Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Pox

It's been a while since I've written anything, in large part because I have crossed over from A Bit Tired to So Exhausted I Don't Function. And that is, in large part, due to the transition from having a 5-year old to having a 6-year old, which necessitated a party. A large party. A large and exhausting party. A large and exhausting party with a large and exhausting cake.

I had been planning to write about the cake and show you all how marvelous I am, and what a skilled and amazing cake-maker I am. But I was too tired to bother, and now LittleBear has chickenpox, and I'm wondering why I didn't get him vaccinated.*

Yesterday morning started with a sobbing small boy, and BigBear informing me that his little boy appeared to have chickenpox as I appeared downstairs from the shower. LittleBear was distraught, not at the idea of being ill, but at the thought of missing school, missing Golden Time, missing Crown Assembly, missing a playdate with his Best Friends In The World and missing Go To School In Spots Day. (Oh, the irony...)

So yesterday I stayed home with my LittleBear, and we played, and we built Lego models, and we had our own Golden Time, and we ate fishfingers, and it was all basically OK. There were some spots, some blisters, some itching, some tiredness and sadness, but nothing too bad. He even went to bed and to sleep easily and calmly.

Then today....

Today there are many more spots, in many more nasty places, such as eyelids, and lips, and inside ears. And there are many more blisters, which are much more itchy. And there is much more scratching, and sadness and pathos.

And I did a Foolish Thing. I read stuff on the internet. I read that (allegedly) it's the fourth day that's the worst. I read about children who slept no more than an hour a night, who screamed and scratched and wailed. I read about the itching getting worse and worse and worse. I read about not being able to leave the house for two weeks. I read about new waves of spots arriving just when you think it's all over.

And I keep looking at my poor, pathetic, itchy, sad baby and wondering how much worse it's going to get before it gets better. I wonder how poorly he will get, how hard he will find it to sleep, or eat, how long we will be trapped at home feeling sad, and itchy and poorly and bored and irritable.

Because there's only one thing worse than having a poorly child, and that's having a poorly child when you're already tired, and you've read Other People's Opinions On the Internet, and you're susceptible to worst-case thinking, and prone to anxiety, and suddenly everything seems terrible.

What I really need to do is look at the little munchkin curled up under a duvet on the sofa with his cuddly penguins and cuddly giant squid, watching Blue Planet II, tired, but apparently quite content. This is the truth. The internet is full of lies. 

* I am rabidly pro-vaccination but also incredibly disorganised and allergic to phoning the doctor's surgery for an appointment. Many vaccinations are given as standard in this country, and they just happen without me needing to actively do much. Chickenpox is not one of the standard panoply, so it didn't happen.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Probably OK

Every now and then* I worry about my LittleBear. I worry about his oddities, the ways in which he's not like other children, whether he'll continue to fit in, to have friends, to be happy.

Last week, he was invited to a friend's house to watch a film. Normally he will point blank refuse to consider such a thing, because films are scary and horrid and he doesn't want to watch them. Ditto all other forms of fiction. However, on this occasion, several of his dearest friends were gathering and he seemed to think it a nice idea. Five minutes into the film ("Sing" as it happens) I found he was curled into a small ball, cuddling his penguin, shark and two nanoos, with his fingers in his ears, shaking his head. A bit of cuddling and I ascertained that it was "too scary" and he wanted to go home. My heart broke a little bit for my poor baby, but I snuggled him away from the film, and he settled down to play with toy cars instead so that he could stay for pizza with the others. He was entirely content playing instead, but it just fuelled my worries about his "otherness".

Lately, we've been playing Scrabble together, and it turns out that the structure of playing with letters and numbers appeals to my boy enormously. He loves the idea of letters having points values, and everywhere we go now he's busy scoring words, numberplates, signs, names, anything. A few days ago, he was eating potato waffles and baked beans for dinner. This may seem unrelated to playing Scrabble, apart from one of the peculiarities of this meal in our household. Those of you not familiar with potato waffles - they are a grid of reformed potato, thus:

Rectilinear potato

Those of you not familiar with early electronic calculators or the inner workings of my mind may not spot the potential to form seven-segment-display characters from a potato waffle.

The geometric essence of a potato waffle

The simple application of a sharp knife allows the creation of a wide variety of letters:

B, E and r, rendered from potato-y goodness
Under instruction from my little tyrant however, I have also attempted extravagant feats of cursive letters from a potato waffle. They are convincing only in the mind of a five year old:

A somewhat unconvincing, and fragile o and s
When last munching his way through his own name (yes, yes, I do construct his name from chopped up potato waffle. Yes, I am a fool.) LittleBear piped up,

"Mummy? Do you know what half of three points is?"

Not spotting anything out of the ordinary yet, naturally I responded,

"One-and-a-half points darling."

"No Mummy, it's actually one point."

"Is it? Why's that?"

"Well, if you cut an 'M' in half it's an 'N'; if you cut a 'B' in half it's an 'O'; if you cut a 'C' in half it's an 'R'"


Let me help you here, dear readers.

3-point M becomes 1-point N

3-point B becomes 1-point O

3-point C becomes 1-point R
Now, while I may think it's awesome that LittleBear has memorised the scores of every letter on the Scrabble board, and is able to take a sideways view of the structure of letters and think laterally and generally be adorable, I also fear for what this approach to the world will mean amongst other children (and adults). I have enough experience of being a bit odd, and a bit on the outside, to know that it's not always the most comfortable place to be. I may be comfortable(ish) with who I am aged 43, but I don't want it to take my LittleBear that long to be OK.

And then, this morning, he came out with something that put my mind at rest about his ability to have friends and be friends and be part of the world in a loving and awesome way...

"Mummy? I've been thinking about my party."

"Yes dear?"

"LittleFriend doesn't like chocolate, so we need to make sure there's something else that he likes."

Because this Saturday is LittleBear's sixth birthday party, and he has planned his cake in extraordinary detail**, including the important fact that it is a chocolate cake. But, out of the twenty-seven*** children attending, one of his dearest friends doesn't like chocolate. I'm not sure it is possible for me to be more proud of my baby than I am about the fact that he remembered this, and cared so much about the happiness of his friend that he wants to be sure there is cake for him too.

I think LittleBear will probably be OK.

* When I say "every now and then" obviously I really mean "almost constantly". 

** My ability to realise this cake in actual physical form will start being challenged tonight. My stress levels are already high. By Friday they may be stratospheric.

*** Yes, really. This may be one of the stupidest things I've ever done. Twenty-seven children. With me entertaining them. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Old dogs and New Tricks

In the wake of #metoo, more and more worms are munching their way out of the woodwork and revealing the rotten heart of our establishments. And there are the same tired non-excuses for crappy behaviour being wheeled out, of poor, confused men who just can't tell in the face of all this horrible, rampant feminism whether it's OK to call their assistant "sugar tits" or not. And the not-at-all lamented Fallon, claiming that “The culture has changed over the years. What might have been acceptable 15, 10 years ago is clearly not acceptable now.”

And while he may (and I only concede this very grudgingly and with serious caveats) be right that the culture has changed in the last 10-15 years, it doesn't actually mean that it was ever acceptable to the women involved to grope, harrass or outright assault them. Just because it was possible to get away with it without losing your job, doesn't mean it was acceptable. It merely means unacceptable things used to happen.

I have a friend who falls into that group of people who seem to be mired in this confusion about what is OK and what is not. He is a sixty-year old, overweight,  white man. For the sake of anonymity, I shall call this man Nigel.

Nigel describes himself as a racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynist pig. He says he was raised that way. But he is utterly aware that the way he was raised had flaws, he is aware that many of his knee-jerk views are wrong, and he makes a conscious effort to not allow his upbringing to drive his actions now. He admits that his initial reaction to the calls for gay marriage was that there was no need, marriage is marriage and is for one man and one woman, and if you're gay and want a partnership, have a different one. But he now says, "I listened to what everyone said, and realised I'd lost that argument. I'm wrong, and marriage can be for everyone."

Nigel torments himself over perceived transgressions. He was walking along the street recently when he passed a young, attractive, beautifully dressed woman. The sight gladdened his heart, not (according to him) in any predatory way, but just in a "isn't it lovely to see something attractive" way, and he smiled. He smiled at the young woman in question. And then he felt terrible. He asked me if what he had done had been wrong. Had he been lecherous, threatening, harrassing by smiling at her? Was it objectifying to find the appearance of a stranger a source of pleasure?

Nigel over-thinks things. But, despite his condemnatory self-description, he is a liberal, feminist, accepting man who is aware of his own potential to discriminate and tries not to.

Men - be like Nigel. It's really not much more complicated than that.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Changing the clocks

Back in the old days, the autumnal changing of the clocks was a day to be relished. An extra hour in bed, an excuse to stay up a bit later, knowing you wouldn't pay the penalty the next morning. Little did I realise, back then, how many people there were, in my street, in my school, in my office, who must have hated the return of GMT as much then as I do now.

Changing the clocks when in possession of a small child is not a thing of joy and wonder. It is a fiendish plot hatched by those who do not understand the sanctity of parental sleep, and who blithely say things like, "he/she could just have a lie in after a later night" when talking about your small darling, as though any normal child under the age of 15 has ever had a lie-in on any occasion other than when so ill they should probably be in hospital.

I have, after the first 22 months*, been blessed with a child who is relatively good at sleeping. I am also that most cursed of parents - I have a child who obeys his GroClock. Contrary to what is written by various other Mummy Bloggers whose children do not obey the GroClock, this doesn't mean my child is stupid or unimaginative. It means he is horribly anxious and terrified of breaking the rules, to the extent that he will wet himself at football club rather than ask to go to the bathroom because he is afraid that he's not allowed to ask. So if anyone starts to give me grief about my son's unnatural obedience, I'll give them chapter and verse on the downsides. The trade-off between GroClock-obedience and desperate anxiety and self-doubt is not as obvious as the sleep-deprived would believe.

Anyway, back in the realms of sleep...

We are currently three weeks into a sticker chart rewarding LittleBear for not fretting about the absolute time on the clock, as he had become incredibly anxious about what time it was when he fell asleep, and worried about not being able to fall asleep. So, really, changing the time is an excellent way to further mess with his head. We've already had to hide his GroClock at bedtime, and then sneak it back again once he's asleep so that he doesn't know the time when he goes to bed but does know the time in the morning.

You might wonder why we bother, but I (slightly shame-facedly) admit that, in the morning, he is every parent's dream. When his GroClock says 7 o'clock**, he knows he's allowed to open his curtains, or turn his light on, and read his books. And when the "sun" comes up on the clock (typically 7:15) he's allowed to get up and come and climb into our bed. And he rarely makes a peep before that.

This week, I've attempted something A Bit Cunning.

I've changed the time on LittleBear's clock by 10 minutes every day for the last 6 days. I've give him breakfast, lunch, dinner, bathtime and bedtime 10 minutes later every day***. And he's solemnly turned his light on at "7 o'clock" every morning. Except it was nearly 8 o'clock this morning by the unadulterated clocks in the house.

Which sounds like it's worked brilliantly doesn't it?

I'm beginning to sound dangerously smug aren't I?

Do you want to know what the real effect has been?

LittleBear has got incrementally more tired, deranged and miserable every day for the past six days.

Our evenings have got shorter by ten minutes every day for the past six days.

Bedtimes have become more fraught, with higher rates of whimpering-small-boy every day for the past six days.

My Cunning Plan has resulted in not one exhausted day, but a slowly ramping crescendo of misery, looming over the entirety of half term.

Truly, tomorrow is going to be a barrel of laughs.

Which is where Section Two of my Cunning Plan comes into force. I'm going to spend all afternoon in London with friends, and not get home until after bedtime. I might even have a nap on the train on the way there. Good luck BigBear...

* Yes, I was counting.

** Parents of earlier risers - please don't hate me too much. I'm a nice person really.

*** The mental contortions involved in this undertaking have almost been enough to deprive me of an hour's sleep every night.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Is it me too?

Living a life, as I do, where social media features daily in my life, I suspect I'm living in something of a bubble. In fact, I know that I am. And most aspects of that bubble are clear to me. I am largely surrounded by people of a similar age, race, nationality, class, political outlook, education level, and social interests. Largely. Obviously, there are variations, but they're not massive. I know some Americans for instance. And Canadians. I really mix it up.

Because I'm aware of my bubble, I do venture outside it, to read and see what other people are thinking, saying and doing. But there's one aspect of my bubble that I'm not sure about - I can't discern whether what I've been reading and hearing inside my bubble is also occurring outside my bubble.

It's the #metoo movement. The movement whereby women are standing up to be counted, declaring that they have been the victims of sexual assault or harassment. Declaring publicly that their experiences are not unique, not one-offs, not aberrations, but the everyday lived experience of huge numbers of women.

Has this really been as widespread as it seemed in my white, middle-class, female bubble? Has the awareness of #metoo spread outside the people who are participating in it?

I don't know. And therefore I don't know whether what I'm going to write is going to make me look utterly abnormal, or utterly absurd for drawing such attention to my very normality.

Because I haven't been sexually assaulted. I haven't experienced inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. I haven't been shamed into keeping abuse silent. I haven't been groped, manhandled or interfered with at any point in my life. I watched, horrified, as more and more of my friends simply wrote "#metoo" on their Facebook pages, and I began to puzzle over why my own experience has been so different.

And I thought some more.

And I thought of all the things that don't count, because it's just what happens. The wolf-whistles from building sites. The requests to see my tits from pissed men at parties. The men in clubs and bars who wouldn't accept that it was possible to dance with other female friends, and that no, I didn't need a man to dance with. The hoots and yelled obscenities from white vans. The guiding hand in the small of the back to "help" me through doors.

But that doesn't count does it?

That's just the way life is if you're a woman, isn't it?

I haven't been sexually assaulted, so I don't need to write #metoo, do I?

And then I just felt rather depressed.

Because, no, those things aren't OK.

Just because I haven't been raped, doesn't mean every other form of verbal abuse and harassment is OK. And the very fact that I simply shrug it off as "just how life is" is not OK either.

I didn't claim #metoo, because by the time I'd considered the issue, and my own life experiences, it felt as though to speak up was to devalue those who've suffered real abuse, assault and pain. It felt like saying, "ooh, I know how you feel losing your leg, I broke a fingernail once." But actually, I think it's kind of the point - that every day, countless women face a constant barrage of sexism that ranges from "only" a wolf-whistle all the way to traumatic physical assaults, and that it is all part and parcel of the same thing, the treatment of women as lesser beings, as objects, as things.

And I'm not a thing. None of us are. And none of us should sit back and say, "being talked to like an object isn't real sexism, so as long as I haven't been raped, it's not a problem." It is a problem, and it's one that can't be fixed by one or two people speaking up. It will take all of us to speak up, all of us to say, "enough", all  of us to say "no more", to refuse to accept a society where women are afraid on public transport, where women accept being yelled at on the subject of their bodies every time they go for a run, where women think daily insults and contempt are normal. And I mean all of us. Women and men.


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Pointless busyness

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

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

The gardening jobs are still lurking on a list.

The sheets on the beds need changing.

The carpet needs a serious vacuum clean.

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

What on earth have I been doing?

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

Have I been ill? I have not.

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

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

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

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

The mantle and fins are cut out and ready to go

Eight arms, two tentacles, insides and outsides

Mantle with stuffed fins. All sewing and stuffing by LittleBear

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

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

Trying to assemble squid appendages

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

It really is a giant squid

Squidy likes watching Numberblocks too

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Effortless elegance

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

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

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