead of the £7.80 it would have cost me had I parked in the carparks that were already full.

Was it because, in addition to all the people doing their Christmas shopping, LocalTown was still swarming with tourists, most of whom only appear to have the loosest grasp of the difference between roads and pavements? It was not. I've lived here for twenty-four years, and tourists are a bit like seagulls - annoying, noisy, and prone to eating all the ice-cream, but generally avoidable.

Was it because, once inside the shops, it was almost impossible to move without being kneecapped by someone's shopping bags, or elbowed in the face by someone reaching for the extra-special gift pack of novelty chocolate-flavoured gin on the highest shelf? It was not. My years of practice with seagulls tourists has ensured I'm good at dodging and weaving.

Was it because I was overwhelmed by the oppressive heat, the incessant, invasive, nerve-jangling music and the psychosis-inducing flashing lights? It was not. Though I confess to retreating to the ladies toilets in John Lewis and finding myself simply staying, sat upon my throne, enjoying the glorious peace and quiet of having a tiny cubicle all to myself.

Was it because I felt horrified by the sheer consumerist excess of people spending and spending and spending, when indubitably many of them probably couldn't really afford to? Yes. Yes, that was part of it, but not all.

Was it because I gazed around the shops and saw stretching before me, as far as the eye could see, acres of products that nobody wants or needs or will ever use, but that someone will buy as a present anyway? Yes. Now we're getting there.

The shops are filled with shiny gew-gaws and flim-flam. Knick-knacks and ornaments. "Amusing" mugs and plates and glasses. Novelty games that entertain no-one. Novelty clothes that suit no-one. Novelty foods that appeal to no-one. Slick, glossy, shiny accessories for the home that will sit, gathering dust at the back of a cupboard, or spend eternity stoically failing to decompose in a land-fill site.

And I hated it. I hated the pointless waste of the finite resources this planet possesses. Yes, Christmas is a lovely time; a time of giving; a time of sharing; a time of family, and of love, and of compassion. But it could be all of those things without raping the earth to give gifts to your friends and family that they don't want or need or like. I don't care what people spend, I don't care how much, or how, or where they spend it. It's not my money. But I do care about the pointless, hopeless, obscene waste of buying stuff for the sake of it.

Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon now. Maybe it's the lack of sleep. Maybe it's both those things. If however, you are amongst the small group of people with whom I do exchange presents at Christmas, I beg of you, please don't buy me a sparkly tinsel reindeer that shits chocolate drops. In return I promise not to buy you a tie with a Brussels sprout motif that plays an off-key version of "Jingle Bells". We'll all be happier that way.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Scientifically-proven rage


The edge of Storm Diana battering the house.

The wind moaning against the windows sounding like a child keening. My ears alert to the faintest murmur from my son.

The creaking of the roof joists like a child's footsteps across the bedroom floor. My hands sweaty and my heart thudding as I wait for the door to our room to be opened by a sleepless child.

The flapping and rattling of the tarpaulins outside. Wondering if there's any point looking outside to see whether everything is safe.

The muffled tearing and snagging sound of a cat scratching a carpet. I nearly go downstairs to deal with the defecating beast, but decide it can wait.

BigBear turns to me, "sorry if I woke you."

He hadn't. Or perhaps he had. Or perhaps we'd both been woken by the same noises outside. Either way, I was awake before he went to the bathroom.

"If it makes you feel any better, I'm now lying awake worrying about how much the building work is costing."

It didn't.

Earlier in the evening, when it was actually reasonable to be awake, BigBear had shown me a brief report on the effects of sleep deprivation on anger. Apparently, cutting someone's sleep from 7 hours per night down to 4.5 hours per night for only two nights increases anger. I am willing to provide corroborating evidence that this is true.

BigBear's comment filled me with rage. Disproportionate, unreasonable rage. In the cold light of day, it's hard to say quite why. Being worried about the cost of a very expensive building project is fiscally responsible. Communicating with your spouse when you're worried is a fundamental part of a good marriage. Lying awake in the night is something that should evoke empathy and sympathy, not anger. And yet there I lay, feeling unjustifiably aggrieved. Aggrieved that I am desperately short of time, and sleep, and energy, but that the one thing we are blessed with is enough money, and yet now I'm supposed to be worrying about that as well? Feeling as though BigBear's worries somehow negated mine, or perhaps were a criticism of mine. My nebulous anxiety was being diminished by his much more rational concern. Because it's all about me. Especially in the middle of the night.

And then I got over it.

But I was still awake.

And still awake after that.

And then awake some more.

I tried relaxing one muscle at a time. I tried focussing on simply counting to ten as I breathed, clearing my mind of all extraneous thoughts. I tried taking myself off to a "happy place" in my mind, but it turns out there isn't one at the moment.

If we'd had a spare room, I would have retreated to it to read a boring book and nod off. But the spare room is now the "store everything that used to be in the extension" room, and doesn't have a bed. Or even enough spare floor to curl up on. I considered trundling downstairs to the sofa, but then remembered I would be yowled at by IdiotCat, not to mention have to suffer Storm Diana whistling through the not-exactly-airtight temporary door.

By the time 7am rolled round, not only was I tired, worried, tearful and stressed, I was also very, very bored. So, naturally, the first thing I did was go downstairs and check that IdiotCat had not made any further deposits. To my surprise, he hadn't. Though evidence of the scratching, shredding noises in the night was apparent in the pile of carpet-fluff that lay heaped around the doorway. Feeling marginally improved after not cleaning up excrement, I made BigBear a cup of tea to say sorry for being cross in the night. Even though he hadn't known I was cross. Sorry BigBear.

I told you communicating with your spouse was an important part of a good marriage didn't I? Blog posts and unsolicited cups of tea count as communication. Really they do.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Things I nearly said

I nearly wrote a post about all the good things that are beginning to happen on our building site. After a week of inactivity due to the steels that were delivered not being quite right, things have picked up pace.

I nearly wrote about the beautiful steel structure that's held into massive concrete foundation pads with nice big bolts.

I nearly wrote about the new damp-proof membrane we have, and the first course of block work marking out the new walls.

I nearly wrote about the newly drawn structural engineering plans that approve the use of queen trusses, and the omission of purlins with the addition of a flitch plate* that will all come together to provide the high, vaulted ceiling that we want.

I nearly wrote about building control signing off the structure as being to drawing, allowing all further work to continue.

But this morning, I stepped out of the shower to find a small boy thundering upstairs....

"Mummy? I like the cat even less** now."

"Oh dear. What's he done now?"

"He's poo-ed on the carpet this time."

Oh hooray. It's a good thing I bought a box of latex gloves for wearing when cleaning out his litter tray. Much easier to pick up poo when wearing a glove that can simply be thrown away. And to add insult to injury the IdiotCat had used his litter tray to wee in during the night. I do feel sorry for my poor puss, as he is clearly very anxious and very upset about the building work, but I have no idea what I can actually do to make his life easier.

When added to the insanity-inducing insomnia that has plagued me in the small hours of the night for the past three nights, poo-on-the-floor was the straw that broke the camel's back. I had already been awake since 4:30, dropping off briefly around 6:00, only to be woken by LittleBear at 6:15 when he laid claim to a nightmare.

So, despite all the Good Things that are happening, all I really want to do is sit down and cry, and hope that the howling winds outside don't lift the roof slates off tonight. It won't matter after tonight, since tomorrow the slates are being deliberately taken off so the entire roof can be rebuilt, queen trusses, flitch plate and all.

And now, as the evening progresses, I can feel my anxiety increasing, not only as I become more tired, but as bedtime approaches and I start to fear lying awake worrying about the roof, and the floor, and the walls, and the windows, and the cat, and the poo, and the carpet, and, and, and, and....

I'm worrying about worrying.

I'm fretting about not sleeping in a way that will lead directly to not sleeping.

And just like having no ideas about how to soothe the cat's fears away, I have no ideas about how to soothe my own fears away. How to stop myself worrying about sleep, or indeed how to stop my mind whirring manically for hours if I do wake up. I tried every meditation trick I have up my sleeve last night, to no avail. Probably because meditation doesn't come easily to me, I haven't tried it in a few years and I'm a bit rubbish at it. Maybe I should practise a bit more. I do keep telling LittleBear that you only become good at something by practising. Perish the thought that I take my own advice...

* I have developed something of an obsession with the term "flitch plate" so I shall indubitably write about it properly at some point. Who wouldn't want to say "flitch" as often as possible? Flitch. Flitch. Flitch.

** The current dislike of IdiotCat is not so much a dislike of IdiotCat himself, as his behaviour. Along the lines of loving the sinner but hating the sin. It is the wee-ing on the carpet which has led to the statements of dislike.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

My life is made of football

When I'm not stressing about the destruction of the house, or whether I've remembered to send LittleBear to school in odd socks, or wearing pyjamas, or with cakes, or whether it's this week or next that I have to go to a meeting about SATs, my life is largely made of football.

This comes in many sizes and shapes.

BigBear has always been a Proper Football Fan, and he managed to harness my innate competitive streak to get me co-opted into watching the Beautiful Game. This means that my weekends have been preoccupied with football matches and results for over a decade.

LittleBear, being alarmingly like his mother, also has a disturbingly competitive streak, and once exposed to sport as a small boy, has been inseparable from all competitive sports. He will quite happily (if allowed) sit and watch cricket, rugby, darts, snooker, F1, but above all football. LittleBear also spends, as far as I can tell, every single break-time at school playing football. When the garden is not strewn with various disassembled sections of house, he will cajole me into it to play football with him come rain or shine. And now, to truly rejoice his little heart, he plays for the local under-7s team. Naturally, this also involves training sessions.

Which is how it came to pass that I rushed him home from school on Friday, wrestled him into his football kit, drove to the next village over... and spent an hour standing around in the freezing cold watching LittleBear play football.

Which is also how it came to pass that not long after 9 o'clock this morning we were cycling through the village while everyone else seemed to still be sensibly tucked up warm indoors... so I could spend an hour standing around in the freezing cold watching LittleBear play football.

This was followed with a detour to a cafe to fill up my insulated mug with coffee, buy a chocolate cake for LittleBear and ride over to the other side of the village for an under-7s match... where I got to spend an hour standing around in the freezing cold watching LittleBear play football.

Fear not, kind readers, my day of football was still not complete. LittleBear had a splendid time, and won the "Player of the Week" trophy, and once home we needed to undertake a thorough post-match analysis, re-enacting corner-kicks, shots on goal and defensive manoeuvres with some Playmobil penguins.

But still my day had time for more football. The three of us headed down to the village football club to watch the proper grown-up team play. This time I got to sit in the freezing cold, watching someone other than LittleBear play football. And for an hour it was great fun, with plenty of chances to point out to LittleBear what the players were doing and why. LocalTeam were 3-0 up and then one of the opposition players went down. And stayed down. And didn't move. And didn't move. And various managers and physios ran onto the pitch, and ran off again. And a stretcher was brought on, but still the player stayed down.

Nobody tried to put him on the stretcher.

Over the tannoy, the announcer asked if there was a doctor in the ground.

All the players left the pitch.

The player on the ground was draped in as many coats and blankets as they could find.

At last, the match was officially abandoned as the club waited for an ambulance to arrive, with the injured player apparently having suffered a serious back injury*. It was a sobering moment, and a stark reminder, possibly LittleBear's first, that football is only a game, and that there are things that matter so much more than winning and losing.

* I am relieved to report that the following was tweeted this evening, by the opposition team, "Good news from the hospital, Player has had X-rays on his spine and pelvis; thankfully no break in either."