Saturday, 25 February 2017

Getting Things Done

Today, BigBear boarded an aeroplane for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Or the US. I can't remember which. Either way, it leaves me at home with LittleBear for the next nine days, which may well catastrophically undermine my resolution to start Getting Things Done. It was perhaps no surprise therefore, that this morning found me sat on the floor, assisting with technical issues encountered while building a lego dinosaur (what else?)

However... there were Things, and they needed to Be Done. So I announced to LittleBear that in the afternoon we would be going into town, and we would be undertaking some purchasing tasks. Tasks such as buying birthday card and wrapping paper for his friend's party. Tasks such as buying birthday presents for BigBear. Tasks such as buying new school trousers for a small boy who has ripped through the knees of his school trousers. To my surprise, LittleBear acceded to my instruction. Right up until it was time to put his socks on. As predicted, it took half an hour to insert one pair of feet into one pair of socks, and one pair of shoes. How? How does it take that long? And once shod, LittleBear then wanted to know if we were going on the bus...

I decided not to attempt to explain that now that he's 5 and now that BigBear doesn't have a weekly bus ticket, going into town on the bus is an horrifically expensive undertaking, instead of essentially free. Even compared to the crippling parking fees levied in town, the bus is only for those with money to burn these days. No, instead I went for the much more simple explanation that we didn't have time to go, shop and come home on the bus before the grocery delivery came. You'd think I'd said I was going to saw his leg off. Apparently not going on the bus is a Major Problem.

By the time I actually got him into the car, it probably would have been quicker to go on the bus. But that wasn't the point.

We did manage to go into town, and we did manage to buy all the things on the list, including presents for BigBear. If you're reading this BigBear, in your swanky hotel in San Francisco, don't get your hopes up. Your presents so far are a combination of tediously practical or for you to "share" with LittleBear, or  both. Currently I think the wrapping paper we chose might be the highlight of your birthday. I'm really very pleased with the wrapping paper.

We even managed to get home in time for the groceries to be delivered.

Step 1 in Getting Things Done has been Done. I did have momentary qualms when a small face peered at me over the edge of the duvet as I tucked my boy in and said, "it hasn't actually been a nice day at all today Mummy". But then it turned out to be because we hadn't played a game in the bath, which gross assault on LittleBear's freedoms had apparently ruined the whole day. So it looks as though I got away with the Doing Things, but not with being Mean Mummy.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Childfree days!

So here we are, after The Parting. And we all seem to have survived. LittleBear and BigBear both said they'd had a lovely time away. And BigBear was only slightly shattered by the experience. I coped without my cuddles, and my giggles. LittleBear seemed none the worse for having been deprived of Mummy. Which I fear is a situation that I'll have to grow increasingly accustomed to over the next forty years.

But, I hear you cry, what did I do with all this fabulous free-time? How did I disport myself when liberated to do whatever I wanted, whenever and however I wanted?

Did I go to the spa? Did I drink cocktails till all hours of the night? Did I have a night out at the theatre?

Did I buggery.

I spent two days at work, in which I re-discovered what it had been like being a "normal" employee again, able to complete a piece of work and then go home, rather than dropping everything as the minute hand passed the witching hour, and dashing off to retrieve a small child, irrespective of what work needed completing and who else might be depending upon me. It was like winding the clock back five years, and it felt almost as though nothing had changed. I worked till well past 6, and didn't feel any sense of guilt or remorse. I was able to Get Things Done. And when I came home, though it was to an empty house (aside from a rather crabby cat, who views me as distinctly inferior to BigBear, Keeper of the Food), it was to a house in which I didn't have to instantly start preparing a meal, or playing football, or helping sellotape straws to toilet rolls, or engaging in a mock battle between a Therazinosaurus and a Giganotosaurus.

I ate tasty things that my other bears don't like. Gnocchi and scallops and tuna and marmite and leeks. Not all at once, and not at proscribed times, but instead I ate when I felt hungry and when I could be bothered to cook. I was in charge of my own destiny!

And then came the weekend. Surely there was a spa day, or cocktails, or cake or some manner of indulgence now? Surely...

Depends how indulgent you think the dump is. Or the local DIY emporium. Or weeding. Or pressure-washing the patio. Or pruning the fuchsia. Because, yes, I continued to Get Things Done, this time on the home front rather than the work front. The closest I got to pampering was shopping. Which was good, but more along the lines of necessary than luxuriant. When I got hungry, I stopped for a sandwich in a cafe, but it was busy, so I ate it sitting on the stairs, because I really know how to spoil myself. However, I bought jeans and shoes and underwear. Lots and lots of underwear. Basically I shopped for things that (a) really need to fit properly and therefore can't be bought online in a rash of optimism and (b) are really tricky to buy with a small boy in tow, without small boy getting immensely bored and fractious (rapidly followed by small boy's mother indubitably getting fractious too).

So, unlike all those mothers I see on the interwebs who appear to do amazing, delightful, relaxing and marvellous things the moment they are liberated from the shackles of childcare, I revelled in the opportunity to Get Things Done. And I realised that I have basically put Getting Things Done on a back-burner for the past five years. Initially, I was barely functioning. The idea of getting myself and a mewling, puking infant anywhere more than about 300 yards from the house was such a daunting prospect that it simply didn't happen. And then, time passed, I emerged from the impenetrable fug of post-natal depression, LittleBear stopped mewling and puking quite as much, and yet our habits were formed. We don't Get Things Done. We stay home and play. Or we go out and play. Or we visit friends and family and play. Our lives revolve, to an alarming degree, around playing with LittleBear. And only when released from the bonds of play did I realise the extent to which this is true. And it's made me realise that after five years, it might be time to start Getting Things Done again.

I'm not suggesting that I'm going to abandon playing and resume the life we had before LittleBear arrived and turned my world upside and down and rightside up. But I can't help but feel it might be time to start trying to achieve a little bit more than an epic battle raging across the Mesozoic era every Saturday. I think it might do all of us a little bit of good to grow accustomed to the idea that the world does not actually revolve entirely around the provision of entertainment for a small boy.

I see no immediate change to my state of being tied to the clock at work, however. I cannot see that I'm going to do anything other than drop everything to retrieve my LittleBear from school every day for some time to come. I guess in about ten years time he might be marginally more self-sufficient, and I might not have to rush out of the office at 2:30 every day. But it's hard to see that I'm going to be anything other than half an employee for many years to come*. And I find that a lot more frustrating and depressing than my inability to get round to the weeding.

So, my child-free days were illuminating, and refreshing, and rewarding. And they brought home to me, in ways I hadn't really considered so far, some more of the many ways in which motherhood has changed the shape and structure of my life. I wouldn't change it for a moment, as there is nothing in my life quite as brilliant, and funny, and lovable, and loving as my LittleBear. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't mind tweaking things a little. And it doesn't actually mean I can't regret the things that I've lost and that I miss. The freedom to work how and when I want and need. The freedom from providing umpteen meals a day, at the right time, and with the correct components that won't cause ructions. The freedom to leave the house on an errand without half an hour of haggling and cajoling first. The freedom to Get Things Done.

And tomorrow, nine days of single-handed parenting commences while BigBear goes on a business trip. So I think the Getting Things Done might have to wait...



* On the plus side, when I expressed my relief at having worked "normally" for two days, and my frustration at not doing so every day, my boss gave a remarkably sensitive, insightful and reassuring response. He told me that it was immensely helpful to the company that I was at work every day [instead of three days a week as it was until LittleBear went to school]. He also assured me that I should make the most of going home to play with LittleBear, as it would be over far too quickly, and I'd never get this time back. I am genuinely incredibly lucky in certain aspects of my working life, and that level of simply human understanding is one of the ways in which I am fortunate.


Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Between a rock and a hard place

Is it possible to crave something with every fibre of your being and yet also be utterly unready to face it? You may think not, but I can assure you it is completely possible.

Having survived The Great Fever of 2017, and stumbled our way into half term, we've had to restructure our half term plans somewhat. Back when we were naive and healthy, BigBear was going to take LittleBear to The North to visit the rest of the Bear family, then a few days later, having had a Whole Day To Myself plus a couple of days at work, I was going to join them. I was then going to send BigBear to The South again, while proceeding Even Further North with LittleBear for a few days freezing our toes off having a lovely time in the Lake District.

Instead, here we all fester in The South, with me at home and BigBear at work. But, come Thursday, BigBear is going to take LittleBear to The North. And I'm going to stay here. On my own. Alone. With nobody else here. I'll have two days at work and then a whole Saturday to myself. I haven't spent any time at home, on my own, since LittleBear was born. I've only had a couple of nights away from him at all, ever. And I'm about to have three nights apart, and a day to myself. I'm almost giddy with excitement. And yet... and yet... and yet...

I don't want to miss my cuddles. I don't want to miss snuggling my sleepy little boy's head as I say goodnight. I don't want to be echoing round the house on my own, wondering if he's eating enough, wondering if he's happy, wondering if he needs his Mummy*. I'll miss the constant noise, the endless questions, the lack of personal space and boundaries as a small body swarms all over me. I know that letting go is part of letting him grow and be and develop and all that good stuff. And I'll get some extra sleep. But I'll miss him.

I want my own time and space.

I don't want to let him go.

I want to just be me for a couple of days.

I don't want to not hold him close when he needs a cuddle.

I want a chance to remember what it's like to be a grown up in my own home.

I don't want to feel lonely without my lovely boys.

I want to sleep without being woken by incessant coughing.

I don't want to wake and not have a little warm body come and squirm into my arms.

See? I told you it was possible to want something and desperately not want it at the same time.



* He will, he will and he won't, in that order.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Emotional rollercoaster

For just over a week, my LittleBear has been very poorly. It started with a middle-of-the-night episode of vomitting. They're my favourite kind as they involve having to wash pyjamas, bedding, pillows, duvets (and if you're really lucky carpet too, though we dodged that one this time). I ended up with LittleBear sharing a bed with me, and BigBear being banished to the spare room. I was very proud of me and LittleBear, because the second episode of vomit went into, and only into, the lurking washing up bowl, and not all over another bed. Your day is not starting well when the highlight is not having your bed filled with another human being's vomit.

In truth, the first day after this episode, LittleBear was tired and a little limp, but otherwise mostly himself. It was the day after that when things took a turn for the worse... LittleBear developed a fever. And it went on, and on, and on. It was a week before he didn't need drugs to bring his temperature down. And during that time, he didn't eat much (the occasional piece of toast, usually followed by whimpering about feeling sick). Nor did he want to play. Or be read to. Or watch television. Or do anything very much. We saw the doctor, who was kind, sympathetic and thorough in his poking and prodding, but who ultimately couldn't do anything other than send us home to keep doing what we were doing.

Then BigBear and I both succumbed to The Mystery Fever, which was accompanied by chills, sweats, aches, coughing, sneezing, nausea and general malaise. Truly a virus to have fun with.

The combination of my lovely little boy being utterly woebegone and being ill myself has led me to explore a wide variety of emotions:

... there were times my baby would climb onto my lap and I'd hold him close, rubbing his back until he fell asleep, his hot little head nestled onto my shoulder. And I'd lean back on the sofa, gazing at the bookshelves and holding my precious bundle, as I did time after time after time when he was a baby. I'd forgotten how it felt, how perfect it is to hold my sleeping boy, how long ago it seems since I sat like this every day. I was glad to have even just one more chance to cuddle my baby to sleep.

... there were times when he lay, curled up, eyes rolling back, a handful of "nanoo"s clutched to his chest when my heart broke to see him so drained, so ill, so far from being his own happy little self. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I wondered what more I could do for him, how I could help him, how I could take the pain, fever and exhaustion away for him.

... there were times when my boy complained about yet another trivial, pointless, absurd thing when my patience snapped completely. Yes, you're right, I did let the towel flap in your face after your bath, but really, you didn't actually have to complain about it did you?

... there were times, usually about an hour after a dose of calpol, when my LittleBear would want to play again, and he'd even smile and find life funny again, and I'd have a short period of hope that things were improving, before another hour would pass and he'd head downhill again and I'd be filled with such rage at the injustice of it all.

... there were huge stretches of time when I was just so unutterably bored with dealing with a whinging, miserable, sick child who didn't want to eat, drink, play, read or do anything. I began to doubt my own sanity in ever having enjoyed spending any time at home with my son. I developed tunnel-vision and all I could see was the here and now. The tedium, the complaints, the relentless, unchanging weariness of it all.

... there were times when my heart broke because my LittleBear said, "I don't want to live here any more. I'm too sad here."

And today the sun came out. Not literally, it's still February. No, my little boy came back to me. He was full of silly jokes, and giggles, and played imaginatively and with extraordinary concentration and focus. And he told me he wanted to live with me forever, in this house. And he ATE like he hadn't eaten in a week. And we made Valentine's cards for BigBear. And we made dinosaur-shaped biscuits. And we made a motorised Armoured Personnel Carrier with rocket launcher. And he didn't have any calpol at all, all day, and it was bloody brilliant.

I love my LittleBear more than anything, and I am so glad to have him back to himself. He's still a nasty little snot-beast with a hacking cough, but those are minor details compared to the past week. I'm still not convinced I have the emotional equanimity to handle this parenting nonsense, though I'll cut myself some slack and claim I'd probably have handled it all a lot better if I hadn't been ill myself.




Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Song of the day

This morning On Tuesday 7th February* when LittleBear** scrambled into bed with me, he decided it was song-time. And not just any song. No, this was a song he made up himself. Fortunately we had plenty of time, as he's off school today having been sick on Sunday night. (School have a 48 hour policy on letting vomitters back in again).

1, 2, 3

A book

4,5,6

A book and a bag

7,8,9

A book and a bag and a box

10,11,12

A book and a bag and a box and a laundry basket

13,14,15

A book and a bag and a box and a laundry basket and a bottle of champagne***

16,17,18

A book and a bag and a box and a laundry basket and a bottle of champagne and a mirror

19,20,21

A book and a bag and a box and a laundry basket and a bottle of champagne and a mirror and a curtain

22,23,24

A book and a bag and a box and a laundry basket and a bottle of champagne and a mirror and a curtain and a shirt

 25,26,27

A book and a bag and a box and a laundry basket and a bottle of champagne and a mirror and a curtain and a shirt and a light-bulb

28,29,30

A book and a bag and a box and a laundry basket and a bottle of champagne and a mirror and a curtain and a shirt and a light-bulb and a bin

31,32,33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40,
41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,
51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60
61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68,69,70,
71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78,79,80,
81,82,83,84,85,86,87,88,89,90
91,92,93,94,95,96,97,98,99,100
101,102,103,104,105,106,107,108,109,110
111,112,113,114,115,116,117,118,119,120

Which was a lovely and creative song, and easy to half doze off while listening to. Right up until I was asked to sing it back to LittleBear. He offered to sing the numbers while I did the words. That'll teach me not to pay attention to his song...



* LittleBear has decided to help write this, and has told me that "this morning" doesn't make sense, because if someone reads this on another day it wouldn't be true any more, so I should put the actual date.

** LittleBear believes I should put his real name here, in case anyone thinks it's an actual bear.

*** Some of you may notice that all the items in the song are things that LittleBear could observe when looking around the bedroom. I do NOT know where the bottle of champagne came into it. We do not keep champagne bottles, full or empty, in the bedroom. LittleBear has limited exposure to the existence of alcoholic beverages. Honest.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The curse of cursive

Having only just said that I was going to write more little observations about LittleBear, I now find myself obliged to launch into a rant about something else instead. I'm havering about writing, having signed a "contract" promising not to write about the school on social media, but I am telling myself that this isn't about the school (which I still think is lovely, and staffed by lovely people, doing an excellent job). This is about the dogma passed down to the school from on high that they are following, because it's their job to do so.

I shall declare, first of all, my own "qualifications" for my comments.

Firstly, I went to a very old-fashioned school. The kind of school where you weren't allowed to leave the premises unless your coat was done up properly. The kind of school where we had an actual lesson dedicated to teaching us to eat a banana "politely". The kind of school that had only just relaxed its regulations on allowing the young ladies to be seen walking along one side of the street because the shops there were "inappropriate". The kind of school where we had handwriting lessons. Every week. In secondary school. The kind of school where, at the end of term, we had a handwriting exam. A handwriting exam where, I feel obliged to brag, I am the only person in the school's history to achieve 100%*.

Secondly, and perhaps more relevantly, I have practiced calligraphy for more than quarter of a century and have a deep and abiding interest in, and love of, the formation of letters, their design, aesthetic and creation.

So. Cursive writing for 5 year olds. Kind of a good idea, and yet...

There is a world of difference between the form of a letter, and the means used to join that letter to another. A letter has a shape, a structure that allows one to see and know what it is. Joining it to other letters is a means to make it faster to write, not an inherent change in the form of the letters. Additional movements of the pen are made that allow one letter to lead into the next. But those movements are not part of the letter, they are simply a means to an end. But that doesn't seem to be the current belief within the education system. The current method of teaching is not to teach the basic form of the letters, with the proper formation. The current method of teaching appears to be instructing children that those extra bits of ink that allow one letter to join another are actually part of the letters. They're not. Let me show you.

These are all the letter s:

A positive susurration of esses

There are a lot of ways of writing an "s". But they're all basically the same shape.

This is not an s:

Where did those extra lines come from?

An "s" does not have a lead-in stroke, or a lead-out stroke. They're just tools that feature when you join one letter to another. There is no particular need in joined-up writing to have additional strokes that slow the process down, no point in having a lead-in on the first letter of a word, and a lead out on the final letter. The letter itself doesn't possess those features, it's the process that does. But, LittleBear is currently being taught perverse and corrupted letter formations. Letter formations, furthermore, that lead him to join his letters together in the wrong way, by virtue of the fact they're being taught as the form of the letter, not a feature of the process of joining. Take, for example, an "r" and an "o".

Relatively inoffensive letters so far


When joined, these become:

Something's gone wrong


No. By teaching the process of joining as a fundamental part of the shape of the letter, LittleBear is learning by rote, instead of learning with understanding. This is something I've had a beef with for a while, not simply as a feature of primary education, see for example Exhibit D in an earlier rant of mine.

I shall take, as my example, the poor, unfortunate zebra.

Poor old zebra

By my reckoning, and by my calligraphic standards, there are at least 5 errors in the manner in which LittleBear is being taught to write "zebra". The poor beast only has 5 letters, so that's an embarrassment of errors.


Where did it all go wrong?

1. The initial letter should not have a lead-in. LittleBear, and his LittleFriends would know this if they were taught the underlying letter shapes, not a bastardized version.

2. There is no need for a tailed z. Seriously. Almost nobody in this country writes with a tailed z, and it's entirely possible, in fact considerably easier, to join a non-tailed z into cursive writing. (Besides which, any decent calligraphic hand that uses a tailed z would also use the curved form for the upper part and not have an aesthetic mismatch of angular upper half and looped-tail for the lower half. That thing's neither fish nor fowl. Nor zebra.)

3. A cursive "b" should join from the top of the bowl, not the bottom. Joining at the bottom risks confusion with "k" or "h".

4. Rote-learning of the lead-ins and lead-outs fails to allow understanding that there's more than one way to get from "r" to "a".

5. It's the end of the word, there's no need for a lead-out, it's not part of the letter.

Here's how it "should" be, in the gospel according to Miss V.

Readable, joined-up zebra

I'm (moderately) sure there are sound pedagogical reasons for teaching cursive straight away. I'm also equally sure that just because small children are small, and just learning, does not mean they can't understand that there's more than one way to do something. The path to learning is not being drilled in one way and one way only of achieving a task. So I'm going to be that parent that teachers hate. I'm going to be that parent that points out to LittleBear that while his teachers are correct in their methods, there are also other equally correct methods**. So I am showing LittleBear examples of different ways of writing the same thing. I'm showing him there's more than one way to skin a zebra. I'm showing him things like this too, so he knows that writing doesn't just have to be about communicating.

Sometimes it's all about the shape

I have no doubt that LittleBear and all his LittleFriends will learn to write, and that eventually it will even be legible. But I do find the dictat about how they must learn frustrating. And unhelpful. And ill-considered. And in some cases, plain wrong***.



* I know this because the handwriting exam was the beloved creation of the terrifying Miss V, who declared that she had never, and would never, award 100%, as there was no such thing as perfection in handwriting. However, in her final year before retirement, she did  the unthinkable and awarded me 100%. And then retired, thus depriving all future young ladies of the opportunity to reach this dizzy height of academic achievement. The truth of the matter is that I probably have a rather alarming proclivity for forgery, and produced a beautiful facsimile of Miss V's handwriting for the exam to achieve my extraordinary mark. We shall draw a discreet veil over the occasions on which I assisted my compatriots in producing realistic versions of their parents' signatures in homework diaries...

**  No, I'm not going down the path of Alternative Facts, just alternative means to an end.

*** The joining of the "b" is really annoying me. Clearly Miss V had a deeper impact upon me than I have cared to acknowledge thus far.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Vignette #1

Since I seem to have stalled a little bit on the blogging front, aside from intermittent ranting about politics or education or both, I'm going to try a little experiment. I'm going to try posting little moments. Observations or quirks of LittleBear, not anything with a particular point to it, simply something endearing or amusing (in the eyes of his doting mother anyway!) and hope that not attempting to write long, moderately coherent, posts will make it easier for me to write again.

So herewith today's observation by my LittleBear...

I had been demonstrating to him that IdiotCat does not, in fact, understand English, and that as long as I speak in a soft, kind voice to IdiotCat while rubbing his chin, he will be happy. But I can say anything I like. Mostly I resort to calling him an idiot, but in a nice way. I explained (but didn't demonstrate) that I could equally well shout at IdiotCat that he was the loveliest cat in the world and I would feed him tuna every day for the rest of his life, and he'd still be scared and run away, as he only understands tone of voice.

LittleBear considered this situation for a while, and then made a helpful suggestion...

"Mummy? Maybe we could go back to the Blue Cross and see if we can find one of puss's old friends. And the Blue Cross might have had time to teach his old friend English. So we could bring puss's old friend to live with us, and they would understand each other, and the old friend would be able to tell puss what we were saying."

I'm not sure which idea I think is the more endearing: that IdiotCat will have had friends while he was in the shelter, or that given enough time and training the lovely people at the shelter would be able to teach a cat English. There are days I wish I lived in LittleBear's world.